A proud alum, Odera returns to School of Social Work as director of field education
Stephanie Odera, Ed.D., keeps writing new chapters at the VCU School of Social Work.
The two-time social work graduate (B.S.W.’04/SW; M.S.W.’06/SW), who also earned her doctorate of education from VCU in 2018, rejoined the school in October 2020 as the new director of field education. She has previously served at the school as an adjunct faculty member, field instructor and field liaison.
“It’s surreal coming back,” she says. “In many ways everything is different and at the same time very much the same. The school is a part of my story, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help shape the school’s future in this leadership role.”
Odera previously served as a school social worker in Richmond and with the Virginia Department of Social Services, and most recently was associate director for Graduate RVA, a Lumina Foundation-funded partnership between VCU, John Tyler Community College, Reynolds Community College and Virginia State University.
“Across all of my positions, I have always proudly identified as a social worker,” she says. “I have approached my work with the values and ethics of the profession as a guidepost. Additionally, I have had every role in the field continuum: student, field instructor, field liaison and now field director. All of these experiences inform my understanding of the function of the Office of Field Education and the significance of the practicum experience in shaping the social work workforce.”
Odera’s upbringing in Chesapeake, Virginia, she says, “heavily influenced my interest in social work. My house was always open to folks in our community who were in need. I specifically saw the women in my family feeding the hungry, providing shelter for folks having a hard time and modeling the importance of community.
“What I love most about social work is that it is not about what you do specifically, but how you do it. This transforms the practice landscape and opens up opportunities for non-traditional career paths in social work to include higher education, sports, real estate, business organizations, etc.”
When it came time for college, VCU and the School of Social Work were the clear choice.
“VCU initially stood out to me because of the urban setting and the diversity I saw upon visiting,” Odera says. “For any student considering a degree in social work at VCU, I would encourage them to examine the wide network of alumni all over the state and country. The school has a rich history of excellence in teaching and scholarship, and I am excited to be a part of that legacy.”
Odera envisions future field initiatives such as a field council, a consortium with regional schools, practice labs, topical seminars, partnering more closely with agencies on programming and grant opportunities and even opening a field office in the community.
“I am excited to begin implementing many of these ideas,” she says. “Establishing a community presence is important to me. I see the Office of Field Education as a front door for the community to engage with the school.
“Community partnerships based on community needs and shared interests in improving client outcomes are a large part of my vision for the office. Transformative partnerships that don’t just start and end with the placement of students but include the creation or expansion of community programming. Establishing a field council composed of community members, students, faculty, staff and field agency partners is at the top of my implementation list.”
Odera identifies as more than an educator and administrator. She’s also a racial justice advocate.
“Anti-racist/anti-oppressionist social work practice and racial reconciliation are passion areas for me,” she says. “I believe (and have been trained) that dialogue is a powerful tool for anti-racist action, and I look forward to incorporating this passion into my work with students, field instructors and liaisons.”
If there is one area where she is still incomplete, it’s her ambition to appear on the reality baking show Nailed It. Netflix describes its series as “home bakers with a terrible track record tak(ing) a crack at re-creating edible masterpieces. It’s part reality contest, part hot mess.”
“In my down time, I enjoy cooking and pretending to be on cooking shows with my family,” Odera says. “I am actively working to be a contestant on Nailed It.”