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Jeremy MartinTransitions to Mentoring

As a preceptor, recent alumnus Jeremy Martin is finding solutions to the challenge of helping students learn to make meaningful connections with clients and integrate life and classroom experiences. When Martin crosses the yard of Transitions, a homeless shelter in downtown Columbia, he’s followed by a trail of cheerful hellos. Attired in a neatly pressed dress shirt, he is easily distinguishable from the clients around him. However, perhaps his own “diverse past,” as he calls it, makes clients more willing to view him as both an advocate and an example of breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Martin graduated from USC’s MSW program in 2012 and has years of experience in social work. Yet part of the unique perspective he brings to working with clients and mentoring field students comes from his experiences outside of the classroom, which include a year and half of homelessness and former struggles with substance abuse.

“My experiences have allowed me to look at things differently from a lot of people,” Martin said. “I’m able to give our clients a voice since I’ve shared similar situations.”

Martin began his work as an MSW field intern at Transitions when the shelter opened in June 2011. His shift into the full-time position of Lead Day Counselor and then Emergency Services Program Manager has also moved him from the position of student to mentor.

Now Martin acts as the field preceptor for the five MSW students from USC at Transitions. While some of their duties are clearly laid out, Martin emphasizes that it’s important for students to have individual plans tailored to their goals and backgrounds. This gives students more freedom to explore their strengths and weaknesses while avoiding “cookie-cutter” teaching formulas.

At Transitions, this openness has allowed for student-initiated events and projects, such as a client “fun day” (replete with a talent show and carnival-like activities) and a short video production that Transitions may use in future marketing and public relations.

Martin isn’t going this path alone. While he has day-to-day oversight of the interns, Dave Hall, a PhD student at USC’s College of Social Work, acts as the students’ off-site field instructor.
Hall, who has been in social work since the 1980s, said he helps students weave together what they’re experiencing in the field with what they’re learning in the classroom. He meets with students regularly, mentoring them and helping them process their experiences. He also challenges students to move past their internal roadblocks by helping them identify concerns and fears and then creating opportunities to face them in the practicum. 
Martin and Hall’s hard work is apparently paying off. Samaiyah White, a first-year MSW student interning at Transitions, said that at first she was “a little leery” about working with the homeless population. But now that she serves as an assistant case manager for eight homeless women at Transitions, she wishes she could have more time in the field. “I love the one-on-one contact I have with clients,” she said. “They come to me feeling like I’m their safety net when others might look at them and ignore them.”

This is exactly the kind of perspective-changing experience that both Martin and Hall hope for. “With each month that goes by, students take on more responsibility, and they step up and grow,” Martin said. “It’s gratifying to see that I get to play a role in the future of a social worker and use my own wisdom and learning to help students achieve their dreams.”

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