Student Highlight: Natonja Wells

MSW student, Natonja Wells is pursuing her second master's degree. Learn more about her current job as an Academic Coach for the DIA and her passion for social work.

Q: Describe your duties as an Academic Coach for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

A: I provide academic support to student-athletes across all sports who are at-risk or have diagnosed learning disabilities/ADHD. Academic support includes working with student-athletes in areas such as study strategies, time management, organization, navigating the writing process, assignment completion, and generalized academic skill building. I also work to fostering a positive perspective on learning and academic success. In addition to working closely with student-athletes, I work with the team Learning Specialists to create the most effective plan for each student.

Q: What do you most enjoy about this job?

A: There are a few things I enjoy most. First, I love to watch students’ progression of confidence over time. Some students, especially freshman, might lack confidence at the beginning of a school year, so it’s great to witness them begin to believe more in themselves and their work as they practice academic skill building over time. Other things I enjoy are building relationships with the student-athletes, and being able to cheer them on when I see them succeeding both academically and athletically.

Q: What drew you to the field of Social Work?

A: My desire to help others succeed lead me to the field of social work. I always knew I wanted to take on a helping profession, but it wasn’t until I took a course in crisis intervention that I realized social work was for me. Since then I have realized that I want to be a positive role model for students. I also want to be a person they can lean on for support, whether that be help with organizing homework tasks, help figuring out how to get to school daily, or help figuring out how to accommodate a specific learning disability. Another reason I want to be a social worker is because I believe African American youth need social workers, especially in schools, who look like them and can potentially relate to them.

Q: How do you feel this job will prepare you for your upcoming internship and as a professional social worker?

A: My position as an Academic Coach is preparing me for my upcoming internship by giving me the opportunity to work with different kinds of students. I’m learning that each student is different, and therefore requires a different amount of support. I’m also learning how to collaborate with Learning Specialist (who might be more like teachers or guidance counselors in an elementary/high school setting) in order to determine the best ways to assist each student.

Q: Can you tell us one fact about yourself that someone might not know?

A: I am currently enrolled at the University of Illinois, working on my second master’s degree. My first was a M.A. of Integrative Studies earned from Northern Kentucky University in 2015. While obtaining that degree I studied communication, organizational psychology, and social work. It was in that program where I took my first courses in social work.

Q: What is your favorite thing about your experiences at the School of Social Work?

A: My favorite thing about being enrolled in the school of social work is learning from the experiences of my professors, especially because many of them are still working in the field of social work. Their examples are relatable and mirror current social climate. I enjoy hearing my professors discuss things like the election or recent school shootings and how those very real things effect their workplaces and the people they serve.