For UVM social work students, the moment they know they've made the right career choice doesn't usually happen in the classroom. For Ashley Elder, her moment occurred while working with a young woman at the Burlington Community Justice Center.
Elder's field placement, a requirement of all social work students that spans 450 to 600 hours, had her on the front lines of a restorative justice program for juvenile offenders. Her job was to bring together victims, offenders and community members to discuss the impact of a crime and find ways to make amends to all parties. Needless to say, not all of the young offenders — whose crimes range from shoplifting to auto theft to simple assault — want to be there.
One of Elder's cases involved a young woman who had committed a misdemeanor offense — it wasn't going so well and appeared headed back to the court system.
"The client said no to a panel at first and almost got dismissed, but Ashley created this beautiful relationship with this woman who was no longer feeling as defensive," says Karen Vastine, Elder's supervisor and community justice coordinator. "It's a very powerful situation because Ashley taught her how to be resilient and overcome some things, which empowered her and positively impacted other areas of her life."
Last semester, field education coordinators placed 46 undegraduate social work students and 60 graduate students in agencies around the state.
"Field work is where the rubber meets the road," says, JB Barna, a field education coordinator and senior lecturer in social work who is known for her ability to match students with appropriate social agencies. "They learn how a social worker approaches situations and does their job with the ethics and values of the profession. It's also a time for them to develop their own social work identity. It really is identity forming for them to actually see themselves in the social work mirror."
"I've had a lot of help and learned so much about social work as a profession," says Elder. "You really need to learn how to communicate with all kinds of clients, and this placement has taught me how to do that. I didn't realize the importance of it until I started working here. I'll feel way more confident heading into my first job after graduation. I'll definitely miss the people I've worked with — that's been the most rewarding part."