Caitlin Beck is a JD/MSW student who grew up in West Milford, N.J. She said she was called to social work by a desire to answer questions like “How do we alleviate suffering?" and "How do we serve those who are most in need of being served?”
Beck deeply values the experience she gained through her undergraduate studies in theology and biblical studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. To build upon her undergraduate foundation and make a tangible impact, she decided to pursue an MSW. After completing her first year of the program, she is happy with her decision.
Beck's entry-level job in a homeless shelter helped her realize that she wanted to work on systemic issues at the source, rather than addressing symptoms of the issue. “I realized that, rather than simply being 'hands and feet,' I needed to use my mind to tackle larger injustices," she said. "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.
"When I think of social work, particularly in relation to other fields, I think that it is systems-based; at its best, it’s trying to pursue every aspect of the individual within a community, and in a world that has particular paradigms in place," she added. "Social work is trying to understand all of those pieces. It’s not that we’re better than other fields, we just start from a different place.”
When Beck was making her decision to apply to the UB School of Social Work, one of her close friends—who is an alumnus of UB's MSW program—touted the quality of the program’s faculty. Reflecting on her experience so far, Beck agrees with her friend’s assessment. She specifically singles out Professors Denise Krause and Chris St. Vil and said, “I can go see them during office hours, and come out feeling like, ‘Yup, I am changed.’ I don’t always come out with solutions, but I come out with my mind broader and my understanding deeper.”
Beck’s field placement experience was especially transformative for her; it contributed to her decision to pursue her JD in addition to her MSW. She echoed a common sentiment heard in the school: "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 said, “I learned how trying and hard it is for families to be in the judicial system; I want to make that system better.”
After she completes the JD/MSW, Beck will end up with a powerful combination of degrees. In the long run, Beck hopes to see herself working on improving policies on the macro level. “I feel very passionate about those who are given punishments that are too strong for what they are accused of,” she said. Her pragmatism lends strength to her attitude. “I want to defend the person who is probably guilty of their crime, but the punishment is unjust,” she said. “In order to write policy well you need to be part of the system you’re writing policy for. I’d like to ‘get my hands dirty,’ and then I’d like to see what I can change about some of the policies which I find very frustrating.”
Beck is led by a “joy of doing good for the world”—she believes she can, “in some small way, change the systems by being a part of as many systems as possible.” And the UB School of Social Work is here to prepare her to do just that.
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