Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Oran, MSW

Melissa Oran, MSW, with her two childrenMelissa Oran, MSW, is a recent graduate of the Master of Social Work program at UNE Online, the College of Graduate and Professional Studies. In this interview, she discusses why she decided to pursue her MSW, some of the standout experiences she has had in the program, and words of wisdom for future MSW students in the program.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My undergraduate degree is in psychology and criminal justice. Originally, I wanted to be a police officer, but that’s not how things worked out. After graduation, I got a job working at the Children’s Bureau in Indianapolis working with at-risk youth – and I loved it. After that, I started another job that I loved – working at Centerstone as a Hope Specialist. It was a Department of Labor grant, helping adult offenders who had recently been released from prison reintegrate into the community, through partnerships and employment.

As my career progressed, I eventually realized that I would need to become licensed. Originally I thought I might get my Ph.D. in Psychology, but getting an MSW leads to licensure, so I looked for a master’s program in social work.

What kind of licensure are you going to sit for?

In Indiana you need to sit for two exams: the LSW first, and then the LCSW after two years of clinical supervision. The LCSW, or Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is essentially the end of licensing for me unless I wanted to go into family marriage counseling, which is not an area that I am currently interested in.

Why did you choose UNE Online for your graduate degree?

When I found UNE, I knew that the asynchronous format would work well for me – I wouldn’t have to leave the state with my two kids. Plus, there was no GRE requirement, so that was convenient.

I started the online MSW program, two classes, at a time, but moved to one at a time. As a single mom of a five- and one-year-old, time is at a premium.

At first, I chose to pursue my master’s degree for my own career development. I had topped out in my current position, but I had a family to provide for. Getting my master’s degree was a means to an end in the beginning, but then that shifted partway through the program. Once I learned more about social work, that knowledge changed my mind about several things. Now, I think that every politician should also be a social worker! I know that’s not realistic, but I do believe that our leaders could benefit from more empathy.

Since I have been in this program, I’ve found that I’ve become more empathetic, and the curriculum has helped me recognize personal and professional biases I hadn’t seen before.

How did you feel about your work-life balance as you went through the program?

The program was definitely not easy, with the deadlines, research, papers, and other requirements – but it was manageable. The program was flexible and that also helped.

Last September I went into labor with my son on the same day I had a paper due. I got in touch with my professor and explained the situation and they were very understanding. I got an extension – but I ended up working most of the night and submitting that paper from the hospital anyway.

I loved the flexibility of being able to take my laptop into the hospital and submit a paper from there! I also did a fair amount of schoolwork at the laundromat.

This program is not for the faint of heart, and you do need to put in the extra effort. But for me, it was worth it.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your academic journey?

My final field placement was scheduled to go from January to August and was at an inpatient acute psychiatric hospital. I was just three months in when in March things began to get very serious.

When UNE pulled all MSW students out of all field placements I was terrified that I wasn’t going to graduate – but the Social Work program came together and created an option for virtual field placement and a plan for people to graduate on time. They made it a priority, which made me feel reassured and valued.

About the SOS Program

With the new SOS field placement program, students now have the option to complete a portion of their field hours in a virtual, online environment. This enhances the generalist and specialization skills of students prior to placement, increases accessibility, and ensures that students are grounded in competency-based skills.

Click here for more information about the SOS virtual field experience.

What would you want a potential student to know before starting this program?

One of the biggest elements you need to be successful in this program is communication. Don’t be afraid to talk to your peers, talk to your Student Support Specialist, and talk to your instructor. Don’t let yourself feel isolated or overwhelmed. Realize that some things are easier for some people than they are for others.

Also, be proactive in managing your time. Make time for what’s important. If your schoolwork takes fifteen hours, schedule those fifteen hours. That’s not possible in one day a week, so you will need to spread out that time into a schedule that works for you.

Finally, be honest with yourself. There are some assignments that call for self-reflection – and self-reflection is essential for growth as a social worker. Even if you are out of your comfort zone, you have to be honest with yourself. That’s where the growth happens.

Since starting at UNE, I’ve convinced two of my coworkers to join the program. They saw me going through the program, getting my master’s, and being able to manage the workload and saw that they could be successful too – so they applied and both were accepted. They are at different stages of their academic journeys and it’s great to see them doing it!

Learn more with our online Master of Social Work program guide

Tags: | | | |