Trevecca social work program prepares students for careers in advocacy

For the second year, a Trevecca social work student was chosen to intern with Rep. Jim Cooper’s office. Karen Hernandez, Trevecca senior, spent part of her summer working with Cooper, a U.S. Congressman, in his D.C. office, from May 13-June 21.

Last year’s intern, Berenice Oliva, encouraged Hernandez apply. When Hernandez found out she’d been accepted, she was overjoyed. She says her Trevecca experience helped her prepare.

“For my experience, being a social work student really helped me,” Hernandez said. “I was a little ahead of my peers in the internship because I’m a senior and I had already done a lot of my practice…for the social work program.”

Hernandez competed against a number of students from across the state of Tennessee, many from large public and private universities. Hernandez quickly found that her resume spoke for itself.

“I had previous experience, and that came in handy,” Hernandez said. “It was a little intimidating, but at the end of the day we all had to go through the same process.”

The internship consisted of meeting with staffers, lobbyists, taking notes at briefs and hearings, sending emails, practicing public speaking and more.

“It was very challenging,” Hernandez said. “We had to do a lot of critical thinking and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.”

Elizabeth Nunley, Trevecca social work field director and assistant professor, said she was not surprised Hernandez was accepted for the internship.

“She is very responsible and concise, and she has a real willingness to learn,” Nunley said.

According to Nunley, students in Trevecca’s social work program gain skills such as conducting research, writing, team building and practicing effective communication. Nunley hopes that other students are inspired by Oliva and Hernandez’ success.

Allison Buzard, director of Trevecca’s social work program and an assistant professor, echoed Nunley. She says that the passion for social work she sees in Trevecca students makes her enjoy coming to work every day.

“I’m about to start my second year here, and I’m continually blown away by and inspired by our students,” Buzard said. “I just think this is an incredible opportunity for Karen, also for the state of Tennessee and for Trevecca. It’s been a joy just seeing students be who they are and saving the world. It’s really exciting.”

For Buzard, teaching social work students about advocacy early on is important for student success. Advocacy is introduced in the very first class in the program, Intro to Social Work.

“Just putting everything together, and being able to express myself with Representative Jim Cooper, I was able to advocate for the things that I thought mattered,” Hernandez said.

For Hernandez, completing the internship opened her eyes to what she could do with her degree.

“It helped me see what I want to do in the future in my career,” she said. “I can do more than just one-on-one with individuals; I can do things through policy work.”

By Kayla Williamson
Media contact: Mandy Crow,, 615-248-1695