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The Sky’s the Limit

Maria Vazquez

BSW graduate, MSW student

Maria Vasquez

A brief conversation with Maria Vazquez reveals at least four attributes: Energy. Intelligence. Passion. Potential.

That combination often had her eager to learn more from her School of Social Work instructors as she worked on her BSW. She wanted more depth. More knowledge. More practice.

They would smile, laud her enthusiasm, tell her that would come during her MSW.

Vazquez graduated this past May, and will begin working on her MSW this fall at Illinois. She will have a clinical concentration but is debating between healthcare and mental health.

“I do want to be a hospital social worker,” Vazquez says. “ER seems really interesting to me. Being on my feet and working with a variety of people, that’s really appealing to me. But social work has a lot of options, and I don’t think sticking with one particular job for my entire career is the right thing to do. I love exploring and learning new skills.”

She can also see herself as an instructor.

“I’ve had so many amazing professors here, and Dr. [Kevin] Tan with his enthusiasm, I’ve been working closely with him,” she says. “Part of me would love to teach and be a mentor to others, as I’ve had here. It makes me want to stay in academia and pass that knowledge down.”

Vazquez has worked with Tan over the years, including the summer of 2022 at the Mahomet Music Festival, where Tan and numerous social work students passed out mental health information to festival-goers, who numbered in the thousands, and collected surveys exploring mental health perceptions from about 700 of them. She also helped compile survey results.

“It was amazing,” she says. “It helped me see in person what we were learning in class. I could see firsthand the people who were impacted by what we were doing. It just made me like social work all the more and confirmed that this is what I want to do.” She notes that related work in Mahomet is going on, including after-school and summer social-emotional group work sessions at the Mahomet Area Youth Club.

Vazquez also assisted Tan in reviewing social justice curriculum for the School.

“I compiled the readings of multiple courses and checked how many of those readings were authored by BIPOC scholars,” she says. (BIPOC stands for “Black, indigenous, and people of color.”) “I was excited about it because the School has not looked at the curriculum in this way; they just took it upon themselves. That’s especially important to me as a BIPOC individual.”

As Vazquez begins her MSW work, she does so with the help of a master’s graduate fellowship. She also was named a McNair scholar this past year and will receive a scholarship for that honor as well.

“The School of Social Work nominated me for the graduate fellowship and worked with me through the application process,” she says. “I’m really appreciative of that.

“My experience with the School has been very positive. My BSW flew by! I can’t believe it’s been four years.”

Her MSW work will doubtless go even faster. And then, the sky’s the limit.

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