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April 5, 2018

Mary Wilder, BSW Student
Hometown: Florence, SC

Social work was not Mary Wilder’s first or second choice for a major at the University of South Carolina. But her desire to help others was a perfect fit for her and the College of Social Work. Wilder is now president of the Undergraduate Student Social Work Association (USSWA) and will graduate next month with her Bachelor of Social Work degree. 

Why did you choose to study social work at the University of South Carolina?

“I started as a music major, then a business major and now I’ll be graduating with a social work degree. As soon as I got to the College of Social Work I said, ‘That’s it… I’m done. I know this is where I’m supposed to be.’ When I was completing assignments at the school of business, I kept asking myself, ‘How can I use this to help people?’ Then I met with Ms. James (former Student Services Coordinator Rushondra James) about switching my major. When she told me about social work, I knew this was exactly what I wanted.”

What do you enjoy most about studying at the College of Social Work?

“The opportunities are limitless because I have so many passions and interests. This program allows me to explore everything and not commit to one area. Some of my interests include advocating for criminal justice reform and working with foster children, and I’ve had experiences in both areas, so it’s never boring. If you’re getting bored with social work, you’re doing something wrong.”

What impresses you the most about the faculty and field instructors?

“The support of our faculty and field instructors is unlike any other program. Others may not be able to emphasize and help in the same way social workers can. They have always supported me and are always open and helpful by telling me, ‘What can I do,’ or Let’s work on this,’ or simply, ‘I understand.’ The faculty and instructors are like family.”

How did you become involved with the USSWA?

“I started looking for ways to be more involved last year and heard about the group from the president Kaitlin McLaughlin. She was organizing events, and I thought it would be fun to meet more social work students. Since I was going to be a senior and elections were coming up, I went for it and was elected president. It’s challenging at times to be president and get people to attend events because everyone is so busy, but this is such a young organization and there’s so much potential.”

How has field education furthered your social work classroom instruction?

"I’m currently at the South Carolina Department of Social Services, working within the foster care unit. It has put me in situations I would have never experienced, which can be very humbling. You can’t be judgmental, and it challenges any biases I may have had. It also inspires me to see what I can do in the future in not only finding problems but building on the positives and strengths.”

How would you describe social work in three words?

“Challenging… Rewarding… Necessary”

What are you plans after graduation?

"I will be in the Advanced Standing program at USC for my MSW and really interested in gaining more experience in correctional social work. One of my dream jobs that relates to correctional social work would be to have a program where dogs from shelters are brought into the prison system and the inmates learn to care and train the dogs and experience their unconditional love, so they are more likely to be adopted. There is one program, Greyhounds Pets of America, which partnered with the South Carolina Department of Corrections to take retired greyhound race dogs and put them in a women’s prison, where the inmates learned how to train the dogs before they were adopted."

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