I remember a joke from my days as a master of social work (MSW) student at Binghamton University: When most people think of social workers, they think of people who take kids from their families and put them in foster care.
Most MSWs would likely recognize that joke for what it is: an intentionally ridiculous statement made for the sake of easy, if sardonic, humor among colleagues who know better. It does, however, indicate a truth: “Social work” is largely an enigma to most people outside the profession.
The MBA stands in sharp contrast. In my experience, many professional laypeople not only know what the acronym “MBA” stands for, but have at least a vague sense of what the holder of that degree may have studied in school (“business”) and what their career trajectory might be (“business leadership”).
Mention that someone else has an MSW, however, and the response will likely as not be a series of blank stares and halting questions.
“What does ‘MSW’ mean?”
“Master of Social Work.”
“Oh, okay. Uh…what’s that?”
I had an epiphany about halfway through my course of study at BU: Despite the general lack of awareness about MSWs and what they do, MSWs have the training and versatility to be of great value to any organization in any industry or sector. I decided then and there to make a point, wherever possible, of addressing that gap in understanding throughout my career.
The way I see it, MSWs are interpersonal and organizational ninjas. Kidding aside, MSWs deliver incredible—and marketable—value. We help our clients identify and achieve goals. We understand the often-challenging process of change, and we know how to manage it – from setting expectations to facilitating progress to holding clients and colleagues accountable. We are skilled in the art of organizational assessment and stewardship. We are advocates. We are solution-finders. We are emotionally intelligent, and are, therefore, able to forge authentic and honest working relationships with our clients and colleagues. We are systems thinkers, considering others’ perspectives and the interdependent nature of organizations (and sectors, communities, and societies) as we navigate difficult decisions and develop strategic plans. We are collaborators. We are champions of inclusion, equity, and social justice.
In other words, we are leaders. Moreover, we offer the sort of dynamic leadership that is so desperately needed in this time and place.
For my part, I have spent only a fraction of my career in the field MSWs are traditionally trained to go into, i.e., that which is commonly referred to as human services. But I have learned that the critical element of any business or organization is just that: human service.
And I have learned, therefore, that my MSW from Binghamton University has been the catalyst to a series of unexpected, fascinating, and deeply fulfilling career opportunities that I could never have envisioned before their occurrence. I am humbled and grateful to be building a career I enjoy and am proud of, non-traditional though it may be; and I am honored and awed to note that my MSW education from BU continues to guide me, and to inform my growth and development as a helper, as a professional, and as a person.
Nate Gismot (MSW ’12) lives in Colorado with his partner (and fellow BU MSW alumn) Kristy and their two corgis, Willow and Gus. He works for the University of Northern Colorado as the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. You can connect with Nate on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nathangismot.