Caitlin Beck is a JD/MSW student who grew up in West Milford, N.J. She has been called to social work by a desire to answer the questions of “how do we alleviate suffering and how do we serve those who are most in need of being served?” She received dual Bachelor’s degrees in theology and biblical studies from Eastern University. Beck deeply values the experience she received from her undergraduate studies and recognizes it can, at times, be a bit too abstract to make a tangible impact in the way that she desires. To build upon the foundation she has established, she decided to pursue an MSW as a means to get more involved with serving others. After completing her first year of the program, she is happy with her decision.
Beck discusses how she was working an entry-level job in a homeless shelter after undergrad. While she was there, she realized she wanted to work on systemic issues at the source, rather than just addressing symptoms of the issue. She states, “I realized I needed to use my mind and not be just hands and feet, but tackle injustices that are larger than just feeding people. I asked myself ‘where can I study how to connect people with resources?’” She concluded that an MSW would be the right fit for accomplishing her goals. She goes on to say, “When I think of social work, particularly in relation to other fields, I think that social work is systems based; so when it’s at its best it’s trying to pursue every aspect of the individual amidst a community, amidst a world that has particular paradigms set in place. Social work is trying to understand all of those pieces. It’s not that we’re better than other related fields, we just start from a different place.”
One of Beck’s close friends - who is an alumnus of UB's MSW program - boasted of the quality of the faculty in the program as Beck was making her initial decision to apply. While reflecting on her experience in the program so far, Beck agrees with her friend’s assessment. She specifically singles out professors Denise Krause and Chris St. Vil and says, “I can go into office hours with someone like (them) and come out feeling ‘yup, I am changed.’ I don’t always come out with solutions, but I come out with my mind being broader and my understanding is deeper.”
Beck’s experience at her field placement was especially transformative for her and contributed to her decision to pursue her JD in addition to her MSW. She echoes a common sentiment heard in the school that, “field put real meat on the bones of things I had been learning in my classes.” While working with a family in the foster care system, she gained firsthand experience interacting with the judicial system and discovered opportunities to improve it. She elaborates, “I learned how trying and hard it is for families to be in the judicial system and how I want to make that system better. So that’s why I decided to not just go for the MSW, but the JD/MSW, which I’ll be starting in the fall.”
Beck took a non-traditional path to entering the JD/MSW program and when asked to discuss what she wants to do with the powerful combination of degrees she explains, “I feel very passionate about those who are given punishments that are too strong for what they are accused of.” She takes a pragmatic approach in her desire to “defend the drug dealer” and says, “I want to defend the person who is probably guilty of their crime, but the punishment is unjust.” In the long run, Beck hopes to see herself working on improving policies on the macro level. Showing a humble wisdom, she acknowledges that she needs to get more experience before she feels ready to develop policy overhauls. She continues, “I think in order to write policy well you need to be part of the system you’re writing policy for first and so I’d like to get my hands dirty first and then I’d like to see what I can change about the policies that I find very frustrating.”
As someone who is led by a “joy of doing good for the world” Beck believes she can, “in some small way, change the systems by being a part of as many systems as possible.”