Not everyone who attends a Christian graduate school or seminary pursues a ministry degree. Kelli Hall earned her Masters in Social Work and followed through with plans to work with foster children. "Being a Christian impacts all that I do. Knowing that God cares for childrenespecially those who are without the support and love of their parentsdrew me in to this particular area of social work."
Hall wanted to enter a graduate program in New York, even though she lived all the way across the country. "In my search for a graduate social work program, I determined that I wanted an accredited, Christian program. This narrowed my search tremendously, as there are only a few Christian accredited graduate social work programs in the United States. In the end, it was the clear mission statement and rigorous academic program that solidified my decision to attend Roberts Wesleyan in Rochester, New York, over any other school." The school was also just ranked the nation's number three best value private college by The Princeton Review.
Though she wanted to pursue her masters right out of college, Hall took two years to make the cross-country move. "As the spring of my graduation year approached, I felt more and more like it was not time for me to go straight to graduate school. Instead, the Lord opened the way for me to take a job as a case manager in the homeless shelter where I had done my internship. I gained a wealth of hands-on social work knowledge and experience in this position." She spent two years working with women and children in the shelter. That's when the Christian graduate school reached out to her. "I received a letter asking if I was still interested in their graduate social work program." This time Hall was ready.
She'd been a Christian since age 4 when she remembers asking her mom "if she could live with Jesus forever." Her mom helped the young girl pray a prayer to ask Jesus into her heart. She also made the commitment to social work at a young age. "Growing up, I was always drawn toward interacting with others and helping them work through problems. I took a career interest inventory in high school, and the results included the possibility of a career in social work. When I learned that social work was all about helping people, I knew this was the career path for me."
As a Christian graduate student, Hall appreciated her professors' willingness to tackle tough questions. "Their passion for social work, personal experiences in the field, and willingness to challenge and support me as an individual promoted my development as a professional social worker. When I had questions or concerns, they were available."
One of the difficult questions Hall worked through involved politics and her faith. "My faith was challenged the most as I learned about social policy and welfare." Attending Christian graduate school encouraged her to sort through the questions and challenged her ideology.
The Master of Social Work program also provided hands on one-year internships. Hall is grateful for the practical training. "During my first year, I was an intern for a children and families service agency. Adoption work had interested me for some time, so this internship was a great way for me to learn the skills required in this area of social work."
Her second, challenging internship as a high school social worker helped her rule that out as a career choice. "Even though I determined by the end of the year that I did not want to be a school social worker, I gained valuable experience that has helped me in my current employment," Hall says.
"After graduating, I knew I wanted to pursue a career working in a Christian agency with children in foster care. When my husband accepted a position working near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I narrowed my search to this area. In August, I started working as a case manager for a Christian adoption and foster care agency. I love my job! It is a wonderful fit for me."
Hall explains she's involved in practically all areas of the children's lives, from education to medical and dental needs. She also finds opportunities to discuss her faith in Christ.
"Sometimes, I may have the opportunity to overtly talk about being a Christian with the children and families I work with. I love it when that is the case! No matter what, I strive to exemplify Christ in my interactions with the children, foster parents, biological parents, and all of the other individuals involved in the children's lives. My goal is to do the best that I can, whatever I may be doing, to the glory of God."
Hall says the number of skills she learned in graduate school and applies in her current job are "too numerous to mention. My first year provided me with foundational knowledge and interviewing skills for social work practice. The second year focused on topics specific to my work with children and families. The education I received helped me to consider all angles and look outside the box when working with my clients. My social work skills have come in handy in my daily life too, as interaction with people is unavoidable. A master's degree in social work offers endless career opportunities, since social work touches so many aspects of human life." Hall says, "I wouldn't trade my decision to obtain a master's in social work for anything.
Kara Miller is a freelance writer and TV producer in Chicago.