When it comes to social work, “Depending on your interests, you can find a variety of positions and work settings that fit your passions.”
A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree opens multiple avenues to assist others. Kateri Ray, PhD, MSW, social work faculty member at Capella University and an NASW Idaho Chapter Board Member in North Idaho, shares her professional journey and career prospects for new MSWs.
Personal Journey in the Field of Social Work
Ray’s interest in social work started quite early in her youth. “I grew up in a military family, so we moved a lot and even lived overseas twice. These experiences impacted me—I was exposed to culture both within and outside of the U.S. My family was open, curious, and helped me see there are many ways of doing things. This set me up to be an open, accepting person, with the ability to take on perspective of others.”
Early in her career, Ray found herself working for a Fortune 500 company—it was good work, but unsatisfying, and she felt like making money was the main goal. She wanted to use her talents to make a positive difference in the world and in people’s lives. In 1992, she went back to school and received a bachelor’s degree in social work at Middle Tennessee State University, followed by her MSW at Florida State University in 1993, and finally her PhD in Education from the University of Idaho in 2014.
Ray feels that her own path may shed some light on many of the career options available to an MSW graduate. “I started working as a school social worker. From there I worked in a day treatment center, residential treatment center with adolescents, psychiatric hospital in-patient—focused on drug and alcohol treatment with adults—a state children’s mental health facility, child protective services, and part-time in a prison. I also had the opportunity to work on a state-wide board and provide training, as well as serve with legislature key players in resolving a 30-year lawsuit on children’s mental health and resolving mental health law issues.”
Being an Advocate, Working with Legislature
The Jeff D. Lawsuit was a federal class action suit initially filed against the state of Idaho in 1980. At that time, the state was housing children and adults with mental disabilities together in the same facilities. This lawsuit was filed in order to achieve better access to community-based mental health services targeted for children, and to advocate for new child-centered state practices for treating youth with mental health issues.
This was all coming to a head as Ray was coming to the state. Children’s mental health was her area of expertise at the time, and she was passionate about seeing change. As the lawsuit moved toward eventual settlement, she helped develop the new policies and procedures, trained agencies to provide the new services, and updated the legislature on progress and how to continue to improve.
Working in Academia
Ray practiced in the field for 13 years before entering academia. She began working part-time as an adjunct professor at a small community college in her town, but quickly moved to a full-time position for the next 8 years.
Ray soon recognized that the field of social work was changing, and online programs were becoming an effective and realistic option for many. She knew she wanted to become part of an online education program that was reaching individuals who may not ordinarily have had the opportunity to pursue an MSW. It became clear that Capella University was the right place for her. “The faculty is top notch, and my team is the best qualified team I have worked with in academia,” she says.
Ray’s favorite thing about teaching at Capella is the diversity of the classrooms. “You have students from varied demographics and regions, which opens the door for all kinds of experiences and discussions,” she explains. “Students have the opportunity to learn from people all over the country, but apply what they’ve learned to their specific region. The coursework is rigorous, and right on target to prepare graduates to excel in the field.”
Opportunities in Social Work
Ray recently returned to the U.S. from a trip to India where she received her yoga teaching certification. She will be using yoga to clinically treat clients who have experienced all forms of trauma. Trauma sensitive yoga practice is a cutting-edge adjunct therapy in the social work field, and recent studies show it can be beneficial in post-traumatic stress cases, among others.
Ray believes that a social work career is for individuals who are interested in making changes at the individual, group, organization, and community levels; being a voice for under-represented populations; providing ethical leadership in organizations and communities; and providing clinical therapy services.
Ray knows that when people hear “social work” they think of welfare or child protection, but she wants people to know it is so much more than that. “Depending on your interests, you can find a variety of positions and work settings,” she points out. “For instance, there are career opportunities across the developmental lifespan—infants, children, young adults, seniors—in settings as diverse as elementary schools, colleges, and nursing homes, and on individual, group, organization and community levels. The sky’s the limit.”
Learn more about Capella’s online social work degrees.