Melissa Niewender: Class of 2022 MSW Program at CUNY York College

Tell us about yourself.

I graduated with my bachelor's from Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY, upstate. I played lacrosse there, majoring in sociology with a minor in criminal justice. I was there from 2013 to 2017. I knew I wanted to be in a field where I could help people, so I chose sociology and criminal justice because they would allow me to enter law enforcement or social work.

What made you decide to pursue social work?

I chose to go into social work rather than law enforcement because I was drawn to the idea of working with individuals and families in a therapeutic setting. The prospect of being able to help people work through their problems and achieve their goals was incredibly fulfilling to me. I applied for my master’s at York College in 2020 and graduated in May 2022, ready to embark on a career that would allow me to make a real difference in people's lives.

How did you learn about the MSW program at York College, and what attracted you to it?

After graduating from Hartwick College, I moved back to Long Island. I started working full-time as a quality improvement specialist at SCO Family of Services at Madonna Heights in Dix Hills, NY. When I was ready to start the master's program, I knew I wanted to attend an in-person program. I researched CUNY and SUNY schools offering a master's Social Work program. York College was the most convenient for me because of its location and the hours during which the program was offered. I needed a program that would accommodate my schedule as I was working full time, and all of York's classes were presented during the evening and weekend.

Were there any challenges you faced during your master's program, and how did you overcome them?

One of the most significant challenges I faced during my master's program was managing my time effectively. Balancing a 40-hour workweek, a 21-hour internship, and classes was demanding. However, I was able to overcome this challenge by seeking guidance from my advisors, who helped me create a manageable schedule.

What was the best part of the program? What did you find most valuable or exciting about the program?

The time the program was offered and the location worked well for me, but I also have to say that the team of professors that we had. We had the same team of professors throughout all our time at York. We got the opportunity to know them, and they knew us; they knew our writing style. Also, the class sizes were small, which was great. When you go to a big university, you are just a name to the professors, but at York, the professors get to know you. They know what you're capable of, and if you turn in a bad paper or score low on a test, they'll come to you and talk to you about what's going on.

What are you doing now?

Upon graduating from York College with my master’s degree in May 2022, I transitioned into a role as a social worker at the Helen Keller Services for the Blind.

What do you like most about this field and your job?

I enjoy connecting with individuals and doing counseling work.

Do you have any tips for students? What advice would you give others about the value of the master's program?

My advice for students considering social work is to utilize the office hours professors offer. The professors go above and beyond to help the students and are very understanding. I also advise them to ask questions. Feel free to talk to the professors and ask for help. The work will be much easier when you utilize the people there to help you.

What were your expectations before entering the program, and how did they align with your experience?

I expected the program to be challenging, but I expected to get less support than I did throughout my time there. When I was accepted it was an in-person program. Shortly after COVID hit -- now an in-person program turned into an hybrid synchronous program. My advisor and I met frequently throughout the semester to discuss grades, classes, personal life, and time management. It was hard because you were on your own for the papers and homework assignments, but the professors were flexible and understanding.

What are your career goals moving forward?

I passed my licensing exam in March 2023 on my first try. I felt ready and prepared to take the test because I took the boot camp class offered at York for social work students. Once I have completed the required hours, my next step will be to take the clinical exam.