How are our social and physical worlds shaping us?
Published 31 Jul, 2020 · 3-minute read
In times of turbulence, UQ is fostering the attributes of those driven to make a difference in the world through social work.
Where does the drive to help others come from?
Professor Karen Healy, UQ’s Head of Social Work and Counselling, knows that students are unlikely to arrive on campus as a blank slate. And she knows that embracing their passions and personal experiences are key to them getting the most from their learning opportunities.
“Our students have a diverse range of backgrounds and life experiences. For instance, some students arrive who already have experience of mental health issues via their family members, and that fans the flame of their passion to learn more,” she says.
“It’s that ‘lived’ experience that’s bringing more diversity into how students think critically, while acting with compassion at the same time. If we look at the current generation, they’ve already had to live with a lot of uncertainty about their futures, and have grown up in a time where there is more awareness and dialogue around mental health."
"We see in this generation that mental health is not stigmatised as much as in the past, and that living with – or having experienced – mental health issues is something seen as part of human life.”
For other students, their passions may be tied to experiences of conflict, inside or outside the family, to their cultural backgrounds, to an experience of grieving, or a quest for fairness and equality.
Social work isn't just about improving lives; it's also about improving the future
Karen notes that social work students are often passionate about social justice, willing to mobilise on issues that are heartfelt, and keen to encourage and organise others to have their voices heard.
“Many of our students are really excited about making a difference, bringing about social change and having the skills to do that,” says Karen.
“They have a willingness to act and do something about the issues and problems prevalent in communities. When communities are having tough discussions about human rights, the environment and public health, social workers want to know how they can best support positive change and the people affected."
“There’s an increasing awareness of how the future may be shaped, what sort of challenges lie ahead, the needs these situations will create, and the skills that will be required to help best address them.”
Part of considering what the future brings for students is enhancing their employment prospects.
While their passion and drive to help others may be the overriding impetus to their chosen course of study, students realise that to make a real difference they have to do so in a way that is sustainable and guarantees stability for their own future.
“How will today’s qualifications be recognised and relevant in a changing world?” is a question Karen poses.
“We are highly focused on developing coursework that develops the skills needed for dealing with upheaval and change, both in a professional and personal sense, so that graduates feel more assured about their career ahead."
“We prepare students to work in an incredibly diverse range of fields, including in government agencies, child protection, indigenous health, private practice and community organisations, with some of our more experienced graduates working as policy officers and heads of non-government organisations.”