Honoring Those Who Served: Dr. Shanondora Billiot, Assistant Professor

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

  1. What branch of service did you serve in?

    I served in the United States Air Force (1997-2002) and the Louisiana Air National Guard (2002-2005)

  2. What got you through basic training?

    The thought that I would have to go back home to wait tables for my aunt and live with family, and not attend college.

  3. Where were you stationed while in the service?

    Training: Lackland AFB, TX; Ft. Mead, MD
    STATIONS: Peterson AFB, CO; RAF Lakenheath AFB, United Kingdom LA AIR NATIONAL GUARD: Belle Chase, LA

  4. Can you describe your experience of military culture in one word?

    Respect

  5. What are some recommendations that you would give to our fellow social workers who are providing services to former or current military personnel?

    Listen with empathy and without judgement, honor their service by allowing them decision making agency in their care.

  6. If applicable, what did you go on to do as a career after your service?

    I became a social worker, first as a health policy analyst for the US Department of Veterans Affairs in DC and then as an educator currently at the University of Illinois School of Social Work.

  7. How did your service and experiences affect your life?

    Through training and structure I developed confidence and tools to get back up when I fail and learn from my mistakes. I don’t need to know exactly what is on the other side of the wall, I just need to climb it one rung at a time.

  8. How has your service and experiences intersected with your role as a social worker?

    First, the military structure demonstrated how a community can work together to provide basic needs and tools to help everyone who is willing to participate succeed. In this sense, the military helped me see a version of the settlement houses and how they can thrive in modern society.

    Second, is of course, that “everyone” has reflected the macrocosm of the nation’s idea of equality. We’ve seen the military struggles as they attempt(ed) to incorporate race, gender, citizenship, and sexual identity into the notion of “everyone”. As a social work educator, we are obligated to expand acceptance to everyone and incorporate all the differences that come with non-binary categories in order to reflect to the military our idea of equality and equity. Third, when you put on the uniform, whether the military uniform or the social work role, you are expected to rise to your highest level of integrity.

  9. Do you have a memory that you want to share?

    After 9/11 all junior to mid-level enlisted personnel in non-combat positions were required to rotate through the security forces (police) service for enhanced base security. The position on the base (gates, secure centers, etc.) were determined by rank order of weapon qualifications. As a graphic designer, I only qualified on the M9 and M16, so very low compared to most of the security force personnel. For several days on my first rotation, I was given the assignment to guard a breeched gate. The gate was adjacent a cow field to one side and the base commander’s house on the other. Since I was so low on the weapon list, I was dropped off at the gate for 12 hours with only a whistle. Yes, a whistle. So all day I did calisthenics in a cow field. Every day they would pick me up and ask how it went and I would exclaim, “Great!”.  It wasn’t until the end of the rotation that I was told they actually had a camera on the area and that the main office could see me exercising all day. Slowly they began giving me assignments with actual weapons, I think because I refused to complain… but the entire time I was named “whistle”.

  10. Is there anything you wish others knew about military service that you wish more people understood?

    Combat is only a small portion of “Security”, while the department is named “Defense” the military invests in communities, our citizens, and global infrastructure for protection against climate change and infectious diseases. I wish that advocates for social justice would embrace the efforts the military does to advance social justice instead of demonizing those that serve.

Honoring Those Who Served: Gail Tittle, MSW ‘96

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

  1. What branch of service did you serve in?

    US Air Force

  2. What got you through basic training?

    I went to Officer’s Training (not basic, which is for enlisted). Perseverance and determination got me through it.

  3. Where were you stationed while in the service?

    NORAD, Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, CO; Torrejon AB, Spain; Lakenheath AB, UK; Naval Post-Graduate School, Monterey, CA; Pentagon, Washington, DC; Joint Forces Command, Norfolk, VA

  4. Can you describe your experience of military culture in one word?

    Disciplined

  5. What are some recommendations that you would give to our fellow social workers who are providing services to former or current military personnel?

    Military persons live and speak in a different culture and language. There is an attitude that anything can be achieved and a shared sense of responsibility in accomplishing the mission at hand. The military becomes like family since everyone is away from their extended families, and sometimes their immediate family members. Knowing these things should frame your approach to a military person in providing services.

