Almost 2,500 miles separate the cities of Boise, Idaho, and Rocky Mountain, North Carolina.
That substantial distance hasn’t stopped a pair of East Coast Boise State Online students from forming a bond while earning their graduate degrees.
Teresa Rountree and Christina Jones are in the midst of their first year of Boise State University’s Master of Social Work Online program, with the pair digitally learning together on the East Coast.
A higher calling
For Rountree, the path to a career in social work began within her own family. In 1998, while her sister battled with cancer, Rountree’s interactions with hospice staff opened her eyes to how crucial social workers can be.
“The empathy and compassion they had for my family encouraged me to be a social worker,” Rountree said. “The positive impact they had on my family encouraged my desire to help other families and impact their lives.”
While her sister eventually lost her battle with stomach cancer in 1999, Rountree said she’d never forget how the hospice staff’s care and understanding helped her family through that difficult time. Once the time to kick start her career came, Rountree chose an undergraduate degree in social work, earning her bachelor’s from East Carolina University in 2006.
For Jones, the decision to pursue a higher education came from lessons imparted by her family, specifically her dad.
“My father valued the importance of receiving an education as he was not afforded the same opportunity,” Jones said. “I wanted to make him proud and though he is no longer with me, I know he is proud and supports my educational goals.”
Rountree and Jones’s paths crossed at the Wilson County Department of Social Services in Wilson, North Carolina. The two met in the first few days of Jones’s employment, and became fast friends, bonding over their shared interest of attaining a graduate degree in social work. While the pair researched possible enrollment options, Rountree said her friend and colleague Sherrece Cousar recommended Boise State University’s Master’s of Social Work Online program, having graduated from the program herself.
Both Rountree and Jones contracted COVID-19 in June of 2020, just one week after they met. Rountree’s illness led her to spend a month in the hospital, almost needing a ventilator before eventually overcoming the virus. While the two remained in quarantine for the better part of three months, they both used this time to fill out their applications to Boise State Online. Once returning to work in September, they both learned of their admittance to the program.
“We’ve been linked at the hip since then,” Rountree said. “It’s great to have someone to lean on and go through this process together.”
Opportunities beyond the classroom
For both Rountree and Jones, online learning has made continuing their careers possible, balancing school with their social work and internships. Rountree said Boise State’s competitive online tuition costs also helped make the decision to enroll that much easier.
“It’s a lot of work, maneuvering school, work, my internship and family. All of that doesn’t stop,” Rountree said. “I love the program. I can be away from my home in another county, another state for my work because it’s online. That’s so helpful, I can do it anytime I need to.”
Jones, meanwhile, said attaining her graduate degree in social work meant pursuing a higher calling in a field where she can do the most possible good in her community.
“Higher education has empowered me and given me a new perspective on the work I do as a child protective services social worker,” she said. “College was the next step for me because I had delayed this achievement long enough. I felt I was worth the investment and now was the time to fulfill my desire.”
This spring marked the halfway point in Rountree and Jones’s two-year journey toward an Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. And while they’ve learned plenty in their virtual classrooms, enrollment in Boise State’s MSW online program also includes opportunities to learn in the field. Luckily for them, field coordinator Megan Dardis-Kunz was prepared with plenty of options to help them attain internships in their area.
“My primary responsibility as a field coordinator is to ensure that our students secure a field placement that will offer them a strong educational experience and maybe to stretch beyond their comfort zone,” Dardis-Kunz said. “Being surrounded by strong and competent educators is not something everyone gets to experience and I feel lucky to have that within the School of Social Work!”
Rountree said the placement process was incredibly helpful, especially compared to her friends and coworkers looking for the same opportunities while learning at other universities.
“We didn’t have to stress looking for an opening; it was already there waiting for us,” she said.
With their eyes now set on their second year of school, Rountree and Jones both expressed their gratitude for a partner to lean on during their online education experience.
It has been very beneficial to have a fellow student and former student in such close proximity,” Jones said. “It has made this challenging goal doable. Teresa and Sherrece provide continuous encouragement and support.”
While Jones acknowledged that not all online students have a fellow student in their community, the experience has been incredibly fruitful in building bonds among other like-minded students across the country, expanding her idea of what someone in the social work field can accomplish. While she entered the MSW program to continue her field work, she now said she hopes to attain a higher leadership role, possibly in the realm of therapy or veteran affairs.
“Just go for it. Life is so uncertain, and sometimes we don’t have the time to go into a classroom for a certain amount of time. The online opportunity still allows us to have that moment,” Rountree said. “It opens up the opportunity for you to still have a life, still work, as long as you have a computer. It’s been awesome.
Hopefully, I can also introduce someone to Boise State. It would definitely be my first choice for someone wanting to pursue an MSW degree.”
Learn more about a Master’s of Social Work at Boise State
Learn more about Boise State Online’s Master of Social Work program by registering for a live, online information session or contacting a student success coach.