Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Donette Considine, and I’m the MSW program director at Regis and also an associate professor in social work. At Regis, I teach and coordinate the management of the MSW program.
I have been in higher education for over 20 years. I started as a program coordinator and then moved into associate director role, then director. I was also assistant provost for a college in Wisconsin and oversaw 15 academic programs. So I have a really long history of experience in higher education. Also while doing that, I’ve maintained a private practice in social work. In my background with my private practice I see adolescents, adults, and couples.
Why did you choose to become a social worker?
I don’t think it was so much that I chose. I think the profession chose me. Right out of high school I was working as an office assistant. I was a secretary and I managed over 150 rental property units in a small rural town where I lived. And in managing those rental properties, I was having a lot of different types of people come in and rent places.
In the town where I live, there had been a developmental center that was run by the state and it eventually closed. A lot of the people who had been residents there were placed in the community. Somehow they found their way to my doorstep looking for an apartment. I found that I was spending time helping people learn how to budget money, learning how to call and ask about apartments, helping them find medical care.
I realized that I was basically doing casework in my community as an office assistant. I thought maybe this would be a good time for me to go back to school and get my master’s degree and really commit to this. I have always tried to help people, especially in the work that I was doing. I found I was trying to help them get through their day a little bit easier. And so I think social work found me.
What would you say is the best thing about being a social worker?
I think that one of the best things about being a social worker, it’s that feeling that you’re contributing to something larger than yourself. Helping another person. There’s a rewarding feeling about that. It’s a pay it forward kind of thing. If I can help someone to stand on their own two feet better or function in a relationship better, I believe then everyone in their path is going to be better off. And it’s not just about helping that one person then, it has a ripple effect. And so I think that’s one of the most rewarding pieces of it.
“It’s that feeling that you’re contributing to something larger than yourself. Helping another person. There’s a rewarding feeling about that. It’s a ‘pay it forward’ kind of thing.”
I’ve always had this incredible patience for people who suffer from chronic and persistent mental illness. Early in my career I worked at a correctional center with inmates who have chronic and persistent mental illness. I also worked at a state psychiatric hospital on the community side with people who had mental illnesses. I have always had a lot of patience with that work.
I remember one situation at the state psychiatric hospital with one particular person. He’d been charged with trying to steal someone’s car. Well, he really hadn’t tried to steal the car. He got in the car and fell asleep. But the town charged him with automobile theft. And I’m like, “Have we tried to talk with the police to work this out?” So that’s what I did. I called the police and and said, “Let me help this person get back on his feet and let’s get him in the community again.”
I think one of my strengths has been that I’m good at building relationships with people. I think that helps, one, on the client side most definitely. And two, it really helps with being what we call a change agent. Really trying be a leader in the community. And so, I communicated with law enforcement that having this person in jail is not in his best interest. It’s not in the best interest of taxpayers. So let’s do something that works for everyone. And it worked. We were able to help the gentleman get on his medication, helped him get out on his feet, and he didn’t go to jail for falling asleep in a car.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring social worker?
I have two pieces of advice to give. The one is to make sure that you’ve taken care of your own “stuff.” Every experience we have in life shapes who we are. It shapes how we show up in relation to other people. In order to be an effective social worker, I think first you have to tend to whatever your issues are. For example, if growing up you had a really difficult childhood and maybe as a result of that there are some attachment issues. Maybe you don’t feel secure that people are going to be in your life and stay in your life.
If you have some issues around that, it could potentially be difficult when you have clients and a client is done needing services and it’s time to end your sessions with that client. If you have some of your own attachment issues, it could be hard then to let go. So I always encourage everyone that you need to see a social worker. … I think it’s really important to find out what are those areas that are going to push your buttons because we all have those.
The second piece of advice is self-care. From the education side, a master’s program is difficult. It’s a lot of work. And I think you have to really be able to take care of yourself. It’s like putting on your oxygen mask in the airplane first before you can help other people around you.
One thing I always ask my clients is, what do you do for your soul? And that is what gives you joy, just because. For me, it’s raising and releasing monarch caterpillars/butterflies, that just gives me joy in my soul. That’s a part of my self-care. Even when you’re doing your classes and your internship, you really need to be able to find things that feed your soul. Some people love to cook, some love to hike, some love to boat. Whatever it is, find that thing that self-care for you. You’ll need that as a student and you’ll definitely need that as a social work practitioner.
Why should a student choose Regis for their MSW?
We’ve assembled a faculty team that is really experienced in social work and in social work education. More than half of us are still actively engaged in clinical practice. And I think that brings just a wealth of information and knowledge into our classes that we teach. I think that’s one thing that’s unique about us is our faculty.
Another piece is that each of the courses are developed and designed by our full-time faculty. We have a vested interest in our curriculum and we do a lot of really neat and exciting things in our course development. We coordinate our courses together. That’s usually a case study about a client. You’ll follow one client in three or four courses and in each course you may be looking at a little bit different piece of the client. I think that’s something different too, that I think our program is really coordinated, really coherent, holds together really well.
I think another thing is that students have said to us that they feel like they’re a part of a family. And that’s unusual to hear for an online program. Students are not numbers to us. We know every student by name. We could mention a student’s name and all the faculty are going to know who that is. We probably all know a little something about the student because we actually spend time getting to know our students. I think it’s really unique that we have this community. When we were on campus in the fall, we had a student meet and greet and there were actually over 20 students that were able to come to campus for that. It was just so interesting to see different cohorts interact and talk with each other. It really was like a big family reunion. I think that sense of community also speaks to that we are very student centered. We take a very hands-on approach to helping our students.
“I think another thing is that students have said to us that they feel like they’re a part of a family. And that’s unusual to hear for an online program. Students are not numbers to us. We know every student by name.”
We check in with our students even on leave of absence. Like, hey, how are you doing? Are you ready to come back? Do you need some more time? How can we help and support you? And that connection is something that I think each of the faculty really value.