  6. If applicable, what did you go on to do as a career after your service?

    I came to the University of Illinois and got my MSW and worked as a social worker for 20 years before becoming a social science research evaluator.

  7. How did your service and experiences affect your life?

    I grew up in the military, as my father served for 26 years in the Air Force. My life has been profoundly affected by this experience. It taught me service, dedication, organization, independence, a love for travel and new cultural experiences, and a broad perspective of the world.

  8. How has your service and experiences intersected with your role as a social worker?

    Social work extended my military experience of service and giving to my community. I also learned many skills during my military career that were very useful for my professional success: writing, computer skills, management expertise, flexibility.

  9. Do you have a memory that you want to share?

    Having served as an intelligence officer during the US strike on Libya (the aircraft I worked with in the UK conducted this mission) and the incursion into Iraq for Desert Storm (I was on duty during the first missile attack), I can still recall the profound impact these had on the military persons serving at that time. Military persons know that they are personally connected to these actions. One does not join the military to go to war, but to prevent wars.

  10. Is there anything you wish others knew about military service that you wish more people understood?

    People who serve truly see this as service to our country and its people.

Honoring Those Who Served: Tina Turner, MSW '16

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

  1. What branch of service did you serve in?

    Army

  2. What got you through basic training?

    I didn’t go to basic training because I entered the Army through ROTC in college.

  3. Where were you stationed while in the service?

    I was stationed at Fort Knox, KY, Fort Leonardwood, MO, and Fort Campbell, KY.

  4. Can you describe your experience of military culture in one word?

    Describing military culture in one word is so hard! I can’t pick just one, so I’m going to cheat and say “challenging yet fulfilling”. Being in the military is not easy…every day everyone and everything challenges you to go outside of your comfort zone, push yourself, fail but try again, make mistakes, and do things you’ve never done before…but all of it is to make you better at your job, a better person, a better leader, and develop you for the next task, unit, duty station, or rank you achieve.

  5. What are some recommendations that you would give to our fellow social workers who are providing services to former or current military personnel?

    Remind them just how strong they are – they have been through things that most could not imagine. Seeking help and support is a sign of strength more than it is a sign of weakness. Having been in an environment where so many things are dictated for us by others, giving them a sense of control over things can go a long way.

  6. If applicable, what did you go on to do as a career after your service?

    I left the service in July of 2015, and was in the classroom two weeks later working towards my MSW at the University of Illinois. After receiving my degree, I continued working at the university while my husband finished his MBA, and when we relocated I became the Suicide Prevention Program Manager for the New Mexico Army National Guard. When that contract ended, I transitioned into the field of human resources where I still currently work as an Area Human Resources Business Partner for Lowe’s.

  7. How did your service and experiences affect your life?

    The military pushed me farther than I ever thought I could go physically, mentally, and emotionally. It has shown me just how much I can handle, which has helped me during times of increased stress or adversity. It has given me a deep appreciation for the pleasures of life, having been away from friends and family or in austere or challenging environments. Through the ups and downs, it made me the person I am today and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

  8. How has your service and experiences intersected with your role as a social worker?

    *I’ll answer this one from the perspective of a human resources professional*

    Lowe’s is ranked as one of the most military friendly companies, so I get to interact with veterans and service members daily while talking to employees in the stores that I support. I am able to connect with them on a deeper level, provide a higher level of understanding when they have to miss work for drill or other training, and commiserate about our shared experiences. I am also able to provide a unique perspective to other leaders when we are discussing veteran recruiting programs, military appreciation events, and ways to best serve our military-affiliated customer base.

  9. Do you have a memory that you want to share?

    Wow – it’s hard to pick just one! I would say either the day my husband came home from his first deployment, or the day I came home from my deployment. Those days were true highlights because being safe and back home with my husband and family after being apart or worrying for so long was the absolute best feeling in the world.

