Social Work Students Recognized with Chapter Service Award

Foundation Honors Six University Faculty with Excellence Awards Samantha Roberts, 31, is a military spouse, a mother of two children under seven, a full-time employee with a financial institution, a recent graduate from A&M-Central Texas, and a brand-new graduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington. But she is still very much a part of the University’s social work program.

Just two months have passed since she received her bachelor’s degree in social work at the University’s 2022 Summer Commencement, yet she routinely returns to campus. It is not because she has an errand in the business office, an overdue assignment, a parking ticket to pay, or a book to return to the library.

What she has, and what seven other recent social work graduates have, is a long-term relationship with the social work student chapter, and it is more than a pastime; it is a passion.

She and the other program alumni come back to campus to engage in projects that are near and dear to their hearts. They are a part of the Phi Rho Phi Alpha Honor Society, and their work has just received national attention from the Phi Alpha Honor Society National Offices.

As a student in the social work program, Roberts and her fellow students were placed into fieldwork, which consists of placements that offer them the opportunity to learn how social work is practiced outside the classroom.

“Some of us were interns in hospices, others in health care clinics, and others interned in elementary schools in the past,” Roberts explained. “After we had been in placement for a while, we began to talk about our experiences, and one of the things we had in common was that we all saw so much need in our community and so many different levels.”

While at a hospice in Temple, Roberts did what social workers do. They talk to their clients, noting where and what kind of support they might benefit from. Almost immediately, she said, she realized that many of them had few special memories to look back upon, made more tragic by the fact that they were receiving end of life care.

“It wasn’t that they could not remember going to a prom,” she said, her voice, dropping an octave and softly pausing with emotion. “They had never even had that experience.”

What she did not do – and what the other social work honor society students did not do – is nothing short of extraordinary.

They did not shrug and remark about the misfortunes of aging. Nor did they begin to harbor doubt that their careers in social work were no match for misfortune. They took what they had learned in the classroom, combined it with equal parts of grit, selflessness, and determination, and they decided to do something about it.

Roberts chuckles a little bit when she acknowledges what she perceives to be a personal weakness.

“Sometimes, people tell me that my ideas are 'too big',” she said.

And she and the other members of the honor society decided that their passion for caring as social workers were bigger than all the reasons not to.

They held garage sales, she explained, adding that they had set out to address the needs they were seeing in a pandemic and post-pandemic phase. So, they came up with alternate plans to bake sales.

They used their own money to buy materials for – and make – Christmas wreaths which they auctioned to raise money. Eventually, they held a few bake sales and began to count their proceeds.

Roberts credits her fellow students for their devotion, quickly acknowledging them for still being a part of the University’s social work program today. And a conversation with her is all that is needed to understand that she and the other students are made of solid academic heft; but they also possess a quality that often puts wheels under academic accomplishment, especially when it is in the real world of work: the simple refusal to quit, even when a goal is “a little too big.”

“The one thing that we refused to do,” she said, “is give up or cut back what we know we needed to do. We truly care and we want to make a difference in our communities. Wherever we see a need, we provide a way to address that need.”

The results of all their fundraising efforts allowed them to gift a Copperas Cove retirement community with laundry baskets for each resident in need, bringing them personal hygiene items, pet food for a menagerie of animal friends, and enough laundry supplies to last for the foreseeable future.

Remote learning made it impossible to donate the usual back to school supplies for a local elementary school, so they went back to where they began, adding a “Senior” Prom for the residents of the hospice who had never had one.

“It was worth all the effort we put into it to do that Senior Prom,” Roberts said, and as she spoke, it was as if she was remembering the faces of the hospice residents who, after so many years, got the chance to get dressed up, vote for their prom royalty and enjoy an evening among friends.

“We all saw their smiles,” she said. “And we saw each person we cared for experience happiness and love with others. We helped them remember love. What could ever be more rewarding than that?

Coincidentally, there is an answer for that otherwise rhetorical question.

Just last week, Michael Daley, Ph.D., social work department chair, and Claudia Rappaport, Ph.D., associate professor, were notified that the same honor society chapter that labored through the Christmas holidays making wreaths for auction, and the same selfless souls who set their on-going lives aside to help the new students in the chapter continue their work, had won recognition from the national Phi Alpha Honor Society officials for their projects.

Not only had the chapter won, but they won for the 12th consecutive time.

Roberts and her former alumni friends celebrated the win with characteristic pride and good grace, sprinkled with what could only be called just the teensiest bit of competitive shade.

“Only one of the three universities won for identifying a problem and fixing it,” Roberts said. “That was A&M-Central Texas.”

“We all stay so inspired by this profession, and we took what we learned in the program and used it to respond to unmet needs in our community. We did what social workers do every day, and we couldn’t be more proud.”

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