When Nia Paynter read about the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Walden, she knew she had found a professional niche that could sustain her for decades.
“The field of social work has endless opportunities,” she says, noting that careers are available in healthcare and schools and that there is also room for growth through leadership and policy roles.
At Walden, she is following in solid footsteps: The school was recently renamed the Barbara Solomon School of Social Work and Human Services in honor of the prestigious social work pioneer, and its MSW program received accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.
In honor of Social Work Month, Paynter shares her experiences in the program and what she plans to accomplish as a graduate of the newly accredited program.
Why are you passionate about social work?
My parents play a role in my passion for social work. They have always helped others who are in need and have taught me that small acts of kindness and help can go a long way. For example, my parents have provided support for individuals with financial hardships and have opened their home to some of my close friends in need. Their meaningful acts have really made an impact on others. It was gratifying to hear positive comments from my friends after they spoke with my parents. Seeing them take time to help people inspired me to help others around me, which is one reason why I chose to enter the field of social work.
Why did you choose to pursue an MSW?
I realized that I want to be an advocate for people, communities, and families. I also like that social work has endless opportunities. I don’t have to do one thing. I can be in various settings like schools, hospitals, hospice, addiction centers, or help the homeless. I can work with different populations—and anywhere I go, I can help people change their lives.
What did you learn during your first fieldwork experience as a caseworker at Volunteers of America’s Eleanor Corbett House for the homeless in New Jersey?
I met with the clients one-on-one each week. I talked to them about their day but really tried to make sure they were finding housing, a job, and working toward their monthly and weekly goals. I also held a few workshops there about money management and self-esteem, and organized bingo nights as a fun activity. I started with 17 cases and then was asked to pick my top five. I’m proud to report that I placed all five clients in permanent housing before I left, which made me feel accomplished. It demonstrated that Walden prepared me with the social work skills I needed to engage clients, advocate for them, and help them reach their goals.
My clinical supervisor really pushed me in terms of how to talk to clients and ask challenging questions, especially if a client wasn’t following the rules of the shelter. What do you want to say? What tone should you use? She taught me how to have difficult conversations.
What are your long-term professional goals?
When I was an undergraduate student at Bloomfield College, I was part of The First Ladies of Bloomfield College, an all-female organization that works to uplift, educate, and motivate female adolescents and young women in the surrounding communities through mentoring. I want to start a mentoring group for teenage girls in my community, to help them build self-esteem, educate them on job readiness skills, and prepare them for college and real-life experiences. In the future, I’d also like to start a program for social workers, to give them an outlet to talk about their hard cases, share ways to cope with difficult clients, discover ways to de-stress from challenging cases, mentor them through the challenges we will encounter in the field, and network with other social workers.
What advice would you give someone considering a career as a social worker?
The journey is not easy, but the reward of knowing that you can help change the lives of others, to me, is the best prize. For those considering social work as a career, remember that self-care is important. Work with your clients, not against them. Most importantly, be the type of social worker you would want to have.
For more information about the MSW program, visit www.WadenU.edu/MSW.