  10. Is there anything you wish others knew about military service that you wish more people understood?

    Being in the military isn’t always how it is portrayed in movies and TV shows – spend some time with a veteran you know learning about their service and I think you’ll be surprised to learn what it is really like! No two people have the same experience, which is what makes the military such a diverse melting pot of people from different backgrounds and who bring unique experiences to the table.

Serving Those Who Have Served: Nina O’Brien, MSW '08

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

    1. At what agency do you work and how long have you been in your current role?

      I am currently the Local Recovery Coordinator at VA Illiana. I have been in my role for 1 ½ years. Prior to working in my current position, I worked as a clinician in the VA’s PTSD Clinic for 5 years.

    2. What brought you to work with veterans?

      Several things brought me to the VA: My husband is a Veteran of the Navy, and I have many family members who are Veterans.  I also became interested early in my career in working with survivors of trauma. The VA is on the cutting edge of research and provision of evidence-based therapies for PTSD and other mental health issues. Working at the VA felt like a natural fit as a way to give back to those who have served. And of course, the VA system provides good benefits, pay, and opportunities for growth.

    3. Tell us about your role at your agency and how it serves veterans.

      Every VA in the country has a Local Recovery Coordinator (LRC). The LRC is designated as a champion for recovery-oriented mental health care.  The role is a combination of direct clinical work, administration, and community outreach.  Some of my time is spent providing education and consultation to VA mental health programs to ensure recovery-oriented care for Veterans.  Another portion is spent doing outreach and acting as a liaison between the VA and community mental health agencies.  Another portion is spent doing direct service with Veterans. In my case, that means providing  individual and group therapy.

    4. What is one thing you have learned in working with veterans that is unique to other populations.

      My work with Veterans has taught me so much!  Military culture is so unique, and not something that I learned about in school.  Working at the VA has taught me that when we use the word “Veteran” to describe someone, we must consider how each Veteran’s experience can vary so widely; how each individual’s identity has been shaped by their own specific branch of the military, battalion, unit, era of service, and military operating specialty.  Veteran culture is complex, and we as social workers must take the time to learn how military service has uniquely impacted each individual person who has “bourne the battle”.

    5. Are there any resources or referral sources that you would like to share to better equip us to work with veterans in our local communities?

      Yes!!  The VA has so many resources to offer for providers working in with Veterans in the community.

Here are just a few:

    • Veteran’s Crisis Line:
      1-800-273-8255, press 1 for VeteranVCL is a free, confidential hotline for Veterans or their friends or family members that is staffed 24/7 by MH professionals. Veterans can call, text, or chat in real time.Website: www.VeteransCrisisLine.net
    • VA Community Provider Toolkit:The Community Provider Toolkit links community providers with info and resources relevant to Veteran health and well-being. Resources available in the toolkit include info on screening for military service, handouts and trainings to increase understanding of military culture, and mini clinics focused on relevant aspects of behavioral health and wellness. The site was designed and informed by VA clinicians and staff at the national center for PTSD and OMHSP, as well as other public and private agencies to support all providers working with vets.Toolkit: www.mentalhealth.va.gov/communityproviders
    • The Rocky Mountain MIRECC Suicide Risk Management Consultation Program:Offers free, one-on-one consultation for any provider (community as well as VA) who works with Veterans. During the consultation process, Consultants provide concrete tools as well as encouragement that help ease anxiety and increase provider confidence. They will collaboratively conceptualize the issues and offer recommendations/answers. Any question related to suicide prevention and Veterans is fair game. Their slogan is “Never Worry Alone.”Website: https://www.mirecc.va.gov/visn19/consult/
    • PTSD Consultation Program:The PTSD Consultation Program was created in 2011 to provide information, resources, and consultation to health professionals who are treating Veterans with PTSD.  The PTSD Consultation Program was expanded in 2015 and now offers the same array of services to community providers who treat Veterans. Consultants are just a phone call or email away. The program’s goal is to ensure high quality PTSD care is available to Veterans regardless of where they choose to seek treatment by connecting users with experienced psychologists, psychiatrists, pharmacists and other health professionals with expertise in treating PTSD in Veterans.Website: www.ptsd.va.gov/consult
    • Make the Connection:Make the Connection is an online video library, where Veterans can search by era, branch of military, combat experience, and gender, and watch Veterans and their family members share real stories of strength and recovery, find useful information , and local MH resources.  Consider screening a video highlighting one of many great stories about recovery.Website:  https://maketheconnection.net/
    • Coaching Into Care:Coaching Into Care is a National VA Call Center for family members and friends of Veterans wanting to get a Veteran into care. Their goal is to help Veterans, their family and loved ones find the appropriate services at their local VA or in the community.Website: www.va.gov/coachingintocare or call 1-888-823-7458

