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College of Social Work

Amirah Cotton Named MSW Student of the Year

May 6, 2020
Chris Woodley •

Everyone in the Master of Social Work program comes to the college under various circumstances. Some recently received their undergraduate degree, others are returning to higher education after working professionally or serving our country in the military, and some are married and raising a family. Amirah Cotton completed her academic and field requirements while active-duty military and married with two children. Cotton has succeeded while multitasking her school, family and military commitments, and she has been recognized as the 2020 MSW Student of the Year.

What does winning the MSW Student of the Year award mean to you?

“This award is confirmation that I am pursuing the right career designed for me to positively influence the greatest number of people. You can inspire, encourage, and uplift people just by following your own dreams while experiencing adversity. You will fall but know your strength is not determined by how many times you fall but the times you decided to get up.”

What have been the most difficult parts of earning your MSW, especially with multitasking school, family and military commitments?

“The most difficult part about pursuing an MSW degree while managing other obligations is knowing when to ask for help. Know your limitations and have the confidence to seek early assistance to meet your commitments and deadlines.  Sometimes you have to make plans B and C, while developing plan A. And prepare your mind to be satisfied with whichever plan must be performed.  

It is imperative for non-traditional students like me to not to compare themselves to others. We must value time as our most precious resource and focus on the quality time with family rather than the quantity. We also must let go of the guilt we may have for not being there for each moment to fulfill their needs. This means we have to utilize each moment to accomplish multiple tasks to meet deadlines. 

I realize now that self-care is essential to any person’s success. Honestly, it was something that I struggled with during my foundation year. However, if you don’t replenish your own energy, you cannot pour anything into anyone else no matter how great your desire.”  

How has the College of Social Work best prepared you for a career in social work?

“I am confident in my abilities gained from the College of Social Work program. This curriculum was intense but rewarding. As a cohort, we can all say our writing skills have been tested and now enhanced from this program. I trust that this program has prepared me to enter a career of social work where I can improve the quality of life of others. I am particularly excited about the diverse groups of people I can now serve in the field with this degree. The opportunities are endless with this MSW degree and the Gamecock network. I am truly grateful for this experience.”  

How has the support you have received from family, faculty and staff motivated or inspired you during your MSW studies?

“The support that I received was enormous. I moved to Columbia from Fayetteville, North Carolina one month prior to starting the MSW program. This journey would not be possible without the assistance of my family, faculty and staff. I am a firm believer that it takes a village to support a person pursuing a master’s degree, especially when raising children.

The motivation to excel in my studies comes from my grandmother, who is 82 years young, and my husband. I have gathered my inspiration from many people: faculty, staff, mentors, friends and classmates. So many faculty and staff were instrumental in my success as an MSW graduate student. I want to thank them for pushing me to become a better student and future social worker.”

What memories will you take away from your time during the MSW program?

“The fondest memory is making friends and future colleagues. Meeting the people (faculty, staff, women and men) hands down will be my best memory.

Entering a profession where we are committed to helping others is admirable. I am truly inspired by the vulnerability of my classmates, who were fearless in sharing their personal and professional stories of failure and success that led them to social work. I will also miss the intense and transparent classroom discussions about strategic initiatives, current policies and world events.”    

What are your future plans?

“I intend to pursue a career transition into the Medical Service Corps as an Army social worker (73A). My plan is to become a behavioral health officer (clinical mental health counselor or therapist). I want to work with military service members (active or reserves), veterans and their family members. The Medical Service Corps performs social work functions, including direct services teaching and training, supervision, research administration, consultation, and policy development in various military settings. All functions are performed collectively to enhance their overall well-being.”

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