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Pia Valere-Adams on the value of fieldwork in social work education

It was a cold Christmas Eve night, and Pia Valere-Adams felt the biting wind as she walked home from her retail job in Manhattan. In the distance, she spotted a woman standing outside, wearing a trash bag with her arms, hands and toes exposed. Valere-Adams instinctively ducked into a diner to pull money out of her purse to give to the woman. She walked back outside and offered the money. The woman accepted and replied, “thank you,” but Valere-Adams couldn’t find any words to respond, overwhelmed with feelings of sadness. She walked away and kept thinking about how the woman she encountered “seemed forgotten. How many others are forgotten?” she questioned.

“After that moment, feeling bad or being sorry wasn’t enough anymore.”

Finding purpose in social work

She enrolled in New York University and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, enlisted in the army, served for almost a decade and then achieved her Master of Social Work from Monmouth University. Since then, she has put her social work degree to work for the federal government, an international organization in Belgium, Veterans Affairs, hospice, Covenant House and now in a public defender’s office in South Carolina, working as the first social worker in that position in the county circuit.

Pia Valere-Adams’ sense of purpose is far more important than any job title, first clarified on that cold Christmas Eve night and ever since then. “At the core, I am an advocate. I’m a resource queen. Connecting people to the right resources can change lives.”

“At the core, I am an advocate. I’m a resource queen. Connecting people to the right resources can change lives.”

“I have helped a variety of people, including the homeless, people with disabilities or mental illnesses and those involved with the criminal justice system. In my current job, I get to go in front of judges and explain the ‘why’ behind crimes, discuss who the defendant is in their community and family and make sure that the defendant gets opportunities and resources.”

Connecting to Boise State Master of Social Work Online

Pia Valere-Adams first learned about Boise State’s Master of Social Work Online through a student intern at her current workplace. After working with him and Boise State staff for a while, she heard about an open field coordinator position and was encouraged to apply. She was offered the job and now works to connect Master of Social Work students to fieldwork opportunities.

Boise State’s Master of Social Work Online recently celebrated its fifth anniversary as one of the most popular online degree programs. In Fall 2021, the program had 410 active students and 609 graduates, crossing the 1,000 student threshold. With a 90% retention rate among students and high satisfaction rates reported by students and faculty, the program itself is a resounding success. What’s more, Master of Social Work Online alumni continue the pattern of success by landing great jobs and positively impacting their communities.

Recently, Boise State’s master of social work (MSW) online program ranked 10th in the “Best Affordable Online MSW Programs in 2021” list by Best Value Schools. Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the program has no out-of-state tuition, 100 percent online coursework, and licensing pass rates that exceed the national average.

What is fieldwork?

Critical to the success of social work students is field experience or on-the-job training. It’s often identified as one of the most important elements of the master’s program. Speaking to the importance of fieldwork, Valere-Adams said, “Experience has helped me understand that my job is to help all people. You can’t help someone from a place of judgment. What you would do or not do is irrelevant. Field experience helps you unearth biases and judgments, so you can be prepared to help all people.”

“Field experience helps you unearth biases and judgments, so you can be prepared to help all people.”

As an experienced social worker and field coordinator for the MSW Online program, she works closely with Boise State students to create meaningful experiences. “I get to coach students through the process of finding fieldwork,” Valere-Adams said.

“I meet with each student to determine a student’s interests and limitations, and we work on placements. I help with the interview process and support them along the way.”

The value of fieldwork and on-the-job experience

MSW Online students should expect to be challenged during their fieldwork experience. “A student can come into fieldwork with many preconceived notions, but then they have new experiences and encounter people who are different from them,” she explained.

“You learn about yourself, and you learn about other people. You learn that there’s value in every person and every experience.”

Pia Valere-Adams sees the mutually beneficial relationship between MSW Online students and organizations. “Students come with unique perspectives and gifts and are willing to share them. They can offer new and fresh perspectives to organizations and agencies,” she said.

“In turn, students get mentorship opportunities and can observe client work or work with clients directly. There are benefits for both.”

Learn more about Boise State’s Master of Social Work Online

Boise State Master of Social Work Online students benefit from the expertise and professional experience of fieldwork coordinators like Pia Valere-Adams. As a fully online program with no location constraints, it connects students to expert social workers across the country.

Learn more about the MSW Online program by contacting a student success coach or attending a live, virtual information session.

Contact a Student Success Coach

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