Director of Field Education and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Social Service
Time at Fordham
She joined Fordham last summer.
What She Does
Williamson oversees the fieldwork assignments and curriculum for the Master of Social Work program. She also fosters new alliances and maintains long-standing partnerships between GSS and nonprofit and government agencies in the metropolitan region and around the country. She works with faculty to ensure students are able to integrate real-world immersion from field practice with course content learned in the classroom. Williamson provides mentorship to students at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels and prepares students for professional practice.
Williamson recently earned her Doctor of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation, titled “Too Blue to Talk about Sex: Exploring the Relationship between Depression and Sexual Behavior among Black Women,” took an empathetic look at how depression among black women affected their sexual behavior. “Among women of all races, black women have higher rates of contracting HIV and I wanted to better understand the role of mental health in sexual behavior that may place black women at greater risk of contracting the disease,” she said. “I also did a critical review examining how culture plays a role in the subjugation of black women within their heterosexual relationships.” While pursuing her degree, she acted as assistant dean and director of field placement at SUNY Albany, where she also helped develop their international fieldwork program, placing students in Scotland, South Africa, and Ghana.
The Known and the Unknown: Fordham’s Two-Track Field Placement
“Our students have to complete two field practicums: a generalist placement, which exposes students to foundational social work practice, and a specialist placement at the advanced year,” Williamson said. “In the generalist field practicum, our goal is to expand students’ social work practice experience with populations that are new to them. At the specialist year, we work with our students to assign field placements in their preferred areas of practice, working with more complex client populations and practice settings.”
Navigating the Learning Experience for Students
“Because our focus for the field practicum is to expand practice skills beyond their existing experiences, we encourage students to be open to unfamiliar settings. We often hear from our students that they wish they had more choice in the field practicum, but the objective is to broaden their experiences. We have students begin foundation year placement hating it, then end up loving it and wanting a specialist placement in that area of study for more advanced skill development. We also have students who come in knowing exactly what populations they want to work with and what type of practice areas they’d like to focus on, which they get an opportunity to pursue in their specialty practicum in their second year,” she said.
Cultivation and Maintenance: Partner Relationships
“We have many mechanisms for identifying sites for field placements. We utilize our faculty, our adjunct faculty, our field advisers and students as sources of information. We also look to see what services are out there in the scope of social work practice and do active outreach to those sites.” Williamson said, adding that the school is constantly cultivating new field placement sites, including those in emerging areas of social work.
“Fordham University has a long-standing partnership with thousands of human service agencies that have been cultivated for many years. A lot of our partners are Fordham alumni who have a dedication to Fordham and want to take our students,” said Williamson.
“In terms of maintaining those relationships, we keep open lines of communication about what’s working and what we can do better to prepare our students for professional practice. We use that real-world feedback to shape our field education curriculum.”
The Fordham Student
“Our agency partners say that Fordham students tend to be mature and able to apply what they’re learning in school to their fieldwork,” Williamson said.
But just like social work schools throughout the country, agencies have had to contend with a younger student body. Many students are getting an MSW now right after they finish their undergraduate studies, she said, whereas 10 or 15 years ago, they would get some experience in the field first.
“The average age of the student population has changed from 27 to 32 to an average age of 22 to 25,” she said. “With a younger student cohort, our agency partners recognize the need to make an investment in mentoring and nurturing students, and then on our end they expect us to offer a curriculum that gives students baseline skills.”
Dealing with Diversity
“Many of our students must work to get through their graduate studies. Our student population includes a lot of diversity by socioeconomic status, race, gender, and sexual identity,” said Williamson. “We want to use the diverse richness of our student population to diversify the profession in service to underserved and under-resourced populations.”
“A key goal we have for students is to increase their ability to recognize the role power and privilege play in the life of their clients,” Williamson said. “We have students who come from privileged backgrounds, and we also have many students who haven’t had it easy, and who were inspired to go into social work because of their own struggles.
“At GSS, we challenge all of our students to develop an awareness of how their life experiences can provide insight into the needs of underserved and underrepresented populations,” said Williamson. “As a school, we use all learning mechanisms (classroom, field, peer-learning in seminars) to engage students in intellectual discourses about power and privilege within the context of social work practice. There are inherent tensions in this endeavor, but it is so worth it when you see students graduate with a heightened level of cultural awareness.”
The Social Work Calling
“I wouldn’t say that all students have a calling to the social work profession,” said Williamson. “One of the things that we often do as a social work program is to help students understand the profession and use this knowledge to develop a professional identity as a social worker.
“I’ll dare to say, and this is just my opinion, a calling means that you know the profession, that you have a clear knowledge and understanding of how to use social work to achieve your plan for being a change agent in a certain area. A calling indicates clarity of how you will apply social work to changing lives through A, B or C. Some students come to their social work programs with a developing knowledge of the profession, and it is our job as educators to not only instruct them on practice but to also help students determine their personal fit for the field.
“This journey with our students is rewarding for me.”