Linh Nguyen Scally
On May 12, Linh Nguyen Scally received her master’s of social work degree from UMD’s College of Education and Human Service Professions (CEHSP). This summer, she will begin a new phase in her career. She will intern at Northland Counseling and Recovery Center in Grand Rapids. She is prepared. She knows that she will work with clients who are struggling. Many will be individuals whose family and friends have given up on them, and many will be very close to giving up on themselves. In working with her clients, Scally will draw upon all that she’s learned in the master’s of social work (MSW) program. She’ll also draw upon lessons she learned when it seemed as if there was only one person in the world who still believed in her.
Scally, her parents, and siblings came to the United States from Vietnam when she was seven years old. Initially they lived in New Orleans in a community rife with poverty and crime. In search of a better life, they moved to Duluth, and while crime and violence were no longer a part of her everyday life, Scally had to face a new daily assault – one of racism and discrimination.
In her Duluth classrooms, Scally was the only minority student. “There wasn’t the awareness of other cultures then,” she said. And while she doesn’t describe teachers as being mean, she noted, “It was more a case of neglect, of pretending I wasn’t there, and not addressing problems.”
Learning English as a second language was difficult, and writing did not come easy for her. She began to skip school and when she did attend, she wasn’t always “there.” Over time, she began to abuse alcohol and drugs. By the time she reached high school, Scally admitted, “I was struggling.” That’s when her high school counselor, Mr. Powers, became her mentor. “He provided a lot of guidance. He believed in me. At that point, he was the only one that did.” With his help, Scally graduated from high school.
After high school, she obtained her manicurist license and worked in her parent’s nail salon while she attended Itasca Community College. Because she didn’t score well on the entrance exam, she had to take a number of prerequisite courses. “Deep down, I always felt I wasn’t dumb, but low scores didn’t make me feel smart.” The prerequisite classes proved to be just what she needed. “I had a lot of great teachers,” she said. “I started getting good grades.” Mr. Powers’ degree in social work peaked Scally’s interest in that field. Eventually she transferred to Bemidji State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in chemical dependency.
Soon after being accepted into UMD’s MSW program, Scally was at a conference and spoke with a UMD MSW graduate who told her about some scholarships that were available, including the Diversity of Views and Experience (DOVE) scholarship. After doing some research, she contacted the MSW department and expressed her interest in being nominated for the DOVE scholarship. Her eloquent narrative statement and support from faculty and staff, who recognized her accomplishments and her commitment to serving vulnerable members of society, resulted in her receiving a full scholarship. Additional financial help from the Department of Social Work lightened Scally’s financial load. “I really appreciate all of the help I have received,” she said. “It’s been wonderful to be in graduate school and not have it be a financial burden.”
Scally was impressed with the amount of service learning inherent in the program. “We’ve been very engaged in the community,” she said. Students routinely took what they learned in the classroom and applied it to real life situations in social service organizations around the region. She has worked with a wide variety of populations, which will be an advantage in her career.
One of the things that Scally liked about UMD’s MSW program was its focus on cultural competency. In gaining cultural competency skills, “you learn about your own culture. You find your identity in your culture and come to value it.” Scally points out that this has been an important part of her training as a social worker. “When you know who you are and accept yourself, you can accept others,” she said.
One course with a cultural competency component was the Learning Circle. In that class, a small number of individual’s enrolled in the MSW program met once a month to share their perspectives on a variety of topics including culture, discrimination, and racism. Scally said it was “nice to have a safe environment” in which to confront these issues and challenge each other’s assumptions.
Another safe environment for Scally was at home with her husband. "My husband was there for me emotionally," she said. "More than once I came home at night and had a melt down. Sometimes I wanted to quit, but my husband always encouraged me to keep going. I wouldn't have been able to get this degree without his support."
Scally with some of her professors: (l-r) Assistant Professor Anne Tellett, Professor Priscilla Day, Professor Dennis Falk, Instructor Mary Ness, Linh Scally, Associate Professor Mike Raschick, and Instructor Kathy Heltzer
Scally has earned the respect of her instructors. "Linh has taken her graduate education seriously by organizing herself and keeping herself (and others) on track. I have seen her determination to graduate in a timely manner and to do so with high grades. She cares very much about her performance, and I have no doubt that she will carry that into whatever social work she does," said Priscilla Day, professor, in the Department of Social Work.
Other instructors have valued the contributions Scally has made. "Linh brought enthusiasm and energy into the classroom. We all benefited from her ability to weave her cultural background and family stories into the academic material. Her integration of personal and professional information helped others broaden their understanding and ability to work with people," said Mary Ness, instructor, Department of Social Work. Kathleen Heltzer, field director and instructor in the Department of Social Work, described Scally as "an inspiration to students and faculty alike" adding, "Linh has been a pleasure to have in class, demonstrating her willingness to share her story with other MSW students."
Scally was able to do considerable independent study during graduate school. One area that she focused on was dual diagnoses. During her internship, Scally will work with individuals with the dual diagnoses of mental illness and chemical dependency. She is realistic. She doesn’t talk about changing the world, but she does talk about making a difference. “I can’t change someone who doesn’t want to be changed, but for those who do, I can start where they are at and work with them,” she said. “ Everybody has the capacity for change. If they are able to have a vision, they can strive to obtain that.”
She sees her role as a provider. “Sometimes it's important to give someone just a glimpse of what is possible: ‘why don’t you look at this?’ not ‘you should do this’. Giving them a choice is empowering them. That’s what happened to me – by choosing to study, I discovered I could learn.” Over and over again, she’s proved to herself what she is capable of accomplishing. She hopes to instill some of that optimism in the people she works with who are seeking to change.
Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann firstname.lastname@example.org