Alumni Spotlight: Nicole Petrin, MSW Program
Nicole Petrin is a student in the Master of Social Work program at UNE Online. She has her undergraduate degree in social work, works in the field, and is also very active as a mentor for rising social workers. She just recently returned from an international social work conference in South Africa, and she shares her experiences with us here.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself, and what encouraged you to pursue your Master’s in Social Work?
I am originally from Rhode Island, where during my childhood and adolescence I was a very active member of Girl Scouts, even going on to earn the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, the Girl Scout Gold Award. My early exposure to community service through scouting helped me develop my passion for helping those who are marginalized, and this engagement is ultimately what led me to the field of social work.
In 2012, I earned my undergraduate degree in social work at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. I had a fantastic undergraduate career, both academically and on-campus, culminating in my senior year practicum placement. My practicum placement was at the Division for Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), and though at times the experience was challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed the learning process at DCYF. In fact, after graduation I went on to work at DCYF for several years, assessing investigations of child abuse and neglect.
As a social work practitioner, I have become quite fascinated by the person-in-environment theory in addition to childhood trauma. Thus, I chose to go back to school and earn my MSW in the hopes that one day I can support individuals and families from a therapeutic level.
What type of work do you do now?
In 2016, I decided to leave DCYF and accept a position at Merrimack County Advocacy Center. The Child Advocacy Center (CAC) model is recognized nationwide and is aimed at supporting children who have been a victim of a crime. The CAC allows children (or adults) to be interviewed in a neutral, safe setting and the individual only has to talk with one person.
The interview is recorded on a closed-circuit television and representatives from the investigative team (i.e. DCYF, law enforcement, and prosecution) watch the interview from a different room. I personally do not conduct the interviews; rather, I work with caregivers in my capacity as a Family Support Specialist. I meet with caregivers while their child is being interviewed and provide ongoing support and community referrals in the days and weeks following the interview.
Fortunately, my employer is supportive of my education which has made it possible to return to school and earn my MSW.
How far along are you in the MSW program?
I’m in my last class right now which it’s super exciting! I start my field placement in September, and I graduate this upcoming May 2019. I started classes with UNE Online in January 2016, and I was able to do the advanced standing track, so I will have completed my MSW in two and a half years. The end is in sight!
What are you doing for your field placement?
My field placement will be at Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord, NH. Riverbend caters to both children and adults through multiple programs within the Riverbend organization. During my practicum, I will be working with Riverbend Emergency Services. Staff from Emergency Services works out of the local hospital’s emergency department, conducting lethality assessments and connecting with individuals who are experiencing an acute psychiatric emergency. In addition to the emergency department, Riverbend Emergency Services also staffs a mobile crisis team which can respond to an individual in their home or community.
You just returned from a conference in South Africa. Can you tell me more about the event and your involvement in being a mentor for social work students?
The conference I attended was the 40th International Symposium on Group Work through the International Association for Social Work with Groups (IASWG). IASWG is the premier international association for social workers and allied helping professionals engaged in group work.
I learned about the conference through my alma mater, Plymouth State University. Since earning my bachelors in social work, professors from Plymouth State have invited me back to campus once or twice a semester to guest lecture in their courses. I’ve presented in both Child Maltreatment and Child Welfare courses. In addition, I’ve met with students in small groups to discuss the benefits of a practicum placement and career with DCYF. I’ve worked with and mentored the social work students on many experiential learning activities, and in doing so, I’ve really connected with the department as a whole.
Additionally, I sit on the advisory board for Plymouth State’s Department of Social Work. Through my affiliate connections with Plymouth State, I learned about the Symposium and that ten undergraduate students along with one faculty member were preparing to attend the one in South Africa. My interest was quickly sparked and shortly thereafter I began meeting with the students and faculty member, working together to prepare all of our travel details and accommodations for the journey ahead!
Can you talk a little about your advising experience in South Africa?
