Aug. 11, 2020
Chris Woodley • email@example.com
Author Jess C. Scott once said, “Friends are the family you choose.” Three Virginia natives began their undergraduate studies in the fall of 2016 at in-state James Madison University, joining more than 20,000 students. Not only did they meet one another and become friends through the social work program, their friendship brought all of them to the University of South Carolina to pursue their graduate studies as part of the 2020-2021 Advanced Standing Master of Social Work cohort.
Madison Bollhorst, Alexis Kandetzki and Kassie Kintzios each graduated from James Madison earlier this year with their Bachelor of Social Work degree. But their friendship may never had happened if two of the students maintained their original academic plans. Kandetzki was the only one of the three who was a social work major from the beginning.
“I learned in fifth grade that I had cousins who were in foster care,” Kandetzki says. “Knowing they went through hard times growing up while I had two parents, siblings and other things made me realize how some people were not as fortunate as me. Combined with my love of volunteering, this was pivotal in choosing social work.”
But Bollhorst and Kintzios started with different majors before switching to social work.
“I was originally a biology/pre-med major but after taking a few classes I realized it was not for me,” Bollhorst says. “I went through a catalog with all majors and highlighted social work. After attending a meeting to learn more, I felt like social work fit in with everything being discussed. I started taking classes the following semester and enjoyed them enough to keep going.”
“I came to James Madison as a psychology major but felt there was not a path and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Kintzios says. “My advisor said people who are unsure about psychology go to social work. Without thinking about it, I switched my major to social work that same day. My first class was the following semester, and fortunately I loved it. I took a big leap going in blind but was happy that I switched.”
Kandetzki and Bollhorst initially met as freshman and later became close friends once they began taking social work classes during their sophomore year. Kintzios met Kandetzki in Washington during a group project. She previously was in a large class with Bollhorst, but all three were in classes together and worked on group projects beginning in their junior year. As the social work classes became smaller, their friendship grew closer and stronger.
The professors here are very personable, and it’s nice to see that they are willing to engage with the students. I like their style of teaching by giving more examples based on their own work and experiences.
- Madison Bollhorst
The trio also attended Rally in the Valley, a two-day event for social work students in Virginia that included recruiters from graduate schools. Their professors encouraged them to consider the UofSC College of Social Work, where all three eventually applied. Kandetzki was the first to be accepted before everything else fell in place to keep their friendship together at the same school.
“We thought, 'What if we all ended up at South Carolina?' After I learned that I was accepted, Madison found out she got in and about a week later Kassie was accepted,” Kandetzki says. “I went from thinking that I was moving to South Carolina and living alone to I'm moving and living with Madison to we're all going.”
Attending graduate school and living together has made the rigors of academics and the uncertainties of moving to a new city easier. It has brought a level of comfort that is not afforded to all out-of-state students.
“It makes me grateful to have people that I know because the process of grad school and being in a new place can be scary,” Bollhorst says. “It’s great having friends who I can work with and turn to if I need to talk about anything.”
The Advanced Standing program consolidates two years of social work studies and field education into 11 months. There is also only a short break between completing undergraduate studies and beginning graduate school. But the quick transition has been more of a positive for the newest students from James Madison.
“I was really excited to only have a month break because it gave me that motivation and still be in the school mode,” Kintzios says. “Finishing the last semester of undergrad was stressful, but I'm better at doing my work now than I would be if my first semester was in the fall.”
“I don't think the short turnaround was difficult because it felt like a winter break,” Bollhorst says. “If we had a longer break, I would be more hesitant about starting grad school.”
Graduate school has also required more time in a virtual classroom than their final semester at James Madison. Since they interned at their field placements for at least 32 hours a week, their classes were every other Friday. They had limited experience with online learning once classes went virtual beginning on March 19. Consequently, the transition during the summer term was a little more difficult compared to other students.
“For me, it was more of a mental health hit because you do all of your work in one space,” Kintzios says. “The transition was difficult because I was not leaving my house to attend class, so school and regular life have been morphed together, and it’s hard to distinguish between the two.”
“I was expecting it to be harder here because we were all stressed about grad school being online at first. But the professors have been very understanding, and there’s been a learning curve because we used a different online platform at JMU.” Kandetzki says.
But despite starting the graduate program online, they have had positive first impressions of the program and faculty after completing their summer session.
“The professors here are very personable, and it’s nice to see that they are more willing to engage with the students. I like their style of teaching by giving more examples based on their own work and experiences,” Bollhorst says.
“It’s more of a collaborative effort, and the teachers are willing to work with you and hear your perspective,” Kintzios says. “Our BSW program was building our professional profile and figuring out who we were as a social worker. But it’s very refreshing to have teachers that not only teach but take the journey with you.”
The trio is also confident and excited for their future careers once they graduate next May. Bollhorst wants to work with children, youth and families and has an interest in substance use. Kintzios’s dream job is to be an international mental health social worker, while Kandetzki desires to work in school or child welfare.
But while Bollhorst, Kandetzki and Kintzios may be separated by distance after graduating, they are confident their friendship will be everlasting.
“Social workers are big on connections and networking,” Kintzios says. “I think we will always be there for each other professionally and support each other if one of us ever needs anything.”