MSW student Catherine Stewart was recently appointed to the Professional Association of Social Workers in HIV/AIDS’ (PASWHA) Board of Directors. Read her Q&A to learn how she became involved with the nonprofit and is working to help shape policy and advocacy for those living with HIV/AIDS.

Q. Where did you complete your MSW field experience and how did your field experience impact you?

A. I have completed the first of two field experiences for my MSW. I was placed at Collaborative Solutions, an organization that provides technical assistance to the Housing community. Policy and advocacy were a major part of my work there as I traveled to Montgomery to lobby for funding and then helped plan and manage the National Conference on Social Work and HIV/AIDS. Working with CSI and its affiliates; PASWHA, NAHC and LIHCA, helped me to understand the importance of macro social work and how even one person and especially a team can make a difference locally and nationally. I have always loved policy and social change roles and working with the dedicated team at CSI gave me the assurance I needed to know that’s exactly how I wanted to make an impact.

Q. How did you become involved with the Professional Association of Social Workers in HIV/AIDS?

A. The opportunity to work with PASWHA was given to me at Collaborative Solutions. I was assigned to work specifically with the Board of Directors and CEO to help plan the National Conference on Social Work and HIV/AIDS as well as social media, membership building and learning the ins and outs of working for and running a nonprofit.

Q. When were you appointed to the PASWHA Board of Directors and what will be your role on the board? How long is your term on the board?

A. I was voted in to the Board of Directors on May 25th, 2018 at the annual membership meeting. I will be among 10 board members and will be serving for at least one 3-year term. As a board member, my role is to help fulfill the goal of PASWHA: “energizes and supports social workers and other professionals providing social work services to impact the disease through education, research, policy/advocacy, networking, and professional development” (from the website PASWHA.org).

Q. What do you hope to gain from your experience as a PASWHA board member?

A. I hope to gain experience working with nonprofits professionally and helping the organization to grow. My passion is healthcare and I hope to gain a greater understanding of how policy and advocacy can impact change. I also hope to grow professionally and learn how to better network and educate the public on major social issues.

Q. What was your undergraduate major and where did you earn your degree (university)?

A. BS in psychology from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT.

Q. Why did you decide to pursue your MSW degree from The University of Alabama?

A. The University of Alabama has a well-known and established MSW program that provides many opportunities for students to be successful as they pursue a career in social work. I knew that by coming to UA I would be doing more than going to school, I would become part of something bigger.

Q. What is your concentration area for your MSW and why?

A. Children, Adolescents and their Families: I chose to work with this population because I believe that families are the central and most integral unit in society. My focus is in Policy and Advocacy because I want to help make life better and provide opportunities for families.

Q. Who is your faculty mentor at UA (School of Social Work) and how have they helped you excel?

A. There are several people that come to mind when I think of mentorship because the faculty and staff here at UA are some of the most caring, dedicated, and knowledgeable people I have ever known. One professor that stands out is Kimberly Gibson. She has been someone that I have learned I can talk to about anything professionally or personally and without judgment. She is always on the students’ side and does anything she can from brightening someone’s day to fixing a major field problem.

Q. Are you conducting any research with a UA social work faculty member and if so, what are you studying? And how do you hope your research will impact families, the community or the population group you are studying?

A. I am currently working on a Self-Care workshop series that I am presenting through GSWO. Dr. Shah has been an integral part of teaching self-care practices to students and is helping me with a poster that I plan to present in upcoming NASW conferences. I am hoping that my research and work with self-care will allow me to reach out to other MSW students both at UA and across the country in order to create an open dialogue and network of social workers dedicated to taking care of ourselves and each other.

Q. When do you graduate and what are your career aspirations after you graduate (what area do you plan to work in or will you pursue your PhD)?

A. In spring 2019. Once I graduate from UA with my MSW, I plan on working in policy and advocacy in Washington D.C., effecting change on a national level. I hope to work for an organization that improves healthcare options for those in vulnerable populations who do not receive the medical care they need. I plan on pursuing a PhD after working in the field and gaining experience for two years.

Q. How do you plan to use your MSW degree to serve others/communities?

A. My passion and ambition is to be a part of the legislation that makes healthcare affordable and accessible to all populations. I hope to work in community outreach, policy and advocacy to make a change.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to about your UA social experience and board appointment?

A. I feel very privileged to be a part of an organization like PASWHA. Being a part of a dedicated team of professionals and caring individuals doing something that I am passionate about is a dream of mine.