While attending the symposium, all ten students presented their research—and each student did an absolutely amazing job. As they were only bachelor-level group presenting at the conference, I am beyond proud of the ten students for all their hard work and initiative.
Presenting research alone takes a lot of grit, but these students did more than just that. Since each research project involved group work, it had to be approved by the IRB before any implementation began. While still maintaining full course loads and for many, part-time employment, these students also held fundraisers to offset travel expenses, met frequently to coordinate all travel arrangements, and simultaneously conducted their research outside of class!
For most of the trip, we didn’t have our cell phones on us, so it was refreshing seeing everyone detach and really live in the moment. For one student, it was their first time on an airplane, and for a lot of students, it was their first international trip.
Watching this entire process unfold and getting to know each of the students has been an experience that I will never forget. Each student brought their own authenticity to the group process during our travels and endless connections were created!
What were your favorite parts of the trip?
The symposium itself was held in Kruger National Park, which is in the heart of the safari. We stayed in thatched-roof huts, where we were woken up most mornings by monkeys dancing and jumping all over our roof! While staying in the National Park, we saw a great variety of animals, including elephants, giraffes, and zebras! After leaving Kruger, we flew to Cape Town where we spent an additional week touring the country. Penguins, baboons, museums, double-decker buses and dipping our toes in the Indian Ocean; we saw and experienced so much!
Also, the symposium itself was phenomenal because I’ve been wanting to start diving a little more into group work in my own career. Currently, I work with families and individuals, but I can definitely see the push for group work within my practice. This conference was a great way for me to get my feet wet, gain skills, and network with colleagues from around the globe.
How did you decide on UNE Online?
In my case, I was established in my career in central New Hampshire and I wasn’t willing to move, so I knew that I needed to find an online program. I wanted an accredited school of social work, with reasonable tuition rates, and a program that would allow me to still work while going back to school.
In addition, I wanted a social work program that would honor my BSW by offering an advanced standing track. After I did my research, UNE Online seemed like it would be a really good fit for me. UNE Online offered everything I was looking for: out-of-state tuition was reasonable, I didn’t have to log into school at a certain time, and I could enter the program and move along the advanced standing track at my preferred pace.
The rolling admissions model with three start dates a year was also fantastic. I started in January instead of having to wait for a traditional Fall enrollment in September. The fact that I could start when I was ready and not have to wait six months for school to start made it so I didn’t lose any momentum. The timing was such that I applied, was accepted, and then classes started in pretty quick succession.
An added bonus for me is that the physical UNE campus is only a few hours away from my home, and not too long ago I had the opportunity to visit the Portland campus. I met with my academic advisor, got a tour of campus, and we even reviewed my course schedule. Even with an online program, I still feel connected to the campus.
Have you found the online atmosphere conducive to feeling that you’re in a community?
I have. When starting a new class, I find that it helps to introduce yourself in the discussion boards right off the bat. After a few classes, l saw a lot of overlap with students who I’d just had a class with last year or last semester. My professors and peers have been extremely engaging both through Blackboard and individual email correspondences.
Even though it’s not a face-to-face class, students act as though it is. Students are very engaging and willing to work cooperatively with each other. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve met several students in the program with whom I have exchanged contact information. Even if it’s just someone to bounce ideas off of for an assignment, having a friend to empathize with is so great.
I was SO anxious to start an online program as I had never even taken an online course during my undergraduate career. However, professors still provide the same level of accountability and peers are just as supportive which makes the process conducive to learn and engage.
What would you want a potential student to know before starting this program?
When you sign up for this program, remember that you are in charge of your own success. Make sure you are giving yourself appropriate amounts of time each week to complete assignments. Be mindful that you are dedicating set times each day to read, write, and be engaged in Blackboard discussions. The moment you let yourself slide or be lax on the time you dedicate to completing school work, the harder it is to get back on track. Stay diligent and enjoy the learning process.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also download more information through our brochure: