MSW application: January 2010

After a week of writing (including revising, something I’m not exactly used to), my statement of purpose is complete. I know now that if I don’t get into DU or Loyola, it’s not for lack of trying.

Here it is:
A. Rationale

He has to take a bus to school and then walk. He doesn’t own a coat or a cell phone. He is deaf but can’t communicate with his family because none of them learned how to sign. His family doesn’t worry about feeding him–they rely on school lunches to provide his daily nourishment. The only communication he has is with teachers, interpreters and other deaf students. My mother has worked with this particular student since his freshman year of high school. She’s his only resource. When his father wouldn’t buy him a cell phone, something that all of his brothers and sisters have, it was my mom who went around to various outlets to see about getting a free phone with text messaging capabilities. Watching my mom struggle with the ethical issues surrounding this student, I realized that I too felt what she felt. I want to watch people succeed, to triumph over problems that exist in their lives. I want to help people as she has helped this student. I know that this case is all too common–forgotten children with disabilities that their parents aren’t prepared to handle. I want to help people who need help the most.
Social work has been of interest to me since before the beginning of my undergraduate career. I feel that social work is necessary to the future of not only our local communities, but our global one as well. Social workers provide guidance and support necessary to maintain and reinforce community and family structures that are often shaken by events outside the control of the family or community. They are able to assess a situation and provide services that many others would not be able to offer, doing the greatest amount of possible good through their specific courses of action. The social worker can play an essential role in the rebuilding and strengthening of the existing family, but must rely on a strong sense of intuition and the ability to quickly assess a specific situation.
I plan on using my time in graduate school to assess the problems within my own community and become actively involved in working toward a solution. I am particularly interested in the intersection of women, children and the justice system. In five or six years I hope to be heading a program helping to facilitate increased interaction between mothers and children during incarceration as well as creating a viable support system for those same mothers after they’ve been released. Increased support for women returning to society would drastically reduce the recidivism rate and also create a stronger family network, which would in turn help children stay in school and out of trouble.
I want to devote my life to helping people the way that I have seen my mother help people my whole life. She doesn’t get any thanks for what she does, but somehow, day after day, she keeps doing it. Social work is often a thankless task, but is something that can create hope and direction within the worst situations. I want to be a social worker so that I can help even one person. I want to enter into social work selflessly, focusing on others rather than my own personal gain, but I know that social work would give me a sense of fulfillment that no other career could provide. I want to get satisfaction knowing that I’ve accomplished something meaningful, even if it’s as small as getting someone a winter coat or a cell phone. I want to be an agent of change within the world.

B. Attributes and Liabilities

As I begin my pursuit of a career in social work, I believe that my interpersonal communication skills would be one of my most valuable assets. Writing and speaking are essential skills for such a career path. As an English minor, I am adept at interpreting a situation with a critical eye.
Even though I consider myself a very passionate and caring person, which I believe is necessary for a lengthy career in social work due to the level of personal commitment involved, I also possess the ability to remove myself from a situation. Being able to remain objective in the face of emotional struggle is a quality that will serve me well as a social worker. While able to perceive the emotional depth of any given situation and to internalize the struggle of the parties involved, I am able to remain objective and far enough removed in order to find the best outcome. Even though the job can be demanding, I am also capable of seeing even the smallest amount of positivity and possibility in any situation. Through my ability to remain upbeat, I will be able to consistently approach my work with enthusiasm. I am able to quickly and accurately assess the mood of a situation and from there, am able to swiftly decide on any number of possible solutions.
I am open to new experiences, even though at times I am hesitant to begin. I have decided that life is too short to not dive in, to be cliché, and since I have made that decision for myself, I have found experienced many things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Social work for me is an area that I have always been surround by, interested in and have always wanted to engage in. I find that making the decision to enter into a social work career was not made out of fear but has been a distinctly focused decision that has been made joyously and with great anticipation for things to come. My openness to begin will serve me well as a social worker.
The area of my life that I feel needs the most strengthening is the area of professional experience. I haven’t spent much time navigating a professional environment and am at times uncomfortable in a professional setting because of my lack of work experience even though I see myself as being perfectly capable of becoming an experienced professional with a certain amount of practice and guidance. I envision this as the area that will see great improvement in the next few years. Through in-field experience and more involvement with social workers, I will be able to increase my comfort level in order to enter the social work profession confidently and ably.
Graduate school would be a full-time commitment for me. I am excited to take on the challenge. I am entirely dedicated to my work and studies, especially in the pursuit of a specific goal. After undergraduate course work, I feel as though the time and energy investment asked of graduate students is something that I would adapt to incredibly well. While I would have preferred to enter into graduate level work with more experience in the field, my passion for social work cannot be denied. Without the constraints of a family or another, equally demanding career, I find myself able to fully invest my time and energy into my social work graduate degree.
C. Employment and Volunteer Experience

