By David Miller
Sometimes, it takes just one class to solidify a major, and just one internship to calibrate direction.
Madison Smith’s originally planned to major in nursing upon enrolling as a freshman at the University of Alabama in fall 2016. But, inspired to learn about the risk factors of drug addiction, she enrolled in HD 201, Understanding Addiction before declaring a major.
“My grandparents are addicts and were actively using during my early childhood,” Smith said. “I saw the family dynamic of that, along with the family dynamic since they have been in recovery, and wanted to understand more about the disease so I took the addiction course to learn more about addiction as a whole. I found studying addiction came more naturally to me than nursing did, and I enjoyed it more.”
Smith would major in addiction and recovery in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, a program that would yield an impactful internship with Still Waters for Women – a 12 step immersion program for women outside of Nashville – and help steer her toward the UA School of Social Work, where she is currently in her first year of UA’s MSW program.
Smith has since combined her research interest of addiction with a focus on women and their barriers to resources and recovery. Announced in late 2019 as one of 17 graduate students in the 2020-21 class of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship of Alabama, Smith will soon learn which of her three proposed service projects – all of which align with her current research interests – she’ll implement over the next year. Smith will develop research partnerships and implement the program between April and June.
Each year, Alabama Schweitzer Fellows, comprised of graduate students across the state, develop and implement service projects that address the root causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities, while also fulfilling their academic responsibilities. Each project is implemented in collaboration with a community-based health and/or social service organization.
Of the three service projects Smith pitched to the program, she’s most eager to implement a plan to provide child care for women going to 12-step recovery meetings, reducing a significant barrier “that impacts a large number of women receiving any form of mental health treatment,” she said. At Still Waters, Smith said she found that this barrier, among others, is greater for mothers due to stigmas and an expectation that women quickly return to the home to care for their children.
“I think there are issues that don’t get addressed because of gender,” Smith said. “So that’s where my passion lies.”
Smith said her field placement at The Bridge, an Alabama-based Department of Youth Services diversion program and outpatient substance use treatment program, has helped prepare her for the design of the Schweitzer program. The Bridge provides individual and family therapy as well as case management, but it’s been Smith’s administrative work at The Bridge that’s helped “change my whole focus.”
In November, her supervisor at The Bridge, Tangi Landers, commissioned her help with data collection and analysis of a Department of Youth Services annual report, which Smith said yielded interesting statistics about crimes and demographics, and “impacted successful outcomes for the clients.”
“[Landers] has since allowed me to sit in on meetings with the judge and others to discuss the annual report and how to plan going forward,” Smith said. “The idea of running a program, growing it and developing it is something I want to do. The Schweitzer program is a small version of that.”
Smith is currently looking to partner with faculty that have an interest in working with female addicts. She recently began working with UA social work researcher Dr. Karen Johnson in a lab where women with HIV risks in the criminal justice system are the focus. Johnson is helping Smith connect with resources for the Schweitzer Fellowship.
“My overall goal is to develop a residential treatment program for female addicts where kids can come as well and receive treatment for any trauma they’ve experienced,” Smith said. “This can hopefully help extend the mother’s time in treatment and prevent future issues for the child.”