School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work Ph.D. Program emphasizes the building of a close-knit community of learners and faculty and an emphasis on research methodology and independent inquiry. It requires courageous scholarship, intense self-reflection, passion, curiosity and critical thought.

This fall Kimberly S. Compton, Anna Maternick and Hilary Stim begin their second year in the Ph.D. program. Their research interests cover a broad range of humanitarian topics, including helping international refugee communities, enhancing youth policy, promoting environmental justice and supporting refugee youth. They come from a variety of backgrounds and origins, having traveled as far as India and Jordan as well as working locally. They have professional experience in educational settings, refugee communities and trauma-based youth communities. Each student contributes to the diversity of experiences, insights and methods of inquiry to create a closer interpersonal community. They continually challenge and support each other, and inspire in each other a sense of encouragement, cultivation and collaboration.

Kimberly S. Compton

Compton graduated from the VCU M.S.W. Program in 2013 with a concentration in Social Work Administration, Planning and Policy Practice and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Previously, Compton had graduated with a B.A. from the College of William & Mary in middle eastern studies and a minor in studio art. Compton has spent time in India and Jordan working with refugees, and stateside, she volunteered to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages with Iraqi refugees and international graduate students. After a few years of working as a purchasing agent at a multi-state urgent healthcare company, Compton became interested in developing skills for working with refugees and refugee policies and programs and went back to school to pursue her M.S.W. During the course of earning her M.S.W., she grew interested in food insecurity and ended up working on an urban farm in Richmond’s east end that provided fresh vegetables to corner stores. Soon after, Compton took on the role of Executive Director at ReEstablish Richmond, a refugee-focused nonprofit that has a rooftop gardening program. She was also an adjunct instructor in the VCU M.S.W. Program at the time teaching students about social justice. Compton’s current research is focused on communities that face environmental injustices. Through her work in her first year at VCU, Compton has given particular attention to the capabilities of Geographic Information Systems to enhance and transform qualitative and quantitative social work research. She believes in finding ways to elevate marginalized voices through interdisciplinary and participatory work using tools that work for and with communities. When she is not reading, writing, researching or networking, Compton can be found rock climbing, kayaking, or hiking in the mountains, or enjoying a beer from one of Richmond’s fine craft breweries.

Student Q&A

How would you describe your first year in the Ph.D. program?

I would describe it as a courageous year—specifically one of courageous scholarship, but also other acts of courage. I’ve benefited as a student from those who created safe spaces to pursue ideas and authenticity. This year has been about being able to step into the unknown, allowing myself to be raw and vulnerable to new ways of knowing and to challenge my old ways. Courage is needed to be a self-advocate. And, finally, courage is needed to continue when things are hard and uncomfortable.

How has participating in the Ph.D. Program affected your academic and scholastic goals?

It’s an amazing feeling to be simultaneously closer and farther from my goals at this point. I came into the program in a different substantive area than I am in now, so my goals have changed. I’ve been exposed to so many new ways of thinking and doing as well as so many possibilities. I have goals, for sure: I want to be a faculty member in a university—teaching and researching. But beyond that, I want to remain open to possibilities at this time–possibilities within universities and possibilities within myself.

What do you hope to discover throughout the course of the program?

Instead of thinking of discovering something that’s never been known—is that even possible—I want to find ways to elevate subaltern, marginalized and hidden voices through participatory work. My research area is environmental justice and specifically the intersection of progress, privilege and communities that bear the environmental burden of industry.

How do you practice self-care while in the program?

I rock climb 3 times a week, indoors and outside ,and have been able to keep that up all through my first year. It was hard at times, but I made it. As the weather gets warmer, my partner and I do flatwater and whitewater kayaking/rafting and hike and camp around the Shenandoah and in West Virginia. I also enjoy potlucks, bonfires and craft beer, no matter what time of year.

Anna Maternick

Maternick received her master’s degree in Applied Social Research at Hunter College, CUNY. During her program, she took courses in children’s rights and interned with the Sex Workers Project to help study social and political issues surrounding human trafficking. Maternick worked with VCU Department of Family Medicine and Population Health as a research associate on Supporting Practices to Adopt Registry-Based Care. She had earned a B.A. in Art History from VCU and had worked as an educator at the Valentine Richmond History Center, St. Joseph’s Villa, the Faison School for Autism and Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York. She had met many children who had experienced trauma and food insecurity and grew interested in supporting them and making their voices heard on relevant issues. Her current interests are in trauma and resiliency, particularly as experienced by youth, and exploring the impacts of policy changes on children, families and social workers in the areas of child welfare, education and criminal justice. She hopes to work directly with children on pertinent issues through participatory research projects that amplify and make space for children’s voices and ideas for social change by researching what will be most useful for youth, youth advocates and policy makers. In her spare time, she cooks and bakes, spends time with family and friends, spends time outdoors hiking, camping and kayaking and is an avid reader.