After spending four years in the service industry, one is often very capable of being able to anticipate the needs of customers and co-workers alike. From my various positions, I have learned the value of patience, an often under-represented virtue. I understand that not everyone is going to have needs that fit exactly into certain categories and that accommodations must be made in many circumstances. I have developed my intuitive listening skills and honed them, able to anticipate and make advance preparations in order to ensure a quick reaction that will most certainly be agreeable. Child care has taught me more than I ever thought possible. From discipline to creating educational activities, I have developed the ability to firmly adhere to decisions while at the same time rationalizing those decisions to the people affected by them.
My freshman year of college, I spent a number of hours a week volunteering at a soup kitchen. During this time, I found myself excited and incredibly fulfilled by the prospect of doing something as simple as providing a meal. The community that emerged from the simple act of sharing a meal was a strong community, full of hope and strength. Everyone was willing to share with their neighbor, a willingness that I don’t often see in the public arena. This community bond was created on something necessary yet symbolic. The act of eating together reinforces the human need for connection and commonality.
Through my work with film, including documentaries and independent projects, I have realized the power of non-verbal communication. Human services are based so much on communication, and I believe that I can be effective in a variety of ways other than just basic dialogue. From my interviews and research, academic and otherwise, I have realized the value of conversations and trust. Observation is a necessary skill to become a social worker and my various projects have allowed to me to develop the strong powers of observation needed for detailed writing and understanding of a situation.
There are so many people living in the world who have so much to say but haven’t been given the opportunity to speak up. I did a short documentary for a class focusing on justice that involved interviewing the homeless that gather around a major public transportation transfer point in Chicago. These people live blocks from one of the biggest shopping districts in the country, yet are often overlooked, receiving appalling treatment from both tourists and locals. They were open to attempts at conversation and were optimistic about the future (this was on the eve of the 2008 Presidential election). One of my subjects was moved to tears during his interview. They provided me with the material for my documentary but in doing so, they shaped the way in which I presented the information. My original ideas shifted and instead, I focused on their emotional outpouring of anguish and grief rather than numerical statistics. It is this willingness to deviate from the standard facts and numbers that drives my goal to be a social worker.
During the spring 2010 semester, I will be involved in service learning that will enable me to mentor high school journalism students in Pilsen, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Through this experience, I will be sharing with them my journalistic knowledge and interviewing skills but in return I will be able to experience a culturally distinct neighborhood that I know very little about. I am excited by this opportunity and see it is as a way to further integrate myself into the social work mindset. Working with high school students isn’t something that I’ve done before and I believe the opportunity will help me to grow as a social worker by broadening my experience base.

D. Education

My undergraduate educational experience has been one that has involved many elements, rather than one focused area of study. The Jesuit education that I have received while at Loyola has been all encompassing, focusing on educating the whole person. Within that education, there has been strong emphasis on developing communication skills including writing and oral communication as well as concentration on a broad array of studies. The variety of subjects I have studied has allowed me to take many different classes, after which I decided to select three very distinct courses of study. I will be graduating with minors in Sociology, English and Women’s Studies and Gender Studies. All of those are conducive to social work in that they have allowed to me to not only study the condition of women throughout history to today and beyond, but also to attain better understanding of the society in which I live. I have read countless cultural criticisms and theory, from which I have been able to craft a broader understanding of our position as people living in a global society.
I believe that having been in Catholic schools my whole life will greatly aid my social work progress. Having been raised in a space that puts emphasis on gratitude and service work has made me a person sensitive to the needs of those around me. From the Christian Brothers to the Jesuits, my education has encompassed the ideas of giving back, appreciation and personal reflection.
I began to consider social work during my senior year of high school, when I was the head of a group that gave grants to non-profit organizations. As we received requests from all over Colorado, I became aware of the immense need that existed within the state. Living in Chicago has only furthered my understanding of the need for assistance that exists and the lack of resources available. As we gave the checks away, I felt satisfied that we had helped the best that we could, but I was also aware of a nagging need to do more. Since then, I have considered social work as a possible career path.
During the fall semester of 2008, I was unable to maintain my grade and unwilling to ask for help when I should have. The F on my transcript represents a learning experience; not one that I’m proud of or one that helped my GPA, but one that I take full responsibility for. It was my failure alone.
As a student, I am very dedicated but also relaxed enough to not let undue stress overtake my life. Instead of becoming overly stressed about something insignificant, I do not let trivial things bother me, preferring instead to focus on the larger picture. While the small assignments are obviously important, I do my best to think further than that. I do my best work under stress, something that will help me not only in graduate school, but in my career as well. As I have said previously, I am a quick thinker, able to come up with a multitude of ideas to suit any given situation.

