From an early age, Xochi Calero knew that she wanted to go into a helping profession. Her mother is a social worker in child protective services, and her father is a police officer. “They have been a strong influence in the development of my personal values and passion for being of service to others,” explains the UVM senior who was born and New York City and grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts. “In exploring careers, I found that the field of social work, and its ethics and values, align with my own.”
When trying to decide where to go to college, she discovered that the social work program at UVM matched her interests. “I also happened to be dating someone at the time who attended UVM, so I was able to visit frequently and just fell in love with the campus,” she recalls. “After visiting a few times and researching more about their BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) program, I knew that was my top choice.”
As it turned out, Xochi’s instincts and decision-making were spot-on.
“In my first year I formed incredible friendships and connections, and quickly found that my major and the program was perfect for me. Classes inspired and motivated me to learn and practice more social work.”
Preparation Through Practice
UVM’s Social Work program is structured so that students apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world through field placements and service learning. Then they come together to process those experiences in the classroom.
“The program is amazing in this way,” she exclaims. “I love having this mix of hands-on experiences to learn new skills and provide meaningful context for what we’re discussing in class. Starting your first year, there are opportunities to go out in the community and practice social work in real life. And I feel lucky that the faculty care so much about the students. This allows us to feel competent, confident and supported when we go out into the field through our placements. I feel prepared and excited to go into the social work profession after college.”
As a first-year student, Xochi engaged in a service-learning experience at the King Street Center as a part of Professor Suzy Comerford’s Working with Refugees class. The course gave her the opportunity to work with youth – the majority of whom were refugee or first-generation Americans – in the afterschool program at King Street. “I never thought that I would have an interest in working with children, but this experience sparked an interest in me, and helped solidify my commitment to social work.”
Over the past summer, she completed an internship shadowing a child protective unit at the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts, participating in home visits, investigations, parent-child visits and various types of treatment meetings.
Now in her senior year, Xochi has a full year field placement at HOPE Works, an agency that seeks to end sexual violence through healing, outreach, prevention and empowerment. “I’m especially excited to be able to assist with educational outreach to local schools regarding consent and sexual violence.”
Along with classes and field placement, Xochi also works as a peer advisor in UVM’s Advising Center, providing walk-in assistance to other students. “I love interacting with people one on one and helping to problem solve with them to figure out what they need.”
Xochi is a member of the Alpha Chi Omega (AXO) sorority where she has taken on several leadership positions over the years. She was drawn to AXO’s philanthropy work with domestic violence awareness. “We’ve helped to organize fundraising events to aid Burlington's local domestic violence organization, STEPs to End Domestic Violence. We also do awareness events and social media campaigns for domestic violence awareness month, plus educational outreach to the community.”
Recently she joined the Social Work Speakers’ Bureau, made up of a group of students who can speak on behalf of their educational experiences to talk with prospective students who are thinking about pursuing a degree in social work. The bureau was formed by Senior Lecturer JB Barna, who serves as the faculty advisor of the group.
Comparative Study Abroad in the Azores
This past summer, Xochi participated in a new travel study course in the Azores (islands off the coast of Portugal). The course – led by Professor Jessica Strolin-Goltzman and Assistant Professor Shana Haines – focused on comparing the education and social systems in the Azores to those in the United States.
“The Azores trip was an amazing experience. It opened my interest even further for working with children, and I was in awe over some of the progressive ways they handle child protection. For example, siblings are always kept together in out of home placements, and there is an emphasis on the children’s voice which allows them to advocate for themselves and their wishes in a way that many foster children in the U.S. cannot.”
“We also learned about how the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal impacts their treatment programs and culture overall, which was very interesting to compare to how the U.S. deals with the opioid epidemic,” she says.
The UVM Community
“One thing that has stood out for me about the UVM community is the efforts made to be inclusive and inviting in regards to diversity. Of course, there are things that can be improved. I also appreciate the various opportunities to do social justice work. Both on campus and in the larger Burlington area, there are many philanthropic clubs and organizations for students to participate in activities that help give back to the community.”
Support and Inspiration
“The social work community has been amazing. I’ve never felt more supported, validated and respected by professors or higher ed professionals in my life. They have such varied and interesting life stories to share with us, and each inspires different things our journeys. Hearing about the work they did before teaching at UVM is truly incredible. I feel honored to be able to learn from them and to have their encouragement for going out into the field."
Xochi recommends that everyone, regardless of their career path, should take the Introduction to Social Work class with Celia Cuddy. “She has touched the lives of so many people and her class is applicable to everyone. I’ve never been more excited to go to a class. I knew that I made the right choice with social work after taking her class.”
“One memory that I will always hold comes from during the NoNames for Justice protests around UVM last spring.” Xochi was impressed that her social work professors invited students to participate, but there wasn't any pressure to do so. One professor gave students the option to remain in the classroom with other students to discuss what they were feeling about the protests. “I was just so grateful for the opportunity and the push to be called to action and witness these moments in UVM’s history.”
"I don't think anything compares to the friendships and bonds I’ve made at UVM in the past four years. Most of my best friends I met in the first year. It's crazy to me how we how we all found each other and are just as close our senior year.
“Joining my sorority also brought so many amazing supports into my life. There are many strong and empowering women that I have met, and without them I wouldn't be who I am today.
“My social work cohort has also been very supportive, especially in the past two years. I feel like we all have really bonded and shared so much with each other. It’s so refreshing to be able to go into a classroom and know that your words and opinions are respected and validated.”
Future Plans and Career Goals
For Xochi, College is all about finding out who you are, embracing the journey, and do things that might be a little out of your comfort zone. “You’ll never know what you’re going to love until you try it. Two quotes I try to live by are ‘comparison is the death of joy’ and ‘carpe diem’.”
Following graduation, she wants to pursue a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) through an advanced standing program.
“I’m really interested in working in the domestic/sexual violence realm of social work, but I’m highly considering working in child protective services at some point in my life. I feel ready for my next steps on my social work journey.”