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A Degree in Helping People

UAlbany's Christina Hess Al-Junaid matched her interest in social justice and advocacy to a major in social welfare. (Photo by Rachel Moody)

 ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 2, 2018) – What is social welfare and what can you do with this major?

Christina Hess Al-Junaid of the Bronx is an advanced standing MSW student who graduated from UAlbany with a BSW in May. She is a graduate assistant in the Community and Public Service Program, an MSW intern with the Albany County Department of Mental Health, and an assistant manager of client services for Hospitality House, a residential treatment facility in Albany for men struggling with substance abuse.

Back in high school, Hess Al-Junaid considered being a neurosurgeon or veterinarian until she realized “I don’t like blood.” She really didn’t know what she wanted to do.

And then one day, her guidance counselor told her, “Christina, what you are meant to do is help people.”

Something clicked. Hess Al-Junaid decided to look for a major that would match her commitment to the community and provide a formal education to prepare her for a career in human services. And for her, that is not likely to mean sitting behind a desk.

“An increasing number of students are coming to our major because of the strong role social justice and advocacy have in this profession. They are surprised to learn about the various career choices after graduating as a social welfare major,” said Alyssa Lotmore, assistant to the dean for Alumni Outreach and Engagement.

“Each semester, students work in the field, where they integrate practice skills and classroom learning – at one of our hundreds of community partner agencies,” said School of Social Welfare Dean Lynn Warner. “The opportunity to learn and at the same time make a difference in people’s lives is what makes social work education so unique. For example, our students rely on best practices to support families recovering from traumatic experiences, connect systems so that homeless people have the array of resources they need, and advocate for policy changes that improve services for older adults with dementia.”

After talking with her guidance counselor, Hess Al-Junaid looked into majoring in sociology, psychology or social welfare. She found social welfare was the best fit for her.

“What makes social welfare so different from sociology or psychology is that we look at everything through the lens of social justice and oppression,” she said.

Having grown up in poverty in the Bronx, she witnessed community organizing first hand.

“I’d always volunteered and been active in the community,” she said. “I see the value in people coming together and finding their resilience in overcoming difficulties.”

Jobs for social workers exist in hospitals, school settings, and in the criminal justice system. There is also work in private clinics, non-profit organizations, for those who want to write policy in government, or provide social work research that for changing laws.

“There are many opportunities for collaboration with multidisciplinary teams. It’s kind of awesome,” she added.

During her undergraduate career, Hess Al-Junaid volunteered with the Dream Club, (formerly Club Zoe) in the South End of Albany. This faith-based afterschool program for young people organizes food drives, provides mentoring and tutoring, recruits volunteers, and participates in neighborhood cleanups.

While studying for a bachelor’s degree in Spanish at UAlbany, she was an Orientation group leader, a Spanish tutor and a tour guide. In addition, she tutored a wide range of subjects at Albany High through the Science, Technology Entry Program. She was also a teaching assistant in the Community Service Living-Learning Community.

Hess Al-Junaid worked three jobs to put herself through school at UAlbany as an undergrad, and has a motto, “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.” That work ethic and attitude have served her well.

She decided to go on to graduate school “because more than four years gives me more options in the job market. You need a master’s degree in social welfare to sit for the NYS licensure exam.”

At UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare, MSW students can choose either the clinical practice track or the organizational management track, also known as “macro practice.” Hess Al-Junaid is in the macro track, where she is learning about advocacy and empowerment, community building and policy practice and research, as well as organizational leadership.

Over her four years as an undergrad, “I built very strong relationships with many non-profits in the community and it is important for me to stay here to further my education and invest in the community,” she said.

One of her current interests is food insecurity on campus as well as in the community. Hess Al-Junaid said many don’t realize that being upwardly mobile socially and economically, even being in higher education, does not exempt graduate students like her from needing to access a food pantry. She said students need to be aware “there is a power in their vulnerability” that can be accessed when they organize around an issue like food insecurity.

More information is available about a major in social welfare.

The deadline for admissions to the School of Social Welfare is Feb. 15th of each year, with fall admission only. Currently, students only apply in the spring semester of their sophomore year for admission in their junior year. Typically students need about 55 credits to apply. Contact Professor Mary McCarthy at mmccarthy@albany.edu.

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About the University at Albany
A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.