Jacob Thornhill never imagined he’d become a social worker. He enrolled at Weber State University in Utah thinking he would graduate as an elementary school teacher, but after changing his major three different times, his father urged him to take an Intro to Social Work class. Hesitantly, Jacob enrolled in the class.
“I applied for the program the next semester,” the 28-year-old Utah native says. “I graduated from Weber State in 2013 with my bachelor’s in Social Work, and now I’m here.”
“Here” is Our Lady of the Lake University’s (OLLU) Online Master of Social Work program, from which Jacob graduated this spring before embarking on a clinical social work career. While he explored other master’s programs, several of his undergrad teachers had recommended OLLU. The convenient online format allowed him to work while continuing school. Plus, the program’s emphasis on working with the growing Hispanic population was important to his future as a social worker in Utah, where Latinos are the fastest-growing minority group. He knew that was an important factor in giving him an edge and positioning him to better serve that community.
Jacob admits he had some concerns about enrolling in an online social work program: “The fact that you’re not sitting in a classroom, you don’t have your classmates next to you to ask for their notes, your teacher isn’t at the front of the class to help you,” he explains. “But the way the program is set up, they put you in small groups so you get to know the people you’re in the program with even though they’re thousands of miles away.”
The small-group format encouraged a lot of collaboration and interaction via Facebook and Skype outside of the classroom, so Jacob never felt like he was missing out on a traditional classroom experience. The faculty was always a phone call or email away.
“Working with the faculty in this program was an amazing experience,” says Jacob. “I am a constant worrier and I have about 10,000 questions every day. The staff was awesome about giving me their phone numbers including cell phone numbers, setting up Skype meetings if you wanted to see them face-to-face and responding to emails very quickly.”
In addition to OLLU’s social work research courses, Jacob’s practicum experience —which he describes as “amazing” — gave him the opportunity to meet with clients face-to-face on a clinical level, providing therapy and working one-on-one with them as he would in the field. That real-world, hands-on experience opened his eyes to what his day-to-day life as a social worker would really be like. And with graduation well within his reach, he feels more than ready to apply his knowledge and field experience to a fulfilling career in social work.
“While it’s the end of my academic career, I also realize it’s the beginning of my professional career,” he says. “What I learned in the program and the practicum definitely set me up for what I feel is a positive outlook on my future.”