Our featured graduate student is Jennifer Snay, a Master's degree candidate in the College of Education and Social Services' Master's in Social Work program.
IMPACT: Jennifer, tell our readers where you are from and how you got interested in social work at the undergraduate level?
Jennifer: I am from the Burlington area and studied social work as an undergraduate at Champlain College. I have been drawn to the helping professions since high school, primarily because of the neighborhood where I grew up and my desire to help children and families in that community. Living in the Old North End of Burlington, and particularly my experiences at the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington, helped solidify my interest in social work. I spent many years at the Boys and Girls Club, first as a member when I was a child and then as a lifeguard and camp counselor. Those experiences helped me understand how important community is for young people and the difference it can make for marginalized kids and families.
IMPACT: What inspired you to attend graduate school at UVM?
Jennifer: UVM's Master’s in Social Work (MSW) program was something that I was interested in since I attended Champlain College. But after receiving my Bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW), I considered a career change (I had already been in the field for seven years when I completed my BSW). I was taking courses to help prepare me for nursing school when the unexpected passing of a colleague put a pause on that plan. Instead, I chose to focus on my role at Allenbrook, the residential program I work for under the umbrella of Northeastern Family Institute (NFI). When the time was right, I spoke with several UVM alumni who recommended the program. With the support of NFI, I decided to apply to UVM because the program fit best with my strengths and interests, and I believe an MSW will allow me flexibility within the field to help in many different ways.
IMPACT: Jennifer, tell us what it’s like to attend graduate school at UVM?
Jennifer: My graduate experience so far has been incredibly powerful. I have been able to see things through a broader lens and this, in turn, has allowed me to make changes within myself and change the way I work with and advocate for kids and families. I don't know if I would have had the same experience had I started graduate school after undergrad, or if I didn't already have several years in the field where I can go from class to my job and immediately implement change.
Through the graduate program field experience, I have been able to strengthen the services that Allenbrook provides to youth in custody and I've realized that my true passion is working with adolescents and their families. Through field work at the UVM Medical Center, I am also seeing firsthand how the intersection of poverty, drug addiction and mental health is impacting our community. This experience has enriched my work with families at NFI and allowed me an opportunity to work alongside many other agencies who are collaborating to solve this community crisis.
Finally, it was an honor this year to be awarded the Lara Sobel Memorial Scholarship. While I did not work directly with Lara, I do share her passion for working with kids and families, and I have appreciated being in classes with her colleagues.
IMPACT: Congratulations on the award — that is great to hear. Are there faculty members in the Social Work program that have been particularly important to you?
Jennifer: All of the MSW faculty members that I have had so far have been incredibly passionate about their work and this is felt in the classroom. I have appreciated the times when humor is supported in the classroom since the material we discuss if often very heavy. I have found that the faculty are supportive and flexible and genuinely care about what we take away from class each week.
IMPACT: And what are your plans after graduation?
Jennifer: Next semester will be my last semester and I will graduate in May. Immediately after graduation, I plan to pause and breathe. It has been a busy few years! I will continue working at Allenbrook, but will shift my role to focus more on clinical oversight of the program, including family work for our eight youth, as well as increased collaboration with local schools and the Vermont Department for Children and Families.
I plan to continue bringing my classroom learning into the group home so that we can expand how we work with our youth and honor their families and their stories. I have always said how fortunate I have been to be able to work with some of the youth I've worked with. They are incredibly resilient and amazing. I’m looking forward to spending more time with them after graduation and bringing my MSW experience fully into Allenbrook so that we (my team and I) can inspire our youth to change their stories.
I feel very fortunate to have had this experience at UVM with the support of NFI and while continuing my work at Allenbrook, and I'm excited to give back to the agency.