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Lessons, Legacies and Love: Reciprocity in the SSW Mentor Program

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by Sarah Goldthrite

“The most important lesson I have learned over the years: no matter what walk of life you come from, no matter what kind of career you have pursued…all persons have the same needs—to be loved, to have someone care about them, to have their ego (ID) pushed upward, to have some kind of recognition. And of course the basics—to be fed, clothed, sheltered according to their needs…but somehow, love seems to be the most important ingredient.”

Pauline Reimer’s (MSW ‘57) invaluable advice to her mentee stems from decades of devoted work and impressive accomplishments. It is precisely this depth of insight that is inestimable to the next generation of social workers.

Dean Nancy Smyth and Clinical Professor Denise Krause knew, when they began recruiting for the School of Social Work’s Mentor Program, there would be many benefits in using current mentors to become the pipeline for future mentors. It was piloted in 2011 to augment students’ support networks with caring alumni as informal advisors. The reciprocity of this relationship is instrumental to its value. The program anchors both mentor and mentee in the learning process and real-life professional experiences while giving professionals an opportunity to build and share their social work legacy with the emerging cohorts of social workers.

Bonnie Collins (MSW ’80) realizes the multifaceted and mutual value of a mentoring relationship for both students of social work and the professional mentor: “Everyone should have a mentor. The students gain a realistic view of the profession and don’t have to reinvent the wheel—kind of like built-in career counseling. And I have the opportunity to pay it forward, to share my experience with the next generation of social workers and leave a legacy.”

Shermeeka Mason, an advanced standing student, feels that she can be open and honest with Bonnie as she shapes her own professional goals. “I ask her about her years in the profession and her work in the community. She started a drug and alcohol education program that ran for 20 years; she saw that the programs prior to that one were ineffective and decided to launch an entirely new program. This is the type of contribution I want to make to the community.”

Susan Sharcot (MSW ’82) recognizes the student-mentor partnership is an important key in education and ultimately benefits the community of social workers. “I’m not at the beginning of my career, so students can learn from my mistakes. Providing mentees with guidance from a professional in the field who has learned over time is important because this new generation eventually will be taking care of us.”

Susan does just that with her mentee, MSW advanced year student Robyn Simpson. The advice she gives Robyn helps her anticipate the myriad challenges social workers inevitably encounter in the field. “I learned that social work reaches far beyond case management and can take a toll on your well-being,” says Robyn. Susan also learned from Robyn that the school’s current curriculum builds self-care skills. “UB’s emphasis on self-care is not merely a mission statement, but rather a necessity for longevity in the field of social work,” Robyn says, putting that curriculum element in context.

The dedication of SSW alumni and faculty to the profession imparts to the next generation the importance of lifelong professional generosity among practicing social workers and students. “I had two very loving parents who gave me an understanding of the community and the philosophy that you are here ‘as a renter,’” says Pauline. “You have to pay back much of what you have to the community and others who do not have it, nor understand it.” Her message is one of interconnectedness among social work professionals, whose mission is to build up the community and each other, and to gift each other with the unique knowledge and guidance that is born from experience, whether from personal experience or in a conversation with a student.

Story appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Mosaics.


Contact Person: Denise Krause
Contact Phone: 716-645-1223
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