Student Spotlight: Amber Huff, Master's in Social Work Online

Student Spotlight: Amber Silva, MSWAmber Huff has overcome great obstacles to get her Master’s in Social Work online. Not only will she be the first in her family with an advanced degree, but this Mom of three will also be graduating with a 4.0 grade point average.

A major source of her inspiration was to be a positive role model for her children, particularly her 11-year old daughter.

Here, she talks about her experience entering the MSW program as an Advanced Standing student, and what she plans to do with her degree once she graduates!

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

Sure! I’m 30 with three kids; I have an 11-year-old daughter with severe anxiety, an adopted five-year-old with special needs, and a three-year-old with medical needs. I got my bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) in 2012 and started working in my local school department. After a bit, I determined that I would like to earn my master’s degree in Social Work – but I also realized that I was running out of time if I wanted to enter a program with Advanced Standing status.

I am the first person in my family to go to college, and getting my master’s has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I’m about to graduate, and the thing I’m looking forward to the most is having my daughter look at me and see that it’s possible. I currently work two jobs, about 13 hours a day, but it’s totally worth it. I’m graduating with my MSW!

Once you get this master’s, what are you planning to do with it?

My dream has always been to go into politics to change the social welfare system. I know that sounds idealistic, but I also have a passion for it – and I have the drive. I’m determined that nothing will stop me, and so far, nothing has!

I truly believe that the people who make the rules should have to follow them too. And given the experience I’ve had in my personal life as well as my professional career, I know that I have a voice that needs to be heard.

What attracted you to the field of social work in the beginning?

I almost didn’t graduate from high school because of one gym credit. I planned to graduate a year early and had even taken several honors courses, but even though I participated in sports I had to come back for my senior year just for gym.

I was devastated. In fact, because of it, I got into a very bad space in my life. I was so badly bullied that I just stopped going to school. I couldn’t do it. It was really overwhelming.

My guidance counselor told me that unless I got a teacher to help me, I wouldn’t graduate. So I worked with a teacher to be a helper in a gym class for handicapped children. The deal was if I showed up for every single class and was an aide for her, she would sign off on my gym credit. Well, I showed up – and I absolutely fell in love.

Teaching that class of handicapped kids fueled my fire and showed me where I needed to go with my life. It’s been many years since I graduated and my students still remember me! I actually work with one of them in my second job.

What attracted you to UNE for an online Master’s in Social Work?

UNE provided an online-only program and when I looked into it, it seemed like it would be an amazing experience. Plus, I’m local, so I know UNE’s reputation. I was excited to get into such a good school! That really motivated me.

Had you done online courses before?

I did a couple of online courses when I was earning my bachelor’s degree, and I really liked them. I could learn at my own pace but stay motivated at the same time. With UNE Online’s format, I have loved the 8-week courses. They seemed a little intense at first, but it didn’t take any time at all to get into a rhythm.

Did you feel like you were part of a community while you were in the Master’s in Social Work online program?

I did! I was never on campus while I was earning my bachelor’s degree, so I’ve never really had that classic sort of college life experience – and that’s something that I really struggled with.

Even though this graduate program is 100% online, I get emails once a week at minimum talking about different programs or activities. I actually went to a training course sponsored by UNE that, interestingly enough, both my supervisor at my agency as well as UNE emailed me about. I was impressed that not only was my agency telling me about this event, UNE was also out there recommending training opportunities.

Within the online courses themselves, I really enjoyed the discussion boards. You feel a camaraderie because everyone there just gets it. I also loved the discussion videos we had to submit. They were difficult at first, but I came to really enjoy them.

What did you do for your fieldwork experience?

I chose to do my field placement at a therapeutic preschool, partly because I have a 5-year-old daughter with special needs and she’s coming out of that preschool age. I really wanted to improve my experience with her, because even with ten years of experience in the behavioral health field, I’m always looking to improve and advance my skills.

My work experience has traditionally been in the nine-plus age group who are all verbal – very verbal, actually! In my preschool field placement, I worked with a lot of nonverbal kids. I purposefully put myself into an incredibly challenging position because I wanted to get the experience of what it would be like to work with a nonverbal population. Preschool is not the age that I want to work with, but I chose that age on purpose to stretch myself.

Working with some two-year-olds can be very similar to working with an adult who is developmentally two years old. And I was able to gain the experience of communicating with a person that can’t verbally communicate back.

Any tips for future online MSW students?

Introduce yourself to your instructor right away, and in each class. I’m a very proactive kind of person, so every single semester I would email the teacher pretty much immediately. I’d ask any kind of question – just to sort of show my face and make myself known to them and show my interest in the course. If you show initiative and your teacher knows you, they’re far more willing to work with you and be flexible with deadlines. I work two jobs, 13-16 hours a day, and sometimes I’m just not able to get an assignment done in time.

Being proactively in touch with the teacher makes a huge difference. In fact, I don’t know if I would have a 4.0 today if it weren’t for that because my life tends to get a little bit hectic sometimes. But my teachers have always been willing to work with me because I put in the effort to establish that connection.

Any words of wisdom for potential students looking to get their Master’s in Social Work Online?

No matter what life throws at you, you CAN do it. I grew up in pretty extreme poverty, and between my bachelor’s and master’s, I experienced homelessness. Right now I’m working two jobs and raising three kids while I work through the program. I never started at square one – I started six feet under and had to dig my way up.

I’ve dealt with everything that has ever been thrown at me. It’s never been a choice for me to give up. Like me, you may have mountains in your way, but don’t give up. You got this.

Learn about the online MSW at UNE

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