Honoring Those Who Served: Arnie Marks, MSW ’66

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

  1. What branch of service did you serve in?

    I served as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the United States Army from 1966-1969.

  2. What got you through basic training?

    Basic Training for Officers was more like “charm school” rather than intense basic combat training. We were taught about chain of command, role of an officer, mission focus, etc.

  3. Where were you stationed while in the service?

    I was stationed at William Beaumont Hospital and Ft. Bliss, in El Paso, Texas.

  4. Can you describe your experience of military culture in one word?

    Idiosyncratic

  5. What are some recommendations that you would give to our fellow social workers who are providing services to former or current military personnel?

    My advice to fellow social workers is understanding the unique and idiosyncratic nature of military culture. I recommend familiarizing yourself with military culture, values, mores, etc. There is also a unique stigma about accepting mental health support in the military culture which is focused upon, “pulling yourself up by your OWN bootstraps.”

  6. If applicable, what did you go on to do as a career after your service?

    I spent my career in mental health, and for the past 10 years I was a consultant for our Department of Defense, serving active duty warriors in all branches of service on military bases.

  7. How did your service and experiences affect your life?

    My military service amplified leadership, which subsequently translated into management in the civilian sector. In addition, as a new social worker at the time, I was given tremendous responsibility initially because of my rank and responsibility far beyond what my responsibilities might have been in the civilian world.

  8. How has your service and experiences intersected with your role as a social worker?

    My early military experience prepared me extremely well for responsibilities in the civilian world. Particularly important was a very early exposure to the breadth of clinical practice. In addition, I learned to work in a multi-disciplinary environment, including Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, Neurology, and Vocational Rehabilitation.

  9. Do you have a memory that you want to share?

    Not so much a memory, but a later realization of my early military experience that exposed me to the reality of a condition that was NOT labeled in the late 60’s that was known as an adjustment disorder, but later became known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition, the DSM V, now lists PTSD as a Trauma and Stressor Condition, rather than an anxiety disorder, which helps warriors understand and accept the diagnosis more readily as an injury as a result of their combat experience rather than a character limitation or weakness.

  10. Is there anything you wish others knew about military service that you wish more people understood?

    The one issue that I wish more social workers would understand, is the unique and idiosyncratic nature of military service. Military personnel in general do not trust, have confidence in, or often feel stigmatized by mental health services. Knowing the culture, appreciating the values, recognizing the unique language, traditions, and mission focus would go a long way in helping civilian social workers make a connection with both active duty service members as well as veterans.

Honoring Those Who Served: Julie Muñoz-Nájar, MSW '08

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

    1. What branch of service did you serve in?

      I was in the Illinois Air National Guard, which is a part of the US Air Force.

    2. What got you through basic training?

      Thursdays. That’s when the chow hall served vegetarian lasagna – that I had to consume in 2.2 minutes.  In all seriousness, I had an amazing boyfriend (now husband) and mother (still my mom) who wrote to me every day.  I wanted to hear about the mundane things going on in their lives just to have some normalcy during basic.

    3. Where were you stationed while in the service?

      I was primarily stationed in Springfield, IL and did drill service once a month.  During my six and a half years, I had great opportunities to travel to several US states, to Italy, Germany and England for training and was also deployed to United Arab Emirates during the OEF/OIF conflict.

    4. Can you describe your experience of military culture in one word?

      Growth.

    5. What are some recommendations that you would give to our fellow social workers who are providing services to former or current military personnel?

      I would recommend that they take the time to learn the military lingo.  Ask questions when a Vet uses an acronym so you can better understand their experience because you may lose a lot of context if you don’t know what that acronym really means.  There are good CEU courses that help you learn the lingo and culture of all the branches, which are quite different.

