What is a DSW exactly? What Else are We Learning?--And My Faculty Advisor

by Monica Ross

I’ve been assigned an advisor for my thesis. Her name is Dr. Amanda Stylianou.  She’s an LCSW practicing out of New York and the Associate Vice President for Quality and Program Development at an organization called Safe Horizon

Safe Horizon is the largest non-profit victim services agency in the United States.  They work with victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking. I’m very much looking forward to working with Dr. Stylianou.

Just about one month has gone by in this program.  The pace of working full-time and attending 4 hours of virtual class time a week in addition to the outside readings that we have to do has been challenging.

I feel like we’ve covered so much territory already.  That would make sense because we’re doing things at a very fast pace.  This program is only 24 months long. To those who would say how can a doctoral program be only 24 months long?

I’d say this...The licensure that I have for my LPC took approximately 6 years to complete from start to finish.  So in some sense, I feel as though my dues in terms of gaining an education at the graduate level and in time spent training for my profession have been paid.

These two years in the doctoral program will make it about 8 years of education and training post BA total.  Most traditional PhD programs require about the same amount of time to complete coming straight from undergraduate school.  So, in a way, I look it like I took the complicated route to a doctoral degree, which seems to be more in line with my style. 

Previous to even starting my master’s, I had accumulated over 20 years of work experience in a range of industries which gives me a wide perspective on office structures and organizational policies. Because the focus of this doctoral program is on social innovation and where systems in society overlap with social problems--that experience will help with the work that I’m doing, as well. 

Academic programs that are online or remote come under scrutiny for not being as rigorous as brick and mortar academic programs.  And there are some online academic programs out there that may not be. 

However, I can say that in this doctoral program, I’m meeting with a small group of up to 15 other students twice each week for a couple of hours each class.  This doesn't include time spent in group meetings that we have outside of class for group projects. We also have readings and assignments to complete consistent with more traditional academic programs.

The virtual environment as an educational tool is not going away and I’m excited to be participating in it with an academic institution that is on the leading edge of that front.  Some might ask, what is a DSW anyway?  It's a doctorate but, it's not the same as a PhD. 

The DSW is to social work as the PsyD is to psychology. A DSW degree is a bit like a PsyD in that it emphasizes professional practice over research.  That’s not to say that I can’t conduct research or teach for that matter, but solely conducting research and teaching isn’t my current aim.

What else are we doing in this DSW program?  We’re examining different organizational change models, we’re combing through databases from peer-reviewed journals, we're creating annotated bibliographies for our separate projects, we’re applying the models we’re learning in class to case study examples on various social problems. 

And we’re doing all this from the standpoint that at some point the models we are learning will be applied to the separate projects that we are working on for our capstone thesis. We’re also hearing from thought leaders in a kind of a guest lecturer format who have taken the time to sit for recorded interviews specifically for our class on the topics we are covering—Freddy Mutanguha of the Holocaust Memorial Trust gave a lecture for our class recently and Karen Freidt who is the Creativity and Innovation Program Manager for NASA’s Langley Research Center gave a lecture.

As I watch these leaders of industries with experience in anything from science and engineering to outreach and education programs in East Africa I feel truly inspired by the lessons they are imparting from the work they are doing in their various fields.  A couple of things stand out for me as lessons learned by these leaders of industry. 

#1 Is the importance of not trying to solve a problem for someone else that you don’t yourself understand.  I’m playing with the idea of using health disparities as my focus because it’s something that I intimately understand. When I use the term health disparities I’m talking about group differences in physical health that are influenced by inequalities in society that are socially determined by such as things as access to proper nutrition, education, employment, housing, and transportation. 

Both of my parents were chronically ill and social determinants in some sense affected both their access to care and the quality of care they received.  But I don't have to go there.  I can stop with the fact that I myself am a member of more than one social grouping that often faces stigma and discrimination in society. I could look to my friends who themselves are in groups that are stigmatized and discriminated against.  So, yes, a problem that I intimately understand, checkmark.

#2 While it’s important to be passionate about your work, it’s also important to set the intensity of that passion so that it’s not so high that your field of vision is narrowed. As far as dialing down the intensity goes, that's hard to do.  Because these issues for me are personal as I mentioned not just because my family members have been affected by these things, but my friends, myself.

My colleagues and I are doing this work doubtless because it feeds into our sense of purpose in life, but at the same time, a certain measure of detachment is needed in order to continue to learn and think critically and challenge long-held beliefs and presumptions, some of which might be our own.  David Perkins from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard is attributed as having said that 90% of errors in thinking are not errors of logic but errors of perception. 

I’ll take it a step further.  It's our perception arguably from which we derive our logic.  In other words, our perception or beliefs influence not only the way that we view ourselves but the way in which we view other people, and the way in which we view the very world in which we live.