our students and alumni

Erin Casciano, MSW student

Erin Casciano.
“The field placement office matched me with Canopy—I went to interview and just fell in love. ”

by Jana Eisenberg

A personal experience during her first MSW semester made Erin Casciano appreciate UBSSW’s encompassing and consistent application of its trauma-informed lens—both the faculty’s ability to bring that focus to each subject, as well as the fact that these committed educators and researchers still can support, mentor and forge connections with students.

“My mother was very sick, and I had some medical issues—during that time, every single teacher was kind and met me where I was,” she said. “They didn’t give me a free pass but were very understanding. I hadn’t even met Deborah Waldrop, my advisor, in person, but like the others, she really listened. That exemplifies the trauma-informed perspective.” With the help of faculty, after getting through her challenges and into her second semester, Casciano was happily surprised to see both how prepared she already was and how much value the program was giving her.

Casciano, who is in her mid-30s, always had a Master's degree in her sights—she took a while to come to the MSW program. And, she always knew she wanted to help people, often finding herself in places where she could be of service. Her first career choice, nursing, wasn’t a good fit. But she observed social workers in the clinical setting and found their work appealing. She switched gears, enrolling at Buffalo State College for a BA in sociology, which she earned in 2019. “I wanted a bird’s eye view of social issues,” Casciano said of her choice of major. “And I went slowly—my two kids were younger then.”

The things she was looking for from the SSW program—"to learn to help others in a professional way” are being realized. “Social workers have to have a natural, empathetic nature,” she said. “You also have to learn appropriate interventions, boundaries, and ethics. I’ve learned so much about social work.”

Casciano says that the UBSSW faculty are also outstanding at conveying important information, with their personalities helping to connect her to the material. “Josie Diebold makes the tough topics in history and policy incredibly clear while empowering students,” she said. “Peter Sobota brings his incredible practice experience into the classroom and makes the material accessible. Chris St. Vil emphasizes how important it is to be yourself while living up to your other roles. Brad Linn was very available and flexible to meet and talk with me.”

Within the broader topic of geriatric social work, Casciano’s areas of interest include end-of-life care, aging, loneliness, and grief. “We’re all going to experience these things; they are scary to talk and think about both for yourself and for others; it’s like being on an island, alone,” she said. “I want to shine a light on and support people through it.”

Her first field placement was at the non-profit member-based organization, Canopy of Neighbors, an aging-in-place community that provides services as well as programming for seniors.

“The field placement office matched me with Canopy—I went to interview and just fell in love. In addition to a staff of two, volunteers provide all the services, and they do this from a true place of caring,” said Casciano. Canopy had been looking for an intern to conduct a loneliness survey and take on a small caseload. The placement fit right in with her interests. One of Canopy’s founders is Toby Laping, MSW ’63, an active SSW alumna, field supervisor and mentor.

“Erin is remarkably responsive and sensitive to our members’ needs,” said Laping. “Her ability to listen is critical; she knows how to give feedback to show that she heard appropriately—that’s another sophisticated skill. We know that loneliness is a serious problem for seniors, especially during COVID. Erin helped us share that people can reach out to Canopy, increasing awareness that there are people they can talk to and that it’s healthy to do that.”

To Casciano, the experience illuminated the need for geriatric social work even further. Now in her second year of the program, it’s spurred her to consider the School’s recently launched micro-credential in serious illness. “The more I discover what my field entails,” she said, “I continue to be pleasantly surprised at how dialed in I am to being prepared for both social work and my specific niche.”