    6. If applicable, what did you go on to do as a career after your service?

      I finished my military contract shortly after I came back from deployment.  The day after my C-130 landed back in the states, I was sitting in my MSW classes, which was a total whirlwind of transition back to civilian life.  Most recently, I have had the pleasure of working here at the SSW as a Clinical Assistant Professor helping some amazing students explore their career goals through the field office.  I’ve had an eclectic career since my MSW graduation working on start-up projects focused on community engagement and advocacy.

    7. How did your service and experiences affect your life?

      One of my biggest takeaways was learning how to be a leader in a male dominated world.  Comradery is so cliché, but so incredibly true as you learn to live, sleep, work, repeat, in very stressful situations together 24/7. You learn a lot about yourself and about your fellow humans who are all trying to get through this life too.

    8. How has your service and experiences intersected with your role as a social worker?

      I came from a community where there was very little diversity of all forms.  Being in the military is like moving to a cosmopolitan community overnight and being asked to not just tolerate each other but work in harmony.  Those learning opportunities with my fellow comrades taught me that this world is much bigger than I imagined, but we are all one kind – humankind.

    9. Do you have a memory that you want to share?

      While I was at basic, we were doing tactical drills to maneuver through various structures using hand signals to communicate to our teammate about how and where to move to avoid being seen by our drill sergeants. During one of the drills, I was leading our group to a new location and I laid down on a small hill to get a better view.  Within seconds, I realized I had landed in a massive Texas red anthill and they immediately started stinging me on my arms and hands. Needless to say, my fellow airmen were very confused on which hand gestures I was making.  Mother Nature had a different “drill” she wanted to play that day.

    10. Is there anything you wish others knew about military service that you wish more people understood?

      When starting a conversation with someone who identifies as a Veteran, try asking an open-ended question like this question, #2 or #7 vs the common one, “Where did you serve?”.  The open-ended questions lead to better understanding, engagement and awareness of their lived-experience in the military, which in turn leads to better advocacy on all of our parts.

Serving Those Who Have Served: Ingrid Wheeler, MSW, LCSW

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

  1. At what agency do you work and how long have you been in your current role?

    I am currently working at the Chez Veterans Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign as the Assistant Director of Behavioral Health Programs.  I have been in this position for going on 2 years.

  2. What brought you to work with veterans?

    I have significant family history of military involvement and grew up with my father serving in the Navy.  The culture around the military/veteran community has always been familiar to me and is a population I have always cared deeply for.  When the position at the Chez Center became available, I jumped at the opportunity.

  3. Tell us about your role at your agency and how it serves veterans.

    I am the Assistant  Director and oversee Behavioral Health Programs at the Center.  This entails providing support services for residents and students using the Chez Veterans Center through developing programming, providing therapy/counseling service, and case management.  I also contribute to administrative duties to support the goals and vision of the Chez Veterans Center.

  4. What is one thing you have learned in working with veterans that is unique to other populations.

    I am always learning when working with Veterans.  My experience has taught me that all veterans have had different experiences from their military service.  I enjoy the opportunity to be able to apply a client-centered approach with all my interactions in my current role.

  5. Are there any resources or referral sources that you would like to share to better equip us to work with veterans in our local communities?

    There are  so many resources available for Veterans. One I have found the most enlightening is PsychArmor, which provides education for providers and community members that may interact with Veterans.  Continued education on the most up-to-date evidence based practices are crucial to provide best practices.  Also, knowing that the Chez Veterans Center is available in our community to support military-connected students and their family members successfully transition to campus and support their academic and career success.

Honoring Those Who Served: Eric Batsie, MSW ‘18

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

  1. What branch of service did you serve in?

    U.S. Army. (I need to caveat this with I was in Military Intelligence and thus cannot share many details.)

  2. What got you through basic training?

    Determination that whatever the Drill Sergeant demanded I would try my best. Always in my mind, I was serving my country.

