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College of Social Work

  • Headshot of MSW student Amanda Brown

MSW Student Turns Obstacles and Adversities into Success

Sept. 28, 2020
Chris Woodley •

Basketball legend Michael Jordan once said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” Master of Social Work student Amanda Brown has faced several challenges throughout her life that could have stopped her. But her perseverance and support have been vital to her academic success. 

Brown encountered her first obstacle in July 2001 when she was only four-years old. Her mom noticed an egg-size lump on her right shoulder, which was a cancerous tumor. After seeing a pediatrician, she was rushed into emergency surgery the following day. Doctors initially believed the tumor would be aggressive and spread, and Brown would not reach her fifth birthday in less than month. But the outlook changed less than two weeks after her surgery when doctors told Brown’s family that she was cancer free and would live a normal life.

“I remember not knowing what was going on since it's hard for someone at that age to comprehend a cancerous tumor,” Brown says. “Everything happened so quickly, but I do remember being mad that I couldn't go swimming because it was during the summer, and I couldn't get my incision wet.”

Brown expressed sadness when explaining that many family members have been diagnosed and treated for cancer. Her father is currently battling stage IV metastatic prostate cancer.

“He is also beating the odds; only given six months to live and has beat that by three years,” Brown says. “My daddy is my biggest fan and I am his. I know that I make him proud and can’t wait to see his face when I graduate from UofSC, just like he did.”

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Brown was unable to attend grade school and receive a formal education. She moved in with her maternal grandmother and helped care for her in her final days shortly before her 17th birthday. That was when Brown realized she was in control of her situation. She learned about adult education classes and earned her GED in 2014. Afterwards, Brown enrolled at Florence-Darlington Technical College as a nursing major, but a past experience swayed her towards social work.

“I admired my ex-boyfriend's mother, who is a social worker among the many others that I have met throughout my internship experiences,” Brown says. “I loved listening to these people talk about how they loved their jobs and how much they were able to help others. And they get paid for it.

I started as a nursing major because that's what everyone else did and didn't know what else to do. But when I took an introductory psychology class, I fell in love with it. I switched majors to human services and realized that I would need a master’s degree if I wanted to help the people the way I wanted to. During my second semester, I set my mind on attending South Carolina for my MSW and making my dreams of helping others come true.”

Brown earned an associate degree in 2017 and graduated with honors. Two years later, she once again graduated with honors with her bachelor’s degree from Coker College.  

“I don't think I would be as motivated towards my goals if I had a normal childhood and attended a traditional school. As a result, I've been motivated and made straight A's my entire college career,” Brown says. “I have a wall in my home office that has my GED, associate’s and bachelor's degrees, and a spot reserved for my MSW. My dean's list, president's list, and honor society certificates are also framed. Whenever I'm doing homework and feel unmotivated, I look up at my accomplishments and it reminds me that I am so close to achieving all of my educational goals.”

The adjustment to graduate school last fall was initially difficult. Brown’s classes at Florence-Darlington Technical College were mostly filled with adults going back to school, and she attended evening classes with older adults at Coker College. It was not until she started at the College of Social Work that most of her classes were alongside students at or around her age.

“I just got married last year and had a hard time adjusting to being a full-time grad student and not working because I had worked my whole life,” Brown says. “There were adjustment issues with what professors were asking of me and feeling that I didn't quite fit in. I felt that everybody was prepared except for me.”

While Brown had thoughts of dropping out last fall, she credits the friendships made in her cohort for encouraging her and helping her persevere through the foundation year.  

“My group of friends literally held my hand throughout the first semester and helped me figure out what worked for me.” Brown says. “It's been fulfilling to know that I already have this network group who helps one another. I have not met a person in the MSW program who does not support their fellow classmates and want them to succeed.” 

Brown believes overcoming all her obstacles has made her a stronger person. She also knows it will help her as she prepares to embark on a social work career.

“Overcoming obstacles and circumstances will help me as a social worker because I will be a light to somebody who feels they cannot get out of a bad situation and don't know what to do,” Brown says. “I'm hoping one day as a future social worker, I can help the population I’m serving and be an inspiration to them with whatever they are dealing with because I've been through struggles myself.”

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