PCDE Student Stories | Michelle Smith

ShipPCDE Student Journey: BSW & MSW @ Dixon University Center

It’s a Family Affair

When I made the decision to go back to college in January of 2011 attending Harrisburg Area Community College, I had just given birth to my fourth daughter three months previously, and we were living in a friend’s basement. My husband had been laid off from his job, and since we could not pay our rent we were evicted. Our friends had a farm, so in exchange for working the farm we were able to live in their basement apartment. My husband was able to take care of the girls and do the farm work while I took classes full time. Eventually, my husband found another job, we moved into our own place, and I continued my classes in the evening since he worked during the day. Carving out the time to focus on studying and writing papers while taking care of a newborn and her older sisters was no small feat. About six months later, my husband became sick and could not work. While he was on temporary disability, I worked two jobs (one full-time and one part-time) and sat on the board of The Pennsylvania Head Start Association, in addition to keeping a full course load. Through hard work, dedication, and sheer will, I made the Dean’s list four of those five semesters and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. 

Balance: Working While in School

When I transferred to Shippensburg University to continue my Bachelor of Social Work degree, I kept working both jobs, in addition to completing an internship my last semester. I decided to go right into the Masters program to complete my Master of Social Work degree. I was accepted into the Advanced Standing program at Shippensburg University and enrolled in the full-time track. Because my husband had started working again, I was able to stop working in order to fully focus on my classes and internship. Many times during the year, I considered quitting the program in order to go back to work. Our housing struggles started again and I felt guilty for not contributing to the more immediate solution. My husband reassured me that finishing my degree would be better in the long run, but that he would support me whatever decision I made. I stayed the course and graduated with a 3.93 GPA. Following graduation in May, I passed my licensing exam, and as of June 27, 2017, I am now a Licensed Social Worker.  

Support & Strength 

My daughters were my biggest cheerleaders throughout the past six and a half years of completing both undergraduate and graduate degrees. The internal battle I constantly waged within myself – feeling guilty for not spending time with my girls when working on papers and then feeling guilty for not working on schoolwork when I was spending time with them – was one of the biggest obstacles that I faced. It seemed like a vicious cycle that was always spinning. Add to that the stress of not always knowing where we would be sleeping from one night to the next, or whether my husband would ever be well enough again to be able to work or even to enjoy a family outing – sometimes I just struggled to see the finish line. The times I felt like giving up, I would look at the faces of my girls and they would give me strength. I wanted them to know that it is never too late to pursue your dreams. I thank them every day for the sacrifices they made so that I could achieve these goals. I know it was not easy for them to see me leave for my classes in the afternoon when they had just gotten home from school, or to have their friends’ moms chaperone field trips that I was not able to chaperone because of writing papers or working at my internships. I am grateful to my husband for always supporting me and working so hard for our family, even through much pain and sickness. He was a source of constant encouragement and a rock that I could lean on during those difficult times. 

Education Journey - A Positive Change Process 

My educational journey has taken me through a positive change process – a metamorphosis. In all of my classes, through the professors’ patient leading and passion for social work that came through in their teaching, I grew as an individual. I no longer held beliefs and values just because it was how I was taught in my childhood, but I developed my own set of beliefs and values. Because of this, I am a more confident individual and a more competent social worker. The most valuable lesson I have learned is that rather than leave my support system - my family - out of this process of change I included them every step of the way. We all grew from this experience. I shared many things that I learned about myself as a result of my classes with them. This growth process was not always easy, and we definitely had many challenging moments – growing pains. However, looking back, I can see that those difficult times produced the most growth in our relationships. We are a stronger family because of victories as well as the challenges we faced together. We all graduated May 12, 2017 – it truly was a family affair.

Outstanding Academic Success - 2017 UPCEA Award Recipient 

Michelle Smith received Michelle Smith, LSW, is a recipient of a 2017 UPCEA Mid-Atlantic Region Outstanding Continuing Education Student Award. A graduate of Shippensburg University 2015 BSW Degree Completion Program at Dixon University Center and 2017 MSW. She will be honored at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Region Conference in New Brunswick, NJ on October 4-6, 2017.  Read more: http://conferences.upcea.edu/mid-atlantic/