Student Q&A

What was your path the School of Social Work Program like?

The path which led me to come to the VCU School of Social Work and enter the doctoral program was long and winding. I had previously worked as an educator in different settings, schools, museums etc. I had an interest in working with children to make an impact on our world. While working as an educator, I met many children who had experienced trauma and food insecurity. I decided that I wanted to become a social researcher in order to learn more about problems that children were facing and develop solutions to these problems through research and policy initiatives. I completed an M.S. in social research and worked for a few years as a research assistant before becoming aware of the VCU school of Social work doctoral program. After meeting with some of the amazing and inspiring faculty and students, I immediately recognized that this program was what I had been searching for to help me achieve my goals.

What excites you about your work in the program?

I am excited about continuing to develop as a social work researcher while at VCU and contribute to conversations about youth and children’s rights. I plan on working on a research project which may be potentially impactful on U.S. child and youth policies, such as school discipline policies or child maltreatment prevention policies. I hope to work directly with children and youth on pertinent issues through participatory research projects designed to create space for young people’s voices and their ideas for social change by producing research that will be useful for youth, youth advocates and policy makers. I believe that I am getting closer to these goals after my first year, however, I have a long long way to go.

How do you successful balance a social life and your academics?

This can be tough, especially during the busy times throughout the semester when there does not feel like there are enough hours in the day to get all of the tasks necessary for the doctoral program accomplished. Since the busy times tend to come in waves, I try to make more time to spend with friends and family during the low waves. I am lucky to have family and friends that are supportive and encourage me to get through those busy times.

What is a memorable experience from your first year in the program?

I am so grateful to be a part of the VCU School of Social Work and have the opportunity to work with so many talented, smart, energetic, caring and dedicated faculty and students. In particular, the experience of my first year was greatly strengthened by working closely with Shelby E. McDonald, Ph.D. and her Family and Community Violence Research and Action Team. Through the FCVRAT, I was given the opportunity to support research efforts to examine the connections between childhood trauma, family violence, intimate partner violence and animal maltreatment. In total, my first year was very exciting, I learned so much and I can’t wait to see what may happen in the coming years!

Hilary Stim

Stim received her M.S.W. with a clinical focus from Virginia Commonwealth University and her M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College, New Mexico, where, upon graduation, she was a part of a multidisciplinary student support team for the college. This experience motivated her to direct her professional focus to school-based prevention programs for youth in marginalized and oppressed communities. Previously, she earned a B.A. in Western Classics from St. John’s College, Maryland. Her current professional interests focus on increasing access to effective and sustainable support for youth, with a particular emphasis on public school practices and the way they impact diverse populations of refugee and immigrant youth. She hopes to participate in the restructuring of current pedagogy on local and federal levels. Stim has gained experience within the Richmond Public School system providing support for at-risk youth through collaborative prevention planning, assessments, student advocacy and direct care. She has also engaged with youth locally as a therapeutic mentor and collaborated with the VCU Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and local refugee community leaders in assisting the development and implementation of a trauma-informed, psycho-educational program for local refugee communities. On her days off, Stim enjoys spending time with friends, running and doing yoga.

Student Q&A

How did you decide to pursue a Ph.D.?  

I don’t think that there was a specific moment when I realized that I wanted to earn a Ph.D. I entered the program immediately after earning my M.S.W. The decision to enroll came from a process of evaluating my own skills as a social work professional and a desire to find the best avenue to actualize my role as a changemaker within the social work profession.

What do you think makes a Ph.D. student successful?

This is a difficult question to answer. One thing that I have noticed is that there isn’t one type of person that is emblematic of success in the Ph.D. Program. One of the greatest strengths I see in my cohort is the variety of experiences and methods of inquiry that we all bring to the table.

What are your areas of interest?

I am interested in public school policies and practices and the manner in which they impact diverse populations, refugee and immigrant youth in particular. Ultimately, I hope to take part in the restructuring of the current pedagogy within this system both on local and the federal levels

How would you describe your first year in the Ph.D. Program?

I believe that every new experience comes with new challenges and adventures. The first year was transformative, particularly in that it led me toward a different focus within my field of interest.

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