Article by Ava Marante
What is social work? According to the National Association of Social Workers, “social work” is defined as being a “profession for those with a strong desire to help improve people’s lives.”
Whether it be through conducted research or through policy development, social workers are advocates for the people. They exhibit skills like empathy and patience.
After meeting with Dr. Sherron Wilkes, one would be able to understand that social work to her is not just a profession. It’s a passion. Dr. Wilkes, Interim Master of Social Work (MSW) Program Director at The University of Alabama, made it known that serving people and giving them a voice was her life’s mission. Dr. Wilkes knew from the beginning that she wanted to be in a field where she could serve people. “I knew I wanted to be in the helping profession… trying to find my place and find out how I can serve my people and the community,” said Dr. Wilkes.
Starting at a young age, Dr. Sherron Wilkes worked for a mental health agency as a mental health therapist to provide therapy services and programs for those in her community. In time, Dr. Wilkes realized that her passion was less about the direct practice of social work and more about the broad field of macro social work, which involves influencing and repairing large-scale systemic issues that affect large groups of people. Soon thereafter, Dr. Wilkes transitioned to the Community Development Director of the Economic Development Center. This is where Dr. Wilkes was able to conduct more grassroots organizing and help those who didn’t have a well-heard voice in her community to improve their quality of life.
“It was all about mobilizing the residents in the community and empowering them. We partnered with the city to create street signs and the neighborhood watch. We were giving the residents the tools they needed to learn how to ask city officials for what they need in the community,” said Dr. Wilkes.
When speaking with Dr. Wilkes about her current role within The University of Alabama as the Interim MSW Program Director, she stated that the most rewarding aspect of her position is seeing her students get involved in the community. “I love community engagement, and now I have translated that into higher education. When my students receive knowledge in their courses, they are able to turn that into a real practical experience,” said Dr. Wilkes. Through her role as Community Development Director, she has been able to expose the concepts of macro social work to her students and showcase that social work is more than just one direct path but rather a series of diverging and converging pathways.
As a testimony to her passion for serving the community during a time of crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Sherron Wilkes rose to the occasion to help students meet their required service-learning hours. Dr. Wilkes leveraged her research on virtual learning to create an online learning platform. This enabled her students, and eventually, many other social work practitioners, to join a conference space via Zoom and earn service learning hours and continuing education units (CEUs).
“I started creating a virtual platform for students so that students can join these series and receive their hours. This series is called Noon Time Knowledge and is now also open to social work practitioners everywhere… I started the series because it was needed to help our students learn during a time of crisis,” shared Dr. Wilkes.
Continuously thinking outside the box. Helping those whose voice has been diminished to gain empowerment. Advocating and helping students to think broadly. Dr. Sherron Wilkes’ has built a career on serving her community and encourages her students to remember, “just because you are students, doesn’t mean you don’t have something to bring to the table. Be a life-long learner and, most importantly, be a professional when no one else is looking.”