By Matthew Biddle
From a young age, Adam Fryer dreamed of becoming a counselor.
“I always resonated with that character in the movies—the person in the chair who always seemed to know the right things to say,” he says.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UB in 2011, Fryer returned to his hometown of Geneva, New York, where he spent the next decade working with adults and youth with developmental disabilities and severe mental health conditions. It was through this work that Fryer met a clinical social worker at Elmira Psychiatric Center, who inspired him to follow a similar path.
So, upon relocating to Bellingham, Washington, Fryer enrolled in the UB School of Social Work’s online Master of Social Work (MSW) program, looking for an opportunity to pursue clinical licensure at a flexible pace and affordable cost.
“The knowledge I’ve gained and the experiences I’ve had in the MSW program have changed me completely,” says Fryer, who will complete his degree this summer.
He points out the program’s emphasis on cultural humility and self-care: “Going into the master’s program, I thought about human services in the same way that an engineer might think about their work. Now, I understand it’s more flexible and realize how much of yourself you put into this work—and how important it is to take care of yourself, too.”
During his foundation year, Fryer completed an employment-based field placement with Whatcom County’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, where he works as a case manager.
LEAD reimagines how a community approaches public safety. When individuals with behavioral health issues commit low-level violations, officers refer them to the program, rather than relying on arrest and incarceration. From there, case managers like Fryer can help them improve their lives by connecting them with necessary services and addressing the root of their issues.
“Our No. 1 goal is to help people get on their feet,” Fryer says. “Because of their circumstances, someone may be stealing just to eat, but we can come in and help get their benefits activated, provide transportation to appointments and find them housing.”
Critically, LEAD aims to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, a mission that aligns with Fryer’s own passion and life experiences. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, for example, Fryer was an activist organizer with The Peoples Peaceful Protest in Geneva.
"The racial divide in access to resources is just so bad,” he says. “Going forward in my career, I hope to have my own practice, so I can help people leap over those barriers and bring quality mental health services to people wherever they’re at.”
To get there, Fryer is looking forward to his advanced year field placement with Lake Whatcom Residential and Treatment Center, which will give him a chance to use and further develop his counseling skills.
He’s also celebrating his selection as a Verne LaMarr Lyons Scholar for the 2022-23 academic year by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Foundation. Awarded to just six MSW students nationwide each year, the scholarship recognizes students who demonstrate interest in or experience with health or mental health practice and a commitment to working in African American communities.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Fryer admits. “I will be the first generation in my family to get a master’s, so it means a lot just to be in this program. This award really validates all the work I’m doing.”