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Fall Commencement 2020: Anna Sogol

Once eager to ‘get away,’ Brookwood grad takes chance on hometown university

Dec. 10, 2020

By David Miller

A white female student tosses a mortar board into the air

Pleasantly surprised: Tuscaloosa native Anna Sogol found a culture and community she’d longed for when she enrolled in UA’s School of Social Work.

As high school seniors weigh their college options, they eagerly anticipate moving away from home and onto campus, a rite of passage that typically serves as a springboard into adulthood.

But for a small group of high-schoolers, their dream school is just a stone’s throw from their high school. While they could move out of their parents’ house and into a dorm or apartment, the newness of college won’t have the same luster.

Some would view this familiarity of people, places and things as a comfort zone, but for Brookwood High graduate Anna Sogol, the University of Alabama wasn’t her top choice. She was keen to experience a culture different from what she’d grown up around, hoping it would give her an “authentic” college experience and prepare her for a diverse world and workplace.

“Growing up in Tuscaloosa, I was used to a certain kind of environment, a certain kind of climate – politically and in general,” Sogol said. “I wanted to get away and experience something new.”

Sogol eventually settled on UA and living in Tuscaloosa, where her father, Joel, is an attorney. She had plans to attend law school and enrolled in a pre-law track in the department of criminal justice. However, a change of major would ultimately yield the academic, social and cultural experiences Sogol had been yearning for.

“On a straight pre-law track, I felt like I was learning how to come into the life of client for that one problem, then move along,” Anna said. “But I wanted to engage with clients more than that, to get a foundation in the different ways to do that, and how to engage clients effectively. I looked into the School of Social Work, changed my major and never looked back.”

Anna, who will complete her BSW Saturday, still plans to attend law school and ultimately work as a defense attorney. But she’s clear in her mission to be more than a “temporary fix.” Anna has an interest in prison reform and advocating for inmates, a passion she developed under the tutelage of Joanne Terrell, retired SSW faculty who does death penalty mitigation.

Terrell, a friend and colleague of Joel, spoke to Anna and her classmates in SW105 during Anna’s freshman year. Anna would eventually work with Terrell on several projects, including divorce mediation, where she was trained to supervise court-ordered visitations.

“When I met Joanne, I learned that she wears so many hats,” Anna said, “and that was impactful for me. Working with her and discussing the different areas in which she works … it was inspiring to see that, as a social worker, you’re not limited in the things you can do, not only in the span of your career, but at the same time.”

a white woman and white man pose for a picture in front of the Lincoln Monument

Sogol completed her Washington, D.C. internship remotely, but she got to visit Capitol Hill in anticipation of her placement.

Anna recently completed a field internship with Shared Hope International, an anti-sex trafficking agency with offices in both the State of Washington and Washington, D.C. Anna’s learning experiences included studying human trafficking task forces, learning to balance work with conflicting personal beliefs, and analyzing child exploitation laws, but the entirety of the D.C. Internship Program, despite being virtual due to COVID-19, was “amazing.”

“We met with Congresswoman (Terri) Sewell for over an hour about different issues in Alabama and about her job and role,” Sogol said. “We met with Justice (Clarence) Thomas’ clerks to ask them questions about their experiences and get a feel for what it’s like to work on Capitol Hill. We got to listen to a holocaust survivor in our class – I would never be able to organize these experiences outside of the D.C. program.

“Then, there are the networking opportunities – when people hear you’re in the D.C. program, they want to talk with you and stay in touch with you.”

Anna is currently interviewing for paralegal positions, a process that’s been exciting, not only because she’s eager to begin her career, but because she’s “prepared” in researching the different standards and values of each firm.

“I was anxious that having a background in social work would be detrimental to me, but it’s incredibly beneficial,” Anna said. “Social work has given me the background and a deeper understanding of certain areas like immigration so much better than if I would have stayed on a pre-law track.”