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MSW Graduate Advances in Her Canine Therapy Career

Kim sits next to a yellow lab who is wearing a yellow breeder bandana
Kim Mizia, Program Director for the Northwest Region of Canine Companions and Boise State Master of Social Work graduate

Each step in Kim Mizia’s path has built upon her passions. Boise State University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) Online degree set Mizia on a trajectory to combine her passions into a lifelong career.

As the current Program Director for the Northwest Region of Canine Companions and a May 2021 graduate of Boise State’s Master of Social Work (MSW) Online degree Mizia leads her life with empathy.

Mizia believes higher education has made her a better person and had a huge impact on her life and how she interacts with the world around her. She credits education as a major factor in how she views herself, others, her own preconceptions and her compassion for others in her community. This is what led her to seek a degree in social work. She researched several avenues of continued studying and kept coming back to social work. “I feel that I’m better able to lead my life with empathy rather than with judgment,” she says in a recent interview.

“I feel that I’m better able to lead my life with empathy rather than with judgment.”Kim Mizia

Mizia’s journey to social work

Mizia began her journey in Pennsylvania before moving to the west coast to work with Canine Companions. She attended the University of Delaware and received a Bachelor of Science in Animal and Food Science. She also minored in psychology during her undergraduate journey. She has always been an animal lover and enjoys spending time outdoors with her family and two dogs.

Mizia began working with Canine Companions in 2013 as a service dog trainer but “I felt myself gravitating toward our clients more and really enjoyed working with them…” she said in a recent interview. She was becoming more client-oriented as she climbed the ranks and became a Program Director, a role that deals much more closely with clients than dog training. Canine Companions “provides service dogs to adults, children and veterans with disabilities and facility dogs to professionals working in healthcare, criminal justice and educational settings.” Since their founding in 1975, dogs and all follow-up services have been provided at no cost to their clients.

Mizia’s passion for people and animals led her to seek a social work program that could prepare her to be a compassionate leader. She landed on Boise State’s program because it’s nationally recognized and provides flexible part-time and full-time online options. Additionally, a friend and Boise State alumni had great things to say about the university.

Kim stands next to another woman holding a baby, rainbow balloons and banners are in the background
Kim Mizia, MSW Graduate. Photo provided by Kim Mizia

“I loved having the flexibility of completing a high-quality program part-time and online,” she said.  “…it was important to me to maintain my full-time role as program director while in the program.” While it is not recommended to work full-time while completing the program, Mizia found the flexibility of both the program and her other life responsibilities to be a perfect match. She also wanted to highlight how the program’s faculty was supportive and responsive “The Department of Social Work faculty was very supportive throughout the program, especially when the covid-19 pandemic created challenges for our field placements.”

“I loved having the flexibility of completing a high-quality program part-time and online”Kim Mizia

The Master of Social Work Online experience

As part of the advanced coursework, Mizia took a class titled “Program Leadership and Management” that combined her work as the Program Director for Canine Companions and social work. This quickly became her favorite class. She already had a solid foundation but found this class helped her a great deal with how she led and leads her team. “One thing I really got out of the MSW program was the ability to sort of take a really long hard look at myself and my biases and lead with empathy, and have a renewed sense of compassion with serving others and specifically serving my client population and staff,” she said.

Kim Mizia’s excellent experiences in the Master of Social Work Online program were not limited to that single class. She found the coursework very fulfilling. “I really enjoyed having the freedom to apply the assignments to something I found really interesting. So, for example, in one of my research classes, I had to design a study and I chose to study the impacts of therapeutic horseback riding on children with disabilities. I was really able to make the project come alive for myself in an area that I thought was really interesting.” Since social work is all about the client, Mizia was able to tailor her path through the program to work with clients.

During the program, students are required to participate in two field practicums. Mizia initially found that prospect quite daunting but found that Boise State’s support in this endeavor simplified the stressor. “One thing that really drew me to the Boise State Program was knowing that I had the support of faculty in finding and securing field placement. That is one of the things I looked at when I was researching different universities. I had heard that some places don’t help with that.” Boise State’s program is unique with five, full-time field coordinators that work with students and coordinate field placements.

“I had the support of faculty in finding and securing field placement… some places don’t help with that.”Kim Mizia

Bringing social work to Canine Companions

Mizia’s knowledge and understanding of people through the lens of social work elevated her work at Canine Companions.

Mizia credited several people with being a great support to her during the program including her supervisor and leadership. “My supervisor and leadership in our organization were open to listening to the stuff I brought to them.” Having that support really made a world of difference for her. Canine Companions said, “Mizia’s work with Canine Companions over the past nine and a half years made her a perfect candidate for the Master of Social Work and completing the degree made her an even more invaluable member of the Canine Companions Team.”