Meet Derek Ruiz, graduate student in social work at Asbury University, who offers our readers a very insightful overview of his experiences this far in the field. Derek started his professional journey as a probation/parole officer, but his passion for counseling led him to pursue a different career. Read along as Derek shares his views on social work, what to expect from a social work degree program, and advice for future students.
- Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got involved in social work, and what you’re currently doing in the field?
- You’re currently working towards your master’s degree in social work. How did you decide on the program you’re currently enrolled in and what are your thoughts on the program thus far?
- What is your advice for prospective students interested in earning a degree in social work?
- What skills and/or traits do you think are absolutely necessary for those interested in going into social work?
- What do you see yourself doing once you’ve graduated? What are you long-term goals, both professionally and personally?
- Share with us an experience you’ve had in the field, or in the classroom, that would give prospective students valuable insight into the profession.
- What do you hope to accomplish as a future social worker?
- Are there any interesting emerging trends in social work that you’re learning about in school?
- Where do you think the field of social work is heading in the next five years or so?
- Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
1.Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got involved in social work, and what you’re currently doing in the field?
I currently live in Lexington, Ky and have lived here for 18 years. I am originally from L.A., Ca and I am of Mexican descent. I’m 32 years old. I’ve been married for 8 years and between me and my wife we have 7 children. My wife and I are foster/adoptive parents and two of our children we fostered and adopted. I was raised Catholic and I currently attend Embrace United Methodist Church in Lexington. I attended Lexington Catholic High School where I was one of 5 Latinos. Amongst my circle of friends I was the one who they came to with their problems. I felt as if I had a natural propensity for counseling. This sparked my interest in psychology. I received my Bachelor’s of Psychology from University of Kentucky. While I was finishing my Bachelor’s I took several social work courses. During these courses I found that the mission of Social Work was more in line with my spiritual and political beliefs. Unfortunately, I was so far along in the Psychology program to switch majors would have delayed me receiving my degree. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I obtained employment with the Kentucky Department of Corrections as a Probation/Parole Officer. I worked in P&P for 2 years and the part of the job that I enjoyed the most was the counseling aspect. After a discussion with my wife and some close friends I decided to quit Probation & Parole and pursue a master’s degree in social work. Currently, I am the Southern Bluegrass liaison for Adoption Support for Kentucky. I hold support meetings for foster and adoptive parents where we talk about topics that pertain to our children and about our trials and victories with our children.
2.You’re currently working towards your master’s degree in social work. How did you decide on the program you’re currently enrolled in and what are your thoughts on the program thus far?
I looked at 3 programs around the state of Kentucky. Having a family meant that I would have to attend a program either in the area or on-line. The on-line program didn’t feel right and I felt that I would not do well with that kind of structure. My wife has her PhD in Sociology and is a visiting professor at Asbury University. Through her I was able to talk to different staff and students about the MSW program at Asbury. After a lot of prayer and discussion I landed on Asbury University. I just started my second semester of the program and thus far I am certain I made the right decision in selecting a program. The MSW program at Asbury University is excellent. The professors who teach and run the program are passionate about what they do. They are extremely knowledgeable in their areas of expertise.
Well they say the worst vice is advice so take it for what you will. I believe that if you want to pursue a Social Work degree make sure it suits you. Know yourself well enough and honestly enough to make the commitment. If you’re called to it great; that decision is easy, but if you’re unsure, search yourself. Figure out if you have the personality and temperament to take on the demands of Social Work. When you come to the conclusion that you either can or you can’t commit, one way or the other, and don’t look back. As I like to say, Go big or go home!
4.What skills and/or traits do you think are absolutely necessary for those interested in going into social work?
In my opinion, empathy, patience, and the ability to actively listen are of the utmost importance for social work. You have to have a heart for the population you work with. In order to truly serve a population you have to feel for them and relate to them and their struggles or issues. Understand that you will face roadblocks and difficulties, whether it’s from your clients, co-workers, or other external systems you have to be patient and wait it out. You can’t just give up and quit at the first sign of opposition. Finally, you have to hear what your population is telling you. In order to help and serve you have to know and hear what your client is telling you their need is; not what you think they need, but they are telling you. Our clients are a lot more in tune with their needs than we like to give them credit for sometimes and we need to hear what they’re saying.
5.What do you see yourself doing once you’ve graduated? What are you long-term goals, both professionally and personally?
Hopefully getting a job where I can use the education that I paid for. In all seriousness though, I would like to do guidance counseling after I graduate. Possibly be a LCSW, licensed clinical social worker, and open a counseling practice.
6.Share with us an experience you’ve had in the field, or in the classroom, that would give prospective students valuable insight into the profession.
In the support groups that I lead, when a parent gets a new technique, or information that helps them deal with whatever stresses they’re going through, that’s social work. When parents are networking and dialoguing at those meetings about resources for themselves and their children, that’s social work. When those parents are empathizing and relating to one another and the realization of “I’m not alone in my struggles!”, that’s social work. Social work is about healing and wholeness. It’s about meeting the needs of the marginalized. Social work is about seeking justice for the individual and society as a whole.
That I do just what I said previously. That I can help my client, whoever that may be, change their circumstances for the better. That I have the courage and fortitude to seek social justice and assist the marginalized in their struggles and to let them know, at the least, that they are not alone and somebody cares.
I believe that the geriatric social work area will be an emerging area. The Baby Boomer generation is reaching that retirement phase of life and there will be a definite need for social workers to assist them. Also I’ve been seeing/hearing a harkening back to the roots of social work, which is the pursuit of social justice. Yes, social workers assist the marginalized in meeting their needs, but we should also be about affecting change on the systems that oppress or suppress the lives and voices of our clients.
I think and hope that social work is moving more towards seeking social justice on a macro level and not just an individual one. I think and hope that in the next few years we’ll see or hear of social workers at every level of society working for equality and justice for our clients.
For those of us seeking social justice; fighting to change the world, the task at hand is daunting, but not unreasonable. I will leave you with a quote from Dr. Paul Farmer, from Tracy Kidder’s, Mountains Beyond Mountains. “I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win.”