Gala celebrates School of Social Work Spring graduates
by Chynna Lockett |
A Gala was held to celebrate the School of Social Work Spring graduates. About 100 people attended the event, filling the room with bustling conversation. Abra Patkotak presented a speech to welcome the crowd. Patkotak, who just received her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), said the program offered a unique Alaskan perspective.
“They really frame how important it is to understand positionality, how to be socially equitable, and what equity means for our community, for healthcare.”
These are subjects Patkotak is passionate about and focuses on in her current role as Co-Director of the Alaska Native Birth Workers Community, an advocacy group for reproductive justice. She said the School of Social Work gives students opportunities to connect with the community and create a better place.
“It's bringing up everyone together and if anyone's not doing well then that's our society’s fault. It’s the system's fault and not that individual's fault. I love that perspective. It's all of our responsibility to be contributing to society.”
She plans to continue working in birth support after graduation, building the change she wants to see.
After Patkotak’s Gala speech, faculty members glowed with pride as they handed pins to their graduating class, officially welcoming them to the social work profession. Students thanked their professors with hugs and handshakes. Sam Ouellette is graduating with his Master of Social Work (MSW).
“Some of my professors I've had from my bachelor's to my master’s. Growing with them is really an exciting opportunity that you might not get somewhere else,” Ouellette said. “You're in a smaller class, you have a really intimate group, you make some really great friends, you have some great professors.”
His favorite part of the MSW program was his clinical internship at Denali Family Services.
“I really got to take all the skills that I had over the last two years and wield them into something really special with a great agency.”
Ouellette said there are plenty of social work opportunities in Alaska and after graduation, you can do anything. Amanda Lyon, MSW, agrees. Lyon said when most people think of social workers, they think of counselors. But the degree is much more versatile.
“The focus of the work I'm doing is in training and technical assistance. I'm actually developing materials and trainings on the national level that will then be shared with domestic violence coalitions, different state coalitions, domestic violence programs, substance use treatment and recovery programs, and mental health services.”
During her time at UAA, Lyon had two practicum placements. For the first, she worked with an organization based in Juneau and learned about rural healthcare services. For the second, she brought her knowledge of rural healthcare to a wider audience.
“Now my work has a national focus which allows me to highlight things that I know about Alaska, but still have a much broader lens and look at all different types of identities and how being affected by services for domestic violence.”
Lyon said the Alaska-focused curriculum from the School of Social Work helped teach her the rural perspective that employers value. Audrey Castaneda, BSW, said she felt like she’d found her calling when she learned what social workers do.
“All the doors opened up for me after that,” she said. “The fact that people were able to talk through their issues with someone they find comforting is something that a lot of people need and a lot of people didn’t have growing up. Being able to be an option for that person is something that makes sense to me and my career path.”
Castaneda has already signed up for her MSW program which begins just eight days after graduation. She didn’t see much diversity during her early education and was excited to see people from all sorts of backgrounds at UAA.
“I grew up thinking everyone is going to be the same age as me. I’m going to go into that thinking that everyone’s going to be 18, 20-year-old people in my program. This program was actually eye-opening because people were in their 50’s, 40’s coming back to their degrees.”
She said it was reassuring to see that people can go back to school no matter their age. Abraham Gilila, BSW, wants to use his degree to encourage diversity in his home state of Alaska.
“We don’t have to agree on everything, but just have respect for each other's differences and be there for people in their time of need, regardless of it. We all need food, we all need water, we all need shelter, but we all need respect for each other. We can’t do that if we’re not talking to each other.” he said. “We all have to live together, how do we make the best of our time in this place? How do we help each other have the basic needs met?”
Gilila said he understands his own community better after his time at UAA. He said social work is a great way to create positive change and help the next generation thrive.
“For me, I want to make a better place for my daughter, for my nieces and nephews, for everyone’s kids in the future.”
The Graduation Gala ended with students holding their right hand up, and taking an oath to equitably serve communities. Sixty students graduated from the School of Social Work this Spring, ready for a career or further education.