What you didn’t learn in your social work program: Story from the front
Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov, Ph.D., MSW, RSW
To the class 2020:
Convocation is a critical milestone in everyone’s life—one of your many journeys is coming to completion at the time when you receive your degree parchment. What awaits you in the front, you know well: Work! Hard work and even more work. But don’t worry. You are well prepared for social work. You have studied hard and put a lot of efforts into mastering program objectives, and you are ready to start practicing on a new level with new sets of responsibilities and rights. You can choose the field of practice where you want to work. BSW allows you to explore many areas of professional social work practice. With an MSW degree, you also can start your private practice. Ph.D. in social work can enable you to teach on a more permanent basis and promote social work knowledge and research in academia and beyond.
I am a social work educator. In 2019 I opened my private practice. The SW Educator www.krasun.ca offers MSW remote practicum placements to students from around the world under my supervision. My first WLU MSW student graduated in June 2020. It took me 12 years after I completed MSW to decide to offer practicum experience for social work students, and it was my former student who inspired me to do so. Get inspired by what you do and with whom you work. I am thankful to all who inspire me every day. The list is long, and it is a blessing in my everyday work to have people who are my mentors, friends, colleagues, and family. For connections, I have with those who inspire me to do what I love: to teach a new generation of social workers in Canada and globally, and to promote social work profession worldwide, I am grateful.
After the MSW journey, I decided to continue my studies, and eight years later, I reached a terminal degree in social work: Ph.D. With proper supports for those who are thinking about the next step in your learning journey, you can do it too. I have now shared my knowledge with more than 5000 students and counting in class and remotely in universities across Canada and Ukraine over 15+ years. Some of my students whom I taught at the BSW level decade ago are completing their MSW, few are thinking about Ph.D. Some send their children to continue family traditions in practicing social work, and I even taught a few grandchildren of my former students and current colleagues: practicing social workers. Many of my students practice as social workers, some move in other helping professions. I keep in touch with my students who are willing to connect via social media or e-mail, and some I have the honour to see in person in Kamloops, BC, where I currently live and work at Thompson Rivers University.
Until class 2020, few social work students experience remote learning. A limited number of social work programs in Canada offer remote delivery options. In 2020 every student experienced remote learning and learn how challenging it is to study online. For some students, they never had a choice and patiently wait for social work programs to be open for online learning and accept their application.
We will together transform social work education and make sure that everyone who wants to join a university and receive quality education will have an opportunity to either study on campus or take classes remotely. No one in the future should be left behind and be able to fulfil their dreams to become a professional social worker. It is my life mission to make quality social work education accessible to all globally. Thanks to COVID-19, we might be closer to see more universities accepting the idea that learning can happen outside of walls and borders, and an effective learning environment can be created remotely. Learning on distance is very hard, as it requires a lot of organization, motivation, self-directedness, technology-savviness and interdependence.
As class 2020, you all experienced the unique challenges remote students face every day to receive their degrees. Learning online is possible and requires special skills and supports. The most important is that online programs offer more accessibility to students who otherwise might never have a chance to join the university community. Social workers are working around the world to make services available, accessible, affordable, accountable, appropriate (applicable), acceptable, approachable, accurate, appreciative, adequate and awesome. You will join the team of global social work professionals and keep caring, sharing, and loving the work you do with the knowledge you have to make the world a better place to live for everyone.
In your future, you will hear a lot about services that might not need to be changed that “things are normal the way they are now.” Critically question the norm, challenge oppression, recognize privilege and practice reflectively. Your social work education prepared you to enter professional practice. As social workers, we know that change is possible and needed as guided by our professional values to acknowledge the dignity and worth of the person, advance social justice, promote service to humanity, demonstrate integrity, confidentiality and competence in our professional practices.
You will be challenged daily on how you incorporate practice principles of equity, diversity and inclusion that are based on intersectionalities of social GRACES: Gender, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Geography (Place of Birth), Geographic Location (Postal Code), Receipt of Public Assistance (Welfare), Residence (own/rent), Racialization (Social Colour), Religion, Residential School / Internment, Refugee / Displacement, Affiliation (profession), Ancestry, Addiction, Age, Ability / Agility, Aliment (food, nourishment), Appearance, Assisted Technology, Caregiving, Community, Creed, Class (income), Criminalization, Culture, Citizenship, Capitals (possession), Ethnic Origin (ethnicity), Economy (Managing household), Extended family, Education (level), Employment (type), English (Oral/Writing), Strengths (Identification of gifts), Status (marital / family), Sex (biological), Siblings, Size (weight), Social Capital (friends/relationships), Sexual behaviour, Sexual orientation, Social Media (technology / digital literacy), Spirituality and many other dimensions of our intersecting identities that might not yet included in the Social G5R6A8C8E6S9+ acronym.
Keep learning and sharing your knowledge. Your social work program prepared you for professional practice. Enjoy the professional social work journey. Celebrate your achievements, build networks, coalitions and bridges; remove barriers, walls, and injustices. Continue learning from your experiences. Congratulations, class 2020! Enjoy the journey that is unfolding in front of you.