  3. Where were you stationed while in the service?

    Defense Language Institute, Monterrey, CA.  Goodfellow Air Force Base, TX, 338th MID(S). Military Intelligence Detachment (Strategic), 445th MIDS

  4. Can you describe your experience of military culture in one word?

    Hardworking

  5. What are some recommendations that you would give to our fellow social workers who are providing services to former or current military personnel?

    If they have suffered, which is probably why you are seeing them, remind them of the core values of their service. Why they joined? Do they have other family members who served? Parents, Grandparents?

  6. If applicable, what did you go on to do as a career after your service?

    I was trained as a Russian linguist, I went on to live in Russia for 15 years.  I worked with orphans, promoting independent living and social adaptation, promoted international and in-country adoption, worked against traffic of women and children, directed Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia .

  7. How did your service and experiences affect your life?

    I found the longer I served, the further I wanted to serve.   Yes relationships suffered, when we make that decision to serve, it is such a life changing decision, that have affects on those around us.  However, what my service did was change my life.  I learned Russian.  I then went to Russian , on my own, and stayed there for many years.  In total, my service, altered my life and provided me amazing choices.

  8. How has your service and experiences intersected with your role as a social worker?

    My 15 years in Russia was an amazing, wonderful, life changing time.  In working with orphans I found a true calling to become a social worker and to serve children.

  9. Do you have a memory that you want to share?

    I will never forget the friendships I made and no years separate us.  The bond formed in the military is for life.

  10. Is there anything you wish others knew about military service that you wish more people understood?

    We who served did so because we felt the calling to our country, that was our decision and all the work that went into our service is a testament to our inner values.  Every Veteran should also keep that in mind.  Whether we feel honored by our society or not.  Let our service be an example for future generations.  Let us talk to our sons and daughters, to students and our friends, what is the true value of service.

    *I don’t have any pictures of my Military Intelligence time- for obvious reasons.  However this is a photo of when  I was in the Army, but was a volunteer at a big cat rescue center in IN.

Honoring Those Who Served: Geri Young, MSW ‘12

In the days leading up to Veterans Day 2019, we will highlight School of Social Work alumni, faculty and students who are veterans, those who have served in the military, and those whose current practice serves the needs of veterans. Thank you to all for your dedicated service.

  1. What branch of service did you serve in?

    United States Air Force, Air National Guard

  2. What got you through basic training?

    I lived for the days they served corn dogs at chow.

  3. Where were you stationed while in the service?

    As a guardsman, I have spent most of my career with the 182nd Air Wing in Peoria, Illinois.  Currently, I am a member of the 165th Air Support Operations Squadron in Savannah, Georgia, and have been since May of this year.  When I was deployed in 2010, I was stationed predominately in Kuwait in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

  4. Can you describe your experience of military culture in one word?

    Diverse

  5. What are some recommendations that you would give to our fellow social workers who are providing services to former or current military personnel?

    The military experience is unique to each generation, branches of service, and even gender – it’s not what you see in movies.  Try to learn the some of lingo so you can follow along, but be ready to listen to truly understand.

  6. If applicable, what did you go on to do as a career after your service?

    I continue to serve in the Air National Guard part-time, and am a Senior Social Worker with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs specializing in transitioning Veterans from active duty service to civilian life.

  7. How did your service and experiences affect your life?

    As a service member, I’ve been able to participate in activities, take on responsibilities, and manage programs at a young age in a forum most my civilian peers did not.  At the age of 24, I was the non-commissioned officer in charge of a convoy program responsible for procuring construction materials for government projects.  I coordinated missions, managed relationships with local and third country nationals, and was responsible for 18 junior members.  By the time I was 29, I was considered the Subject Matter Expert for my career field, and executed actions and initiatives that had a national impact.  Such responsibility so early in life provides opportunities for personal and professional growth and leadership that are, in my opinion, unmatched in the civilian world.

  8. How has your service and experiences intersected with your role as a social worker?

    A lot of why I am a social worker is because of my military experience.  I knew I wanted to work with Veterans in some capacity, and social work was the best fit for me.  When I was selecting my internship placement, I only applied for the VA.  No back up plan – all my eggs in one basket.  Fortunately, it worked out in my favor and not only did I land my dream internship, but I was hired on full-time right after graduation.

