Senior BSW student reflects on challenges of working through COVID

By David Miller

May 14, 2021

There’s always more that can be done.

That perspective can help shape a variety of good habits and create positive energy, especially when facing adversity. Sometimes, though, one’s goodwill succumbs to an immovable barrier.

A black woman poses for a photo outdoors
Senior BSW student and outgoing USWO president, Ariel Smith.

BSW student Ariel Smith was eager to begin her term as president of the Undergraduate Social Work Organization for the 2020-21 academic year. She’d previously served as secretary for the group and helped lead several community-engagement projects with partners such as Arts & Autism.

However, COVID-19 health protocols would greatly limit the number of activities the group could organize and execute during Smith’s tenure as president, a challenging and disappointing reality, given the needs the group could have addressed throughout the community.

“I would have loved for us to mentor through the local Boys & Girls Club … and do more hands-on stuff,” Smith said. “We also missed the interactions with other students that we would normally have, especially the students you wouldn’t normally have in your classes because you’re in a different year [in the program].”

Smith and fellow USWO officers were forced to reshape their perspective from “there’s more that can be done” to “what can we get done?” USWO answered that call through both community service and in-School programming.

For instance, in the fall, USWO solicited donations for Tuscaloosa Angels and helped buy gifts for two children in foster care. In early February, USWO partnered with the West Alabama Food Bank to help pack more than 150 backpack lunches for students suffering with food insecurities. Later in the spring, USWO raised money for the Fultondale Tornado Relief Fund.

USWO had also organized donations for water during a shortage in the City of Reform, but water services had been restored just before the group launched its campaign.

Additionally, USWO representatives led a “students in social work” panel discussion for classmates in Fall 2020 and took part in a student-focused Noontime Knowledge discussion in the spring.

“I wanted to increase our presence in the community through service and lending a helping hand where we could,” Smith said. “We were able to do that as much as we could; we had to make sure waivers were signed, make sure we didn’t have too many students in a room at once to adhere to social distancing.

A white woman packs boxes inside a food pantry
USWO treasurer Madeline Paul prepares backpack lunches at the West Alabama Food Bank in early February.

“Some students weren’t even in Tuscaloosa due to COVID, so we tried to incorporate students on campus, off campus and those who were doing field.”

Smith said she’s thankful for what USWO could accomplish, considering COVID health protocols limited nearly all service organizations on campus.

“If I could go back and do another term without COVID, I’d do it again,” Smith said.

Instead, Smith readies for her field placement – and her final semester in the BSW program – this fall. Smith will fulfill her placement with Tuscaloosa City Schools.

She encourages undergraduates to pursue service through the School of Social Work’s clubs and groups.

“Before I got into leadership positions, I was one of those students who thought ‘dang, I need to do something. I can’t sit in my dorm all day,'” Smith said. “It’s so important to engage and meet your fellow classmates, meet your instructors and advisors, and make those connections. You never know when you’ll need help with something – advice in the field, a letter of recommendation. I encourage students to get involved and get that experience. There’s a greater reward in being involved and active and not just being a student.”