Ambassador Spotlight: Melina Paiewonsky, MSW Program

Melina-Paiewonsky-and-husbandMelina Paiewonsky is a student in the Master of Social Work program at UNE Online. Since last fall her family has endured two category five hurricanes and has been evacuated and relocated three times. Through it all, she was able to face these challenges and still stay on track with her education.

Here, Melina discusses her experience with the MSW program, her thoughts about getting feedback from her instructors, and imparts some words of wisdom for students entering the program.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, and what encouraged you to pursue your Master’s in Social Work?

I am from the United States Virgin Islands, St. Thomas. I’ve worked as a teacher for a few years on the island, but I always had the desire to do more work to help the community.

One day as I was volunteering with one of my community projects, my husband said to me, “Melina, you’re always helping people – maybe you should find a job where you get paid to help people!”  I felt that that made a lot of sense, so I started looking into a different career path.

I’ve always been interested in working with marginalized populations, and I was really interested in working with at-risk and high-risk teens and developing programs and legislature to help make changes.  Our island has a high crime rate amongst young teenagers and young adults. I immediately started reading and researching and I fell in love with the profession, and the values and the principles of it. That’s when I decided to focus on going towards a career in social work.

And where in the program are you?

I’m scheduled to be done with my Master’s in Social Work degree in August. I’m planning on attending graduation in May, but I will be going back to the island in April to complete my final internship requirements.

We had to evacuate the island after we were hit by two category five hurricanes last fall. I was actually going through my internship when Hurricane Irma hit St. Thomas. My family was evacuated to Puerto Rico, but then we got hit by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, so were evacuated to the Dominican Republic. From the Dominican Republic, we settled temporarily in Orlando, Florida, where I was able to finish my internship and complete my classes.

It was a lot of transition, and it all happened within the span of two months. I am grateful that I was able to work with the social work program and move things around. I was a full-time student in the accelerated program, and because I had already completed my hours when the hurricane hit, the University allowed me to participate in a volunteer program among other things here.

In Orlando, I worked with a group called Adopt a Family who was sending packages to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to help people who were in need because of the hurricane. I was happy to be able to help my island even though I wasn’t there. And I was also able to enroll in another class so I didn’t fall behind in school work.

What are you planning to do once you graduate and get your degree?

I chose to focus on community practice which is geared more towards advocacy and community organizing. The community practice program was one of the big reasons why I chose UNE.

We don’t have many grant writers on the island, and we don’t have many social workers who are advocating for changes in policy and laws on island. So my goal as soon as I get back home to the island is to do more community organizing and advocacy, especially for at-risk and high-risk youth.

Melina Paiewonsky and familyWhy did you choose an online school?

My husband was a huge help, and he was very thorough in helping me find only universities with the highest accreditation. We do have some universities locally, and we have a bachelors in social work, but we don’t have a Masters program in social work on island.

With nothing available locally, I knew I had to look for a university that was 100% online. And then I came across the University of New England – my husband I and both came across UNE at the same time actually. We looked at a lot of schools, and UNE is the one that stood out to us the most.

What has been your favorite part of the program so far?

There have been many aspects of the program that I have really enjoyed, but I think that my favorite class thus far has been the research class. It’s supposed to be the hardest class, but I really got a lot out of it. I learned about evidence-based practices in social work and I also learned how to become a better researcher.

Grant writing was also an amazing course. By the end, I felt confident that I could put together an actual grant, which is something that I’m very passionate about pursuing when I go back home.  I was amazed that I came out of that class knowing how to do that! And we do it in steps, from the beginning of the process to the end product. It was a lot of information and a lot of resources that were given to us, but it was great – they need grant writers on island.

I feel that my classes have really provided me with the tools and the foundational information I need.

Do you find that your instructors are pretty open to questions and available?

Yes! One of my concerns about online schooling was that I might not be successful because I want to be able to interact with the professor and ask questions. I’m a very hands-on learner. I don’t really express myself in writing very efficiently, so emailing is more difficult for me. I was worried about that, but I’ve found that in each class, as soon as I reach out to the instructor, within a few hours to the next day I am on the phone with that instructor. I speak to each instructor in each class at least two to three times per class.

Talking to my instructors has really been the icing on the cake for me, and what has made me really love this program. I needed to have that support, and I’ve had an amazing experience with them. They provide me with the information I need, and they’re always there for me.

If there’s one thing that you want a potential student to know before starting this program what would it be?

I would tell an incoming student, that since this is an online program, you need to be organized and avoid procrastination. You need to be able to be dedicated to what you’re going to be studying, and you need to have great time management skills.

It’s easy to say that you’ll do your schoolwork later, but then time goes by and you don’t do the work. And you fall behind. So I think that having skills like time management and organization are really important if you are going to be successful in an online course.

Melina Paiewonsky and daughterAnything special that you’d like to highlight about the MSW program?

My family and I went through so much in the span of two months. We went through two category five hurricanes and had to really start life completely over. I had such an amazing support team from my advisor Christine Rogerson and my student support specialist Kaitlin Cole.

They stood by me from the moment they heard back from me after the first hurricane. They said ‘We’re going to get you through this.’ And they told me they wouldn’t let me fall behind in my schoolwork.

They saw my passion and my willingness to go on – and I found that to be so compassionate. I can’t thank them enough for that, because I wanted to finish my degree. I didn’t want to give up because of two hurricanes.

At one point I called Miss Christine and I wanted to give up. And she didn’t let me. And neither did Kaitlin. I called them a couple more times in tears too, not knowing where I was going, but they pushed me along and helped me. They didn’t have to, but they did. Every phone call, every email, every concern, they worked with every teacher that needed to be worked with. It was an amazing time in my life.

I just want to thank them, and thank the university, and everybody who was behind-the-scenes helping me continue with my education. Especially when I needed support so much. They’re people that I didn’t even know before, and it has been amazing to have them in my life. I can’t wait to meet them at graduation.


If you are interested in pursuing your Master’s in Social Work, or even if you’re simply interested in discussing the program, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (207) 221-4143 or via email at socialworkonline@une.edu.

Interested in applying to UNE Online? The sooner you apply, the sooner you hear back. Fill out an online application today at online.une.edu/gateway-portal-page – we look forward to hearing from you!

More Social Work program information: go.une.edu/social-work

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