Article by Ava Marante

Even at a young age, serving others always felt natural to Sharonda Pettaway. Guided by her father, who served in the field of social work for almost 40 years, Sharonda naturally developed a passion for serving others. Always the peacemaker and the listening ear, friends, and colleagues were drawn to Sharonda and would seek her for guidance during times of trouble or conflict. It was no surprise to friends and family that Sharonda would eventually choose to pursue a life driven by service as a social worker whose calling became a career filled with support and empowerment to those in need.

Ms. Pettaway is an alumna of The University of Alabama, where she completed her undergraduate and master’s degree in the field of social work. Pettaway recalls going to freshman orientation at The University of Alabama, realizing that they had a school of social work, and immediately pursuing it. Pettaway said, “Social work just felt natural. Even as a student, I considered myself a social worker as I went through my coursework. I would often reflect on my upbringing, and I realized that people always trusted the guidance I gave them. I have always been the problem solver.”

As she reflects on her college career, Sharonda Pettway notes the significant efforts The University of Alabama’s School of Social Work made to prepare their students. With the support of the university, Pettaway was able to get involved in organizations like the National Association of Black Social Workers, where she served as Vice President. This position enabled her to complement her schoolwork and gain experience outside of the classroom. Pettaway noted that the school not only teaches social work but also models the values of the social work profession as they embrace people for who they are.

“I can still recall my first actual social work course in my major. It was Introduction to Social Work, and my professor was Dr. Ginny Raymond. On the first day of class, I remember her asking, ‘Why did you choose social work, and what do you want your legacy to be in the field?’ I remember saying that I want to leave a mark of social change,” said Pettaway.

Professors like Dr. Ginny Raymond made sure Ms. Pettaway and other students like her were well-prepared with a firm foundation in social work practice and a clear understanding of what to expect when they graduated and entered the workforce. Pettaway noted that the biggest piece of advice she could give to students is “service above self.” This mantra is what drove Sharonda Pettway every day. Pettaway shared, “I knew I was making a commitment to help change the lives of other people, as well as empower other people in my role as a social worker. This meant that sometimes I had to put me on the back burner.”

For the past 20 years, Sharonda Pettway has made serving others her life’s mission. Regardless of the roles that she has held over the years, Sharonda has held true to her mantra and has always maintained her commitment to putting service above self. Now, in her current role as an assistant professor in the department of social work at Alabama State University, Sharonda has the opportunity to guide tomorrow’s leaders in the field as she strives to create and activate social change.