E. Life Experiences

It could be argued that my life has been cut out for social work since I was born. I was adopted at birth and have remained in contact with my birth mother throughout my life. Reading a journal that my biological mother wrote for me shortly after my birth, in which she discusses the emotions that she was feeling at the time I was born and then after, I have realized the immense hope and joy that can come from a situation that involves selfless sacrifice. My adoptive mother’s career has also shown me selfless service. She works as a special education teacher in the Aurora school district. Watching her struggle with the situations that she faces on a daily basis, such as lack of resources or the hesitation of parents to get involved with their child’s education, have shown me the strength, determination and modesty involved with social work.
After finding out that my mom had been diagnosed with kidney cancer during the fall of my sophomore year of college, I made arrangements to leave Loyola and come back to Denver to be with her and my brother through his senior year of high school. I spent the spring of 2008 in Denver with my family, watching my mother heal even though she was still working to help the students that she cares so much about. Being around my supportive family made me feel immense gratitude, yet at the same time, I understand that many people don’t have the same support network that we do. This is about the time that I realized that social work was indeed a viable career path for me.
My parents’ divorce left me as a child whose loyalties were spread between many places and family members. Although there was love on all sides, no divorce can be an easy thing. As a child, there was no one to turn to for help or guidance. This experience left me able to deal with very personal human and social problems. Coming from a non-traditional household and then becoming a child of divorce, I am able to empathize with children that I will come in contact with; my understanding of their feelings will allow me to gain their trust and also to be effective in helping to support them. I understand the pressures that children from non-traditional families face, especially through school and oddly, holiday seasons. The idea of the broken family is becoming more and more prevalent in our society today, and the children affected by these families need all the guidance and positive reinforcement that they can get in order to succeed. I am a stronger person than I was when my parents got divorced, and part of that is because of the emotional turmoil that we went through. My unwavering faith in myself is what allowed me to persevere through that difficult time and that confidence will allow me to trust my instincts and make the correct decisions as I enter into the social work field.

F. Social Work Values and Ethics

If Chicago is one of the most diverse cities in the United States or even the world, then Rogers Park is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. You cannot walk through the area I call home without seeing people of every color, speaking any number of different languages walking, biking or driving. Families live among college students. Rogers Park is still a neighborhood of small distinct shops but is also home to Loyola University Chicago, a growing institution that has begun to spread into the surrounding neighborhood. Living among a wildly diverse population has allowed me to encounter people that no educational experience can teach. The issue of gentrification in Chicago is one that is growing faster than even Loyola could have imagined. The fight to keep the true identity of neighborhoods while at the same time trying to modernize them, in essence overhauling their identity and population, has been one that has the city polarized. During the unsuccessful bid to bring the Olympic games to Chicago, the debate about gentrification came to the forefront. My proximity to this debate, even as a temporary resident of the city, has made me mindful of the ethical dilemmas in our growing and changing society.
Spending time at a local restaurant has allowed to me to begin a friendship with a man from Zimbabwe. During our conversations, we do much comparison between the cultures in which we live. It is through these casual experiences that I have been able to gain insight and knowledge into different cultures. The ability to transcend my own culture in order to understand the cultures of those around me and the differences therein will allow me to engage in social work from a unique perspective. I have developed friendships with people of all ages, races and sexual orientations during my time in Chicago. Recently, there was an immense outpouring of student support for a student who had been a victim of harassment based on his sexual orientation. Taking part in the discourse on this subject led me to understand more about the way that many people think about race, class, gender and orientation and has also made me want to fight for equality on all levels. Living in Rogers Park isn’t always ideal due to the high crime rate and vandalism issues, but it has been a worthwhile experience that I will never forget.
During the fall of 2009, I spent time writing a lengthy ethnography about the BDSM (bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism) community. My research took me to diverse places that many were hesitant to travel to or even hear about. The subcultures that I profiled and critiqued are a large and often underrepresented part of the population. I was welcomed and treated as an equal, finding information to be willingly offered and thoroughly explained. Spending time in not only public places, but private clubs as well, I was able to gain access to places that few (except private members) will ever see. I also watched the reactions that people had when I described the project. These reactions showed me the misconceptions that people hold about certain communities. I was able to remain objective in a community that is often hostile to outside involvement and hard to comprehend by hegemonic social standards. This experience helped to shape my love of the diversity that I have embraced while living in Chicago, but furthermore, emphasizes my ability to do cross-cultural analysis and to engage in discussion of taboo subject matter.
Seeing everyone as a human being rather than viewing anyone as existing within any specific category is something that allows me to enter into social work with an open mind and an open heart. My emphasis on global community may seem repetitive, but I truly believe that we are not only citizens of our local environment, but instead are citizens of the world. I think that any social or political advancement made as a people should be one based on mutual respect and understanding.
G. Other Factors

While I understand that my GPA (3.1) and my volunteer/work experience may be on the low end of the scale of applicants, I wish to impress on the admissions committee my desire to actively participate in social work. My undergraduate experience has not been merely studious engagement but has instead included much self-discovery as well as social and urban experience. Living in Chicago has enabled me to be a participant, not merely a voyeur in the urban environment and has made me more aware of the reality of certain issues that are present within society. Race is a still prevalent issue in Chicago and living in such a diverse city has opened my eyes to the ways in which people of the world live and work together; it has also shown me the ways that people can still be affected by prejudice and negative thinking. My time here has been not only a successful academic endeavor but has caused me to evolve as an independent person. I wish to emphasize the importance of life experiences and exploration, things that cannot be taught or quantified onto paper. I will be entering the program as a whole person, not merely someone who knows so much about the specific subjects of study, but as someone with life experience and a dedication to furthering my engagement in the world around me.

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