Hometown: Sylvania, Georgia
Degree earned at Valdosta State: Master of Social Work, 2014
Can you tell me a little about your background and some of the obstacles you overcame to get where you are today?
I grew up in Sylvania, Georgia, a small, rural town wedged between Augusta and Savannah. I was fortunate to live in a community where my family lived within a one-mile radius for the most part. My grandparents lived across the street from me and helped my mother raise us. I remember spending many days as a child outdoors and barefoot, preoccupied with my imagination. Being one of the oldest children in the neighborhood, I naturally became a leader to my younger cousins and siblings. I would often create anything from dance routines and athletic enrichment to a volunteer club that doubled as a house cleaning service for the elderly and disabled in our small community.
The oldest of six children, I was the first person in my family to attend and graduate from a university. College was always my goal and I have been a determined, self-starter for as long as I can remember. In eighth grade, I remember sitting across from my high school advisor and hearing that I was not likely to earn a four-year degree from a college or university. Instead of giving up, I decided to double up on math my sophomore year of high school. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Georgia. I had always enjoyed working with children so my initial goal was to become a school counselor. Right before graduation, a stranger at a bus stop convinced me to go into social work instead. On my first day of class at VSU, I sat in the front row, not completely sure what social work was, but determined to do well.
Although the Master of Social Work (MSW) program was a lot more rigorous than I had expected, I quickly came to realize that a stranger had led me to the best decision of my life. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The principles and ideology of social work practice were who I had always been.
What did you pursue after your graduation from VSU?
The day after graduation, I flew to New York City for a job interview and was offered a position the very next day. I worked as a Clinical Case Manager for a non-profit organization called The Doe Fund. I helped men and women who had been formerly, chronically homeless. I also worked as an MST Psychiatric Therapist for the New York Foundling. I helped juveniles facing time at Rikers Island by providing intensive therapy as an alternative to incarceration.
After a year in New York, I moved back to Georgia to be closer to my family due to my grandmother’s health declining unexpectedly. I lived right outside of Atlanta and worked in a corporate setting for an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) company. After a few years, I moved back to Valdosta where I worked as a mental health counselor at Valdosta State Prison on and off for a few years and I also worked at Greenleaf Hospital as an inpatient therapist. I have now come full circle working as a staff counselor here at VSU, helping students and hopefully, still changing lives.
How do you think your VSU experience contributed to your professional success?
The MSW program helped me flourish as a social worker. VSU has always embraced my ideas and fostered my personal and professional development. As a 50th Year of Integration Committee member in 2014, I was able to develop and implement two successful programs for the community. After graduation and right before the pandemic, I facilitated a successful support group for black women called Sister Circle. These experiences have been life-changing for me and I owe it to the phenomenal faculty and staff at VSU who have always encouraged and supported my goals.
Were there any faculty or staff on campus that were especially motivating or helpful to you?
So many were integral in my success, but I especially recognize how Dr. Mark Whatley, Dr. Maggie Viverette, Dr. Diane Holliman, Dr. Martha Giddings, Dr. Hanae Kanno, Dr. Michael Sanger, Dr. Richard Vodde, Dr. Heather Kelley, Sonja Jenkins, and Calvin Whitehead helped me at different times toward my professional goals. It was the most challenging time of my life so there were times I wanted to give up. They gave me the tools to succeed and cheered me on every step of the way. Each of them exemplifies the magic that VSU has and makes me feel proud to be who I am today.
What is something you have taken away from all of your career experiences up to this point?
To trust myself. I feel that there is so much noise around us and we can easily be taken off of our paths. As a social worker, I love helping clients gain the skills needed to help ground themselves, but I had to master this skill as well.
What advice do you have for current students?
Each student is unique and offers so much, not only to our local community but globally as well. My advice would be to foster the gift in you that was always there. The world needs your authenticity and uniqueness.
My other piece of advice would be to take advantage of the free resources and support VSU provides. It can make your journey a lot easier if you have good support along the way. The Counseling Center provides support through individual and group counseling (Anxiety, BIPOC Support, Self-Acceptance, Women’s Trauma, Queer & Trans Support).
What professional achievement are you the proudest of?
I am most proud of gaining full licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). I took the clinical exam last Tuesday in Gainesville, Florida and it is by far my proudest professional achievement.
If you could tell anything to someone who was thinking of seeking mental health services what would you say?
Be proactive. I feel that many people wait until they experience severe symptoms before they reach out for help. I also feel that some people believe they can’t afford therapy. Today is a new day. Most people who are in college or work can get at least six free therapy sessions. Most jobs provide EAP services which offer free and confidential counseling, legal and financial services. Therapy has become more accessible to everyone. For example, Open Path provides individual therapy on a sliding scale; depending on your financial situation, you can get sessions for $30 to $60 an hour. Some insurance companies are still covering teletherapy/virtual sessions for free. There is no problem too small or too big to talk about. It will be the best decision you’ll make.