  9. Do you have a memory that you want to share?

    The fondest memories for me are the people I worked with.  On the active duty side, members tend to change locations and duty stations with more regularity.  Being in the Guard, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to stay with the majority of the same people as when I initially enlisted, even 14 years later.  A buddy and I were talking the other day about this.  We both enlisted one month apart in 2005, participated in student flight together, and were assigned to the same basic training squadron in Texas.  Even after our initial training, we’ve been members of the same military units up until I moved last year.  Essentially, we grew up in the organization together.  We saw each other through some awesome times, and some very challenging moments in both our professional and personal lives.  I think we’ll be friends forever because of it.  It’s funny to think about who we were when we first joined – wide eyed and clueless – to seeing us now running the show as senior leaders within that same organization.

  10. Is there anything you wish others knew about military service that you wish more people understood?

    I think it’s important to know and learn the differences between full time military (active duty) and those who serve in a part time capacity (reservists).  Because how they serve is different, their needs will be different.  In the current conflicts, our guard and reserve members have made up approximately 50% of the total fighting force; yet return home and are often geographically separated from their military peers and are miles from the nearest base/post.  All the components bring something unique to the mission, and personally have come to value the organic capabilities a reservist force provides.  I think our members are incredibly adaptive and highly innovative in how they bring their civilian experiences to meet military needs and capabilities.

Nia Montoute, BSW Graduate, United States Army Reservist

What lead you to choose the University of Illinois for your BSW?

First semester of my freshman year of college, I attended a small private college in Wisconsin.  Second semester, I was able to take time off (thanks to high school AP courses) to go to Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training for the U.S. Army for 6 months. While in training, I knew I wanted to transfer and attend an Illinois school that offered ROTC and had a social work program that was accredited.  Although I did not do ROTC, I understood that if I graduated with my BSW from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that I would have the opportunity to complete my master’s in social work in one year rather than two due to the possibility of having advanced standing. For me, it was all about what was going to provide me with the best benefit upon graduation. Now, I am a recent graduate of this program and I earned the advanced standing credit.

Tell us about your fellowship and your experiences so far?

I am currently a Legislative Staff Intern for the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus in Springfield at the Capitol building and I am on the Policy and Budget Staff! I am enjoying my time thus far and I still cannot believe I get to walk into the beautiful Capitol building each day for work. Currently within this program, I am training with the Policy, Budget, and Appropriations Department where I had the opportunity to analyze three bills and also analyze a part of the Illinois budget. I have not officially been assigned a committee yet, but I would love to staff either the Human Services, Veterans Affairs, or the Public Health committee.

You have plans to go to law school? How do you hope to use your social work degree in that role?

I plan on going to law school in 2021 directly after I complete my MSW. I took my LSAT junior year of college, so this decision is pretty much set in stone (as of now!) After having many legal internships, my internship at the State’s Attorney’s Office opened my eyes up to a lot. I always noticed that some of the attorney’s I worked with/around lacked a humanistic perspective and did not know how to effectively speak with their emotional clients. Also, every issue the attorney tried to mitigate was only handled on a surface level which only attempted to solve part of the problem. Having a Masters in social work will allow me to tap into issues at a macro level and dive deeper into the root of the problem my client is facing. Also, I’ll be able to view things from a humanistic lens, have better communication skills, and awareness of social issues. I believe the degrees will complement each other very well.

What lead you to explore policy in social work and beyond?

During my Sophomore year of college, I took Social Work Policy and Services taught by Donna Camp. The class was extremely intriguing for me because it opened my eyes to the history of a lot of the policies we have in place, but it also led me to realize how much I disagreed with the current policies in place. Each time I sat in class I always came across policies I wanted to change and specifically policies that affected vulnerable populations. I realized that the only way to actually change policy was to be in a position of power and to actually be the one writing the policies. So, I decided to start small. Junior year I attended Advocacy Day and once I stepped into the Capitol Building, I knew right then and there that I belonged. I knew that this space was created for me and that I actually did have a voice…but I wanted to do more. From then on, my entire focus in social work became law, policy, and advocacy which brought me to my current internship!

