One of Toni Vadala’s first jobs was working in customer service for a billing and collections company.
It was there she began to realize that many people need help making better choices in their lives, especially those with families depending on them. She further realized that she might like to pursue a career that would allow her to help.
Vadala earned a bachelor’s degree in human services, and that led to a role with PEACE as a family worker, and later as a case planner with The Salvation Army. “I connected people and families to resources that would benefit them, with the goal of keeping families together,” she says. “There are so many families at risk.”
Tackling a Master’s Degree
While being a case planner allowed Vadala to help families, eventually she realize she wanted to offer more direct, personal assistance. She knew she couldn’t do that without going back to school.
“I realized I wanted to work more on a one-to-one basis,” Vadala says. “I wanted to be able to provide therapy, and for that, I knew I needed a master’s and licensure.”
She began researching online programs that would offer flexibility for her busy life; she has three children at home, three grandchildren, and a full-time job.
But it wasn’t just the flexibility of Capella University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program that appealed to Vadala. “Right away, I was impressed with the enrollment counselors I spoke with,” she says. Getting quick and thorough answers to her questions lessened her concerns about taking on a major academic undertaking while working, as well as worries about navigating the online educational environment. “They knew what they were talking about.”
Taking it Slow
Vadala began her master’s program in July 2016, but doesn’t anticipate completing it until 2020. “I’m taking one course at a time,” she explains. “With my family, I still want to be able to have some time for fun. It may be a slow approach, but it helps me balance everything.”
The slower approach has not decreased the value she’s finding in the program. “The instructors are so helpful and informative,” she says. “They provide great feedback.”
Vadala also finds her studies useful to her daily work as a case planner. “I started using what I learned in my job right away,” she says. “For example, my first residency really helped me hone my skills in open-ended questions, reflective listening, and understanding body language. I’m now able to reply to my client’s questions with more sensitivity.”
Looking to the Future
Once she completes her MSW, Vadala wants to continue working with families, but in a therapeutic environment. “I’ve thought about adding private practice on the side once I have my license. I’ve also thought about working with Talkspace (online therapy), so I could reach people who don’t have easy access to these services.”
One thing she anticipates carrying into the post-MSW future is the relationships she’s building with other Capella students. “I’ve become friends with other residency members,” she says. “We email, we talk on Facebook, and we critique each other’s papers. I’ve learned so much from them already. I love every aspect of this experience.”
Learn more about Capella University’s online Master of Social Work program.