Former Engineering Major ‘Challenged Like Never Before’ in Social Work
By David Miller
April 29, 2020
Allie Neyman was ready to pack her bags and move back home.
The Gulf Breeze, Florida native was “lost” during her freshman year at the University of Alabama. Her major, civil engineering, was a passion-driven decision, but she was passionless once she got to campus. Neyman had many aspirations before enrolling, including attending law school, but she saw being a woman in STEM as her “contribution to the world.”
“My grades were slipping,” Neyman said, “and it caused me to struggle in every aspect of college life.”
Her first social work class at UA would be the salvation for her college career and a recalibration for her professional future.
To fulfill a history elective in Fall 2017, Neyman enrolled in SW200 with UA School of Social Work adjunct instructor, Dr. Tommie Watkins.
Neyman said Watkins started the semester with a proposition: non-social work majors would “fall in love with social work” and change their major by the end of the semester, and, if not, Watkins would give them an “A.”
Of course, Watkins was joking, but it didn’t take long for Watkins’ passion for the field and rich anecdotes from his work experiences to influence Neyman. By the end of the semester, Neyman had changed her major and, ultimately, “the entire course of my life.”
“I found a community in the School of Social Work that lifted me up and challenged me like never before,” Neyman said. “I rediscovered my passion for academics and becoming involved in the community.”
Neyman will earn her BSW this weekend, capping more than two years of intense academic and social engagement within the School. Neyman served as president for the Undergraduate Social Work Organization and as a student representative on the BSW curriculum committee. She graduates as a member of the Phi Alpha Honor Society and recipient of the Dean’s Scholar Award.
But, nearing her final semester, Neyman was again “lost.” Though she had a passion for social work, she admittedly still saw it as a “means to get to law school.” She was minoring in public policy and had taken the LSAT.
“I was still trying to convince myself that law school was for me,” Neyman said.
Neyman sought counsel in Shayla Smith, BSW field coordinator for the UA School of Social Work, who recommended Neyman apply for the School’s Washington, D.C. Internship Program, a highly selective semester-long internship in the nation’s epicenter for policy. Applying to the program without guarantee of a macro-level placement was a “leap of faith,” Neyman said.
Neyman didn’t end up in a macro placement in Washington, D.C.; rather, a highly clinical placement at the National Institutes of Health, where she was immersed in a unique blend of micro and mezzo hospital policy.
Neyman worked in the Clinical Center, where she would shadow social workers and perform suicide risk assessments and intake interviews with clients.
“I thought I would be out of my comfort zone,” Neyman said. “But I got there and completely fell in love with it. The whole time, I’m thinking, ‘I’m not supposed to love this so much.’ But that’s when I decided to completely pursue social work.
“The impact, too, of the other social workers I was around, how they advocated for vulnerable people and helped each other … I want to be there and support someone going through something like me.”
One of Neyman’s influences at NIH was UA and Washington, D.C. internship alumna Jennifer Greene, who took Neyman “under her wing.”
“I worked a lot with her on (Greene’s) unit in neurological and sleep disorders,” Neyman said. “She not only let me interview patients on my own, but she also allowed me to come back and decompress, then talk about it with me.
“These interactions were incredibly impactful for me. I became confident in my skill set and capabilities. That’s a big hurdle for students going into the field.”
Neyman will pursue an MSW at New York University in the fall.