What lead you to consider pursuing a different experience after graduation vs going straight into a graduate program or law-school?

I honestly thought I would go straight through to graduate school and law school after finishing undergrad but it wasn’t until summer of junior year that everything changed. I was interning at a corporate law firm and after speaking with multiple attorneys and getting advice, each of them told me that one of the ways I can improve my resume would be to show that I have real-world experience. So, I took that into consideration and decided to use this year-long internship as a way to contribute to society, experience life, live on my own, and take a break from school in order to build up my resume before I apply to law school.

Tell us about your experiences at the State Attorney’s Office.  What were some of your toughest challenges in working with clients who have experienced domestic violence?

I had the privilege of interning at the State’s Attorney’s Office in the Victim’s Advocacy Department. I was able to aid victims of crime in navigating court proceedings, connect them with community resources, and provided trauma informed care. Unfortunately, the greatest population served were victims of domestic violence. As a victim advocate, it was also my job to become informed on each criminal case which included calling victims to inform them of their rights by way of the Illinois Constitution, keeping up with their court dates/trials, and following up after each proceeding. I had experience with many violent crimes ranging from theft to murder and to my surprise, the most common crime I saw at the State’s Attorney’s office was domestic violence. The biggest aspect of my job was just to be present. The toughest part of my job was actually seeing victims in their most vulnerable state and watching them think that their circumstances were their fault. Having to sit in courtrooms during trial and hearing a verdict of “not guilty” on a case where I knew the defendant was guilty was heartbreaking. I became so vested in every case I was working on. Working hand in hand with survivors, I was able to get a glimpse into their lives and daily struggles. I was a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. Having that internship made me realize how important a social work education is going into law school.

What advice would you give BSW students who are in the planning stages of their internship?

The best advice I could give to a BSW student in the beginning stages of their internship is to always think long-term. Ask yourself, “which internship aligns more closely to what I want to do career-wise?” or “what will benefit me in the future?”. Also, remember to challenge yourself and be open to new experiences. If you have had three or more years working with children, maybe think about choosing an internship working with an older population so that you can become a more well-rounded individual and boost your resume. For me, it was all about what could challenge me, bridge social work and the law, and what would fit well with my resume beyond undergrad.

During your undergrad degree, you were a dedicated student, held a job as a Resident Assistant, while also serving as an Army Reservists.  What recommendations do you have on self-care or time management?

From a young age I always knew how to practice time management. I was a cheerleader, dancer, Girl Scout, active at my church, and took taekwondo all at the same time and sometimes on the same nights for about 11 years straight. From the time school ended until the time my extracurriculars began, I always had about 2 hours at my after-school center to spare. That time was always spent doing my homework and any other small tasks I had to get done because I knew the rest of my night would be spent participating in the activities listed above. This definitely taught me how to prioritize at an early age and has since carried on into my adult life. Time management is all about prioritizing so my advice would be to write out and do the important things first.

The downfall of being so busy is that I don’t practice or even really think about self-care. I feel extremely uneasy whenever I don’t have anything to do and I unintentionally used each hour of the day doing something productive. I used to think self-care was getting my nails done every two weeks, but it is so much more. Since being out of school and starting an internship that gets out each day at 4:30pm, I am slowly learning that resting, going outside for a nice walk, and watching horrible reality tv in my spare time isn’t super “productive” but it also isn’t always bad! My advice would be that self-care comes in many forms, but most importantly self-care is doing what makes YOU feel good.

What experiences at the School of Social Work helped best prepare you for your future?

In 10-20 years I won’t remember any of the classes I took or any of the assignments I turned in, but I will remember the relationships I built at the School of Social Work; Specifically, the relationships I had with the faculty members who helped prepare me for my future. Julie Munoz-Najar, Sandra Kopels, Janet-Carter-Black, Brenda Lindsey, and Sharva Hampton were truly vested in my success and shaped me to become a better student and professional. Whenever I needed career advice, help with an assignment, or just someone to talk to they were always there to help and were champions for my success. I left the School of Social Work with amazing connections that I will cherish for life!