Neat and Trim - an Improved Background & Goals

My professor friend Chad gave me a great critique, and this is the result - much better!

“So you're the one with the human bites!” exclaimed the hospital orderly as he wheeled me to physical therapy. My social work career had just been severed as surely as the nerves in my partially detached finger. Like my finger, it healed and regained function with time.

I had chanced into social work on a paraprofessional level eight years before. A job sorting clothes for Goodwill Industries led to promotion when I excelled at supervising my disabled coworkers. Now a job coach, I trained, supervised and worked alongside people with developmental, physical and psychiatric disabilities in a community based vocational rehabilitation program. Vocational rehabilitation provided a good grounding in social work skills. I learned assessment techniques, wrote individual service plans, developed time management skills, supervised people in groups while focusing on their individual needs and goals, and adapted to a wide range of community settings.

Meanwhile, I faced my own challenges. My blue collar parents had never personally known anyone with a college degree and certainly never considered sending a girl to a university. My high school counselors were no more enthusiastic about helping blue collar girls go to college. However, the flood of university recruitment letters after my college board exams had their effect. I blossomed in the dorms, took upper division classes for fun, and flirted with theater before settling on psychology. Then the money ran out. I was determined to continue my education but I would not be eligible for financial aid based on my own income for five years. So like many others, I worked and watched my friends from high school have fun on campus and finish college.

At last my turn came, and I returned to my studies with focus and maturity. My first psychology advisor at the University of Iowa told me to quit school if I needed to work for a living because I couldn't do both well. I firmly believed I could prove him wrong. Serious illness in 1994 affected two grades, but I retook the classes and did well. During my senior year I took loans out, worked fewer hours, made the dean's list both semesters. Ten years after I had begun, I picked up my diploma at the post office and cried for joy in my freezing car.

Armed with my shiny new Bachelor of Science degree and Goodwill's 1996 Employee of the Year award, I became ambitious. In Chicago I found a job life coaching a man who had severe autism. Two weeks into the job I was preventing “Mr. B” from banging his head on the wall when he attacked, biting me all over and nearly taking off my right index finger. Six police finally restrained him, but not before one of them was also bitten. Following surgery and extensive physical therapy I prepared to enter the workforce again.

Injured and humbled, I needed a break from social work. I worked in construction, supervised scorers of standardized tests and chauffeured for a remarkable disability advocate. I got married, birthed twins and moved my family to Grand Rapids. After eighteen months as a stay at home mom, I longed for the comparative peace and low stress of social work. I had emotionally healed from the attack and decided I would give my career another try. Touchstone Innovare hired me in 2002 and I have worked there since.

My five years at Touchstone have widened my skills and perspective. We treat people with serious psychiatric illness and co-occurring substance abuse. The majority of my clients at Touchstone live in crushing poverty. Most are jobless, many are homeless and few have steady incomes or medical insurance. Ingenuity is needed to help fill needs for medication and housing when those resources are absent or pending. My intellect has been challenged as I apply current research in psychology to treatment. Successfully developing treatment plans with individuals requires creativity and the ability to integrate knowledge of psychiatric diseases with unique personal and environmental factors. Teamwork and constructive criticism are valued at Touchstone, and I have learned to consult with peers and supervisors regularly, improving my clinical judgment. Outreach to unengaged clients has honed my investigative and rapport-building skills.

I have established and maintained therapeutic rapport with hundreds of people with psychiatric disabilities, but I lack the necessary education to fulfill my career goals. A master's degree in social work from Grand Valley State University would give me the knowledge and credentials to practice social work at an advanced level. I could work intensively with women experiencing mental illness during pregnancy and postpartum. Poor women face challenges in getting adequate and humane psychiatric treatment and I would like to help solve that problem.

Grand Valley State University stands out as the best choice for me. It compares favorably to other programs in important ways. I would not need to move my family to another part of the country, find another job, and build a new network of supports to attend. Grand Valley has been highly recommended to me by coworkers who are alumni. The emphasis on social justice and diversity appeals to me because I share it. GVSU offers part time study completed during the day, which would allow me to spend more time with my family than a night program would.

The most compelling reason to choose GVSU is the chance to study with faculty members whose areas of expertise would be very helpful to me. Joan Borst could teach me much about addressing barriers to health care. Dianne Green-Smith's focus on family therapy, pregnancy and infant adoption dovetails with my interest in reproductive health. I find David Lehker's study of male parenting important because he could expand my knowledge of men's reproductive lives. Shelley Shuurman's work in parenting issues and advocacy could be valuable to me since I want to develop advocacy methods myself. No other MSW program I have considered can compare with Grand Valley State University in terms of professors who could foster my professional development.

I once thought that being bitten by a client would ruin my social work career. Time and a sincere dedication to helping others brought me the strength and courage to return to the work I love. Earning an MSW at Grand Valley State University would seal that choice and prepare me for advanced practice. I hope you will invite me into your department.


LynAnne Smucker said...

Hey Mary, tried calling, but here's feedback another route.

the sentence with "...worked fewer hours, and made deans list." needs the "and"

the stuff about helping solve the problems facing mentally ill pregnant women in greatd but the phrasing is a bit off, maybe change it to ...contribute my efforts to helping solve."
You don't need to necessarily talk about the fact that the school's program has a part time feature even though it is important to you. They already know the up side to offering a program such as this. I liked in the longer version when you mentioned working with the group the Empowered Fe Fe's. I also like the way you talked about the social justice and diversity aspects of the grad school but felt like you needed to link it back to your own work history/experience somehow, maybe? Overall the slimmed essay is really strong, but reread it and see if in cutting the wordiness you have made it feel a bit like you're rushing through things. However, sometimes they want something short and sweet that gets to the point. I really think the part about the particular people you could study with is very strong as it shows you have really looked into how you are wonderful match with their program.

Krista said...

I don't have the level of critique to offer that Lynanne did, but it looks really good. I know that my program likes to see how you overcome personal challenges. One of the areas that I may have just skimmed over that I have found that programs like is an acknowledgment of any barriers to school or practice and how you overcome them. Also, examples of why you care about social justice, diversity and the areas that you are interested in. I did not read the original, though, so I will stop there :) Take all advice with a grain of salt, and promise me you will come critique my MSW essay in 9 months.