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Cheney Brockington

The path to a social work education and career isn’t always a straight one

By Jana Eisenberg

Cheney Brockington sewing adaptive gear with two others.

The field of social work holds many appeals—there’s its flexibility and its goals of addressing issues as they may affect both the person and their larger context. Its broad applicability makes it a compelling career consideration for those with wide-ranging interests and whose goals include making a difference in others’ lives.

A case in point is Cheney Brockington, MSW ‘19. By the time Brockington was in high school, she knew that she enjoyed and was good at working with children. She entered Le Moyne College with a dual major in psychology and education, planning to become a teacher. Throughout her undergraduate education, she realized that social work offered a path more consistent with her interests and goals.

Her initial recognition came during an undergraduate internship—student-teaching in the Syracuse City School District. “Many of the students were from families at or below the poverty threshold. I found myself repeatedly speaking with my supervisor about system barriers and the challenges that I could see hindering students’ classroom learning,” said Brockington. “My professor suggested social work, so that I could both interact with students and work to create advocacy and change.”

Brockington’s year off after college, spent working as a case manager at a transitional housing organization primarily serving previously incarcerated clients, cemented her belief that social work was the path for her. “After seeing the barriers and challenges this population faces, I decided to pursue my MSW,” she iterated.

When she began her research into Masters in Social Work programs, Brockington was looking for a few basics—accreditation being first on the list. She learned that UB’s School of Social Work has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education since 1934. (As a bonus, in 2018, U.S. News & World Report ranked the school in the top 10% of U.S. social work graduate schools.)

After digging deeper into the school’s website, Brockington noticed some shared interests, both among current and past students, and through the faculty profiles and stated research interests.

“I saw that many students were involved in social justice and social change, with some specifically looking at perspectives in the criminal justice system,” she said. “Also, the internship opportunities seemed interesting and diverse—it looked like the school offered a lot of first-hand experience.”

That was in 2016, and she’s found all that—and more—to be true. “UB’s School of Social Work opportunities are invaluable. The professors are willing to work with you when any concerns or challenges come up. They are compassionate and understanding, creative and helpful to us, both in and out of the classroom,” she said.

“And, the internships are well-rounded—if you want to take a more non-traditional road, or are interested in working with the elderly, substance use, criminal or integrated treatment—there’s an internship out there,” she added.

Brockington was pleased with her first internship experience, at the Legal Aid Bureau. “I got to do a lot around post-convictions and appeals, as well as working with low-income families,” she said.

In her second internship, at the Erie County Holding Center, she engages clients receiving forensic mental health treatment. “It is the perfect fit for what I want to do in my professional career,” she said.

Another positive aspect of UB’s Social Work program, Brockington found, was the ability to meet practitioners and alumni through various entry points. “There are many opportunities to network with successful individuals in the field, through events like panels, ‘Lunch and Learns,’ and lunches with Dean Smyth,” she said.

By her final year in the program, and seeking to expand her experience, Brockington applied to be a Social Impact Fellow (SIF). The new and innovative competitive program pairs a social work student with a business student, and assigns the team to a local organization to work on a specific social issue—and come up with a solution.

“I was looking for interprofessional collaboration; SIF offered the perfect opportunity to both learn about and experience it,” she said.

She and her MBA-student partner were assigned to the Olmsted Center for Sight, where they gained new perspective on people living with visual impairments. “We conducted focus groups and interviews to learn about barriers and interests of individuals who are visually impaired,” she explained. “While we created a solution to participation in adaptive sports—an adaptive high-visibility hydration sports vest—we recognized that our system has yet to address larger barriers, such as inclusion and employment, which affect their everyday life.”

“It was helpful to work with a business student—for example to understand the economics of producing the vest,” she noted. “It also showed me the bigger picture—how social work can possibly make even bigger changes by understanding the business elements of the issues we’re looking at.”

A journey that is just beginning, Cheney’s growth so far as a social worker and as a person is a great example of how social work can help people connect with their passions.