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College of Social Work

Student Spotlight: Madison Stephens

Feb. 7, 2019
Chris Woodley • 

Madison Stephens came from Cincinnati, Ohio for her undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina. But she changed her initial career plans after working with social workers at a post-graduate internship.

Why did you decide to earn your MSW from the College of Social Work?

I have always known that I had a passion for social justice, mental health and the human condition. As an undergrad, I majored in experimental psychology and criminal justice, and my initial post-graduation intention was to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. During a summer internship as a crisis intern at a community mental health center, most of my colleagues were licensed social workers. I quickly realized that social workers were often the individuals on the front lines doing most of the direct services. It became clear to me that I was energized by social interaction and direct services. While I valued academia and research, I wanted a professional experience (at least imminently) that allowed me to have intimate one-on-one interactions with clients. I chose a Master of Social Work because of the holistic nature in which social workers process the human condition and client circumstance.

What classes have had the most impact on your social work studies?

Human Behavior and the Social Environment courses outlined the sociological theories guiding our practice and understanding of how human behavior is related to the environments in which individuals live. These courses taught me how to think like a social worker and utilize theory to critically think about human behavior on micro and macro levels as it relates to society.

By contrast, the social welfare policy analysis course awakened a passion and intellectual curiosity for policy and advocacy that I never knew existed. I always thought my social work experience would remain intensively clinical, but after a field placement with the National Association of Social Work, in conjunction with Dr. (Ben) Roth’s policy course, I realized my natural inclination for advocacy, and more importantly, the way that policy and advocacy efforts dictate the entirety of our profession.

What do you enjoy most about field education?

Field education is such a unique and important part of the MSW experience, and social work is a profession wherein we are our own most valuable tools. A social work education would be incomplete without a comprehensive exposure to what everything we learn looks like in practice. Field education is invaluable because it is the real-life application of everything we learn in our textbooks and talk about in class. Our placements are sort of our live laboratories in which we can try out the skills we are learning in class. Most importantly, field education gives students a realistic view of the intricacies of the social work profession and allows them to really parse out where their interests are and what work they feel inclined to do.

I had the unique opportunity to experience three different field placements in my two years. I began first in school social work at Richland Two School District and later became the intern for the South Carolina chapter of the NASW. This past fall, I was in a long-term inpatient unit at Bryan Psychiatric Hospital-Adult. I have gained invaluable professional experiences in each field placement and feel fortunate to have had a diverse breadth of exposure because I feel that regardless of where I seek employment, I will have had some experience that I can draw on that will qualify me to do the work.

How has the College of Social Work faculty and staff helped you overcome any challenges to help you best succeed?

Melissa Reitmeier and Mike Ottone have been essential mentors for me throughout my field education process. I experienced some difficulties and frustrations with my first field placement, and they helped by empowering me to make my own decisions regarding my field education and recognizing my natural inclinations and strengths that I may not have otherwise seen in myself. Dr. Reitmeier was with me every step of the way as I chose a new placement for the spring of my first year in the program. It was because of her that I became the NASW intern and found a passion for policy and advocacy.

They both saw in me an intrinsic desire and ability to advocate and encouraged me to explore that through the NASW. My long-term professional goals have become much more macro and administrative than I would have ever imagined, and I feel fortunate to have mentors who encouraged me to explore an entire part of myself that I did not know was there.

What advice or recommendations would you give prospective out-of-state students who might be considering studying social work at UofSC?

I would tell prospective students that you get out of this program what you are willing to put into it. If students are eager and willing to absorb as much knowledge as they can during their time in the program, the college will be an invaluable tool in connecting them to opportunities and resources that can set them apart as exceptional, emergent social workers. In my experience, if you seek out opportunities to grow and learn, the faculty and staff of the College of Social Work are eagerly waiting to serve as mentors to foster your professional development and intellectual growth.

What are your favorite locations on the UofSC campus?

My favorite part of campus is probably the Horseshoe since it holds such nostalgia for me. There are few places more beautiful than the Horseshoe at sunset (especially in the fall). My other favorite spots on campus are the secret nooks over the university that are great places to study. Places such as the roof of Gambrel, the veranda at Darla Moore, the poolside at the Strom (Thurmond Fitness Center and the third floor of the Russell House are a few of the special places to study, learn and absorb what it really feels like to be a part of this university.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I plan to earn my license and pursue clinical work in Columbia. I also know that I want to further my education, whether obtaining an independent licensure, a Ph.D., both or something else. Regardless, I see myself transitioning my career into work that is more administrative, whether as executive director of a non-profit, director of social services in a hospital or assistant professor at a university. I am passionate about this work and plan on pushing myself to rise, grow and eventually lead to the best of my abilities throughout my career.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.