|Rachel Forsyth, MSW UMD alumna|
Rachel Forsyth always knew she would be involved in a helping profession. When she first embarked on receiving her Master of Social Work (MSW) from UMD, she knew it would be a good fit, but this field demanded more of her than she ever imagined.
“I was being challenged in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” Forsyth explained. “Ultimately, I challenged my personal belief system and it took a while to really feel comfortable with that.”
At times Forsyth's personal beliefs seemed to conflict with the social work profession.
“I think in general, UMD’s social work program makes you take a hard look at yourself,” she said.
Forsyth's advisors and mentors in the program were always extremely supportive. She said they were there for her when she was being tested at such a personal level.
“Today I can clearly see how my personal beliefs and the social work field fit perfectly,” she said. "Without being challenged in this way, I don't think I would be as confident in this profession and ultimately not as confident in myself."
Full of gratitude
UMD’s social work program introduced Forsyth to the job she now holds at Community Action Duluth (CAD.)
“I did my entire second year of graduate student internship at CAD,” she said.
For six years her duties have varied at CAD. She has done data analysis, reporting, program evaluations, financial coaching, development, outreach, and some public relations work.
“I think the coolest thing that I see very consistently with myself and a lot of people who have graduated with this degree is how you are able to do a million different things with it,” she said.
Forsyth said there are endless possibilities in this field. Graduates with a MSW degree can work with children, people with disabilities, elderly people in a hospital setting, non-profits and the list goes on.
Last year, Forsyth was asked to mentor students in the MSW program.
“I took on two students who did their field placement with me at CAD,” she said. “It was my first year as a supervisor and I just wanted to give them the best experience I could – I wanted to give them a portion of what I received from my field supervisors.”
Without a doubt, those students enjoyed being mentored by Forsyth. The students nominated her for the UMD Department of Social Work's Outstanding MSW Field Supervisor Award which she later went on to receive.
“It was so unexpected and humbling,” Forsyth said.
"I know a few of the past recipients," she explained. "Last year the late Steve O'Neil, who was truly an incredible man, was named in this category. To be named in this category with Steve, and so many amazing others who I really respect, was extremely rewarding."
Challenging ideas of poverty
Forsyth was honored with the achievement but, she knows the social work field has many challenges and rewarding experiences ahead of her.
Forsyth has spent 6 years working with families as their financial coach. She is still working with ten of those families today.
“The entire system of poverty is challenging – getting people to understand that it’s not just the individual that makes or breaks their situation is hard,” she said. “There are a ton of factors; it’s systemic, institutionalized racism, and all sorts of 'isms' come into play."
Before entering the field of social work, Forsyth said she always thought she had an idea of how people in poverty came to be.
"To see it unfold, and see how an event can set a family in poverty back exponentially compared to a middle class or wealthy family is impactful," Forsyth said.
Forsyth said the biggest luxury for her is the comfort of having a close family that could help her out in a tough situation.
“A lot of people do not have that luxury and if they do, their family situation may not be the healthiest,” she said. “If I was in a bind, I could call on many supportive family and friends for help. Unfortunately a lot of people don't have those resources.”
Forsyth said the challenges keep coming but she is constantly rewarded. She is grateful to work for CAD where she feels so strongly connected to the community.
“Social work is extremely applicable to everyday life,” she said. “It helps you live life to the best of your ability and tries to help others to do the same.”
For more information about the Master of Social Work program click here.
Written by Mackenzie Timm. March, 2015.
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