The Unexpected Perks of Online Learning: Best Friends Born from Social Work Studies
June 1, 2023
The Maryville Online Bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW) program is all about connection for its students. Through hands-on experiences focused on diversity, self-care, social justice, and generalist social work practice, there’s ample opportunity for enrolled students to engage with a community of like-minded learners and professionals in projects based on real-world scenarios.
Such was the case of Samantha and Alli, who were both drawn to the online program from various pathways of life – yet became best friends through educational discovery and a passion for advocacy.
Samantha Found Flexibility and Accessibility in Maryville
Samantha initially struggled with the decision to go back to school. As a mother, she was torn over the possibility of leaving her children for long periods of time. This separation anxiety was fueled by her childhood; Samantha still had fresh memories of how her father returned to school in her youth.
Though it was beneficial for his career and education, she didn’t enjoy that he was often away from home and preoccupied with his studies.
“I have three kids, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this to my kids, I don’t want to be gone,’ ” she said.
With on-campus out of the picture, Samantha was drawn to an online program for her bachelor’s because she appreciated the flexibility that came with it.
“I’m still very much present in their lives, and through all the chaos of life, I can still go to school.”
Samantha, who is also legally deaf, saw social work as an opportunity to advocate for those with hearing loss.
“I can’t sit in a classroom with a bunch of background noise [because] I can’t hear our professors or whatnot,” she said. “Online learning has given me, as a person with hearing loss, a way to continue my education and work on my degree easily.”
Alli Found a Fresh Start in Maryville’s Online BSW
Alli initially studied psychology, but her studies were halted due to a lackluster college experience at a different university. Displeased, she sought to transfer. Early in her evaluation, she found Maryville through a Google search.
Alli was intrigued, so she applied – and was accepted. But she still had her doubts.
“I really came into this thinking that [Maryville] was going to be as bad as my experience at [my previous school], but I was trying to have an open mind,” said Alli, thinking back to those moments.
When she started classes, Alli was surprised to find that her professors were attentive and nurturing – which superseded her initial hesitations.
“I was not expecting to have the best professors. I cannot tell you how many professors I have had and loved. They’re so helpful… All of my professors like instantly reply, especially in social work.”
For Alli, there were a few standouts, such as Sharon Jackson, her social work advisor, Ellie Wideman, and Dr. Catherine Mennes – all of whom provided assistance and support to help her understand the material and made themselves available to her throughout her journey.
“If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t still be in college,” she said.
Advocating for Others Through Lessons of the Past
For Samantha, pursuing social work was personal; she’d been through difficult moments in her youth and struggled with mental health issues. As a result, Samantha wanted to help others who may also be experiencing the same issues.
“I have experienced things in my life, traumas. And I think many years ago I had someone share with me that I’d be perfect as a counselor or therapist,” she reflected. “It’s laid on my mind throughout the years.”
Samantha, who cites her empathy and experience as key strengths, was motivated to learn more about social work and to act on those strong sensibilities.
“Social work was the perfect setting because I’ve learned I can do so much more with the counseling and therapy [expertise].”
When Samantha was at her most vulnerable during trying moments in her life, she lacked the skills to navigate the traumas she’d experienced. She didn’t know it then, but she needed support and resources.
“I want to be who I didn’t have,” she said. “So, one of my other biggest areas I would like to work with is health care and mental health.”
Alli felt called to the profession by her empathy for others, too. When she worked as a direct support professional, she spent time with people with intellectual developmental disabilities. The experience changed her.
“It was an eye-opening experience, and I just saw what they go through and how they’re treated,” said Alli.
One of Alli’s clients was on an individual support plan, which made it difficult for him to receive consistent treatment due to fluctuations in how the plan worked. Alli was moved by this – and wondered just how many other people were also affected by that situation.
“I’ve also seen people in that program being neglected,” she said. “As a social worker, I can help them and advocate for them. So that’s why I went from psychology to social work.”
A Friendship Made Through Maryville Online
The Maryville Online Bachelor’s in Social Work program courses often feature group projects on real-world scenarios to facilitate shared learning and peer-to-peer organic engagement. It was also the forum that allowed Alli and Samantha to meet for the first time – and the two bonded immediately.
“We had to talk daily or weekly, which made us really good friends,” said Alli. “Now, Samantha and I have been close for almost three years.”
Though Alli and Samantha were brought together by their educational and career interest in social work, their connection also provided a much-needed respite from the rigors of their program and busy personal lives.
“[Our friendship] goes beyond social work,” Samantha shared. “We’re venting about our husbands, we’re talking about what we’re cooking, new recipes, planning different events, animals, kids.”
Along with Alli and Samantha’s friendship, they both also enjoyed meeting and connecting with other fellow students throughout their respective classes – which enhanced their online experience all the more.
“It’s been wonderful meeting new people,” said Samantha. “Even if you don’t stay connected for a long time, it’s still a positive experience to meet new people, hear new things, and learn different perspectives.”
Alli, who lives on a farm, is used to a solitary daily life – but her friendship with Samantha allowed her to branch out a bit more. For Samantha, who is a stay-at-home mom and a substitute teacher, the experience was refreshing; she spends most of her time with school-aged children, which made it harder for her to build relationships with those her age.
“I’d been a stay-at-home mom for a while. I was dying for adult conversation,” she said. “Being able to communicate with people online changed my whole perspective of online learning. I didn’t think it would happen, but it did.”
The two have also already seen the benefits of the program in the present, and both have future aspirations, as well.
“My job [right now] is an employment specialist, and I cannot tell you how many things I’ve learned from social work to help me with my clients,” said Alli. “I also still work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and behavioral challenges. So my job is kind of difficult. If it weren’t for the social work program and what I’ve learned so far, I would absolutely have no idea what I was doing.”
“As soon as I graduate, I plan to go into my master’s program to try to go to the clinical route with my social work, work with therapy, and help out in that area,” said Samantha.
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