Kayla Richards, MSSW ’18, was selected by her peers as commencement speaker.

Kayla Richards
Kayla Richards, MSSW ’18

Hometown: I am originally from a small farming community just outside of Sacramento, California. I completed my undergraduate degree at Baylor University in 2011 and moved to Austin in 2012. I consider this beautiful city home.

Why social work? My faith and desire for a career of service lead me to social work. Social justice is central to the values and practice of social work, making it stand out among other professions. I was also drawn in by the versatility of an MSSW. I chose the clinical track and am so grateful for the opportunity to be trained in direct practice work.

Favorite experience on campus: Being a TA for Assistant Dean Sarah Swords — she has been such a joy to work for! I have loved working closely with her and Professor Kretzschmar on data collection for the CSWE re-accreditation of our school. Also, being part of a small group of Integrated Behavioral Health Scholars who created and presented a poster about our perspectives of the program at Dell Medical School’s inaugural Innovations and Scholarship in Health Science Education Poster Symposium. Being a part of such a collaborative group of intelligent women (Colleen, Kcie, Zarina, and Jen) was a fantastic experience. Professor Diana DiNitto was our faculty advisor. We could not have pulled it off without her wisdom and dedication to our team, so a big thanks to her!

Most challenging time on the Forty Acres: It is important for me to be “all in” and do well at things that I am committed to. Balancing the demands of graduate school course work, my final field placement with Lone Star Circle of Care – Behavioral Health, fellowship requirements for the Integrated Behavioral Health Scholars program, TA responsibilities, and family / life outside of school has been the most challenging. Though I love academics, I’m looking forward to slower rhythms in this next season of life.

Best moment at your social work internship: Early on in my placement with CapCityKids I was able to connect with a kiddo who was having a particularly challenging time at home and at school. We continued working together throughout the school year. In working with that student, I became better able to understand the power of being present, the importance of creating a safe space for therapeutic work, and how to hold hope amidst sorrow and uncertainty.

Favorite professor: It is hard to highlight only a few! I especially enjoyed the professors that I took for clinical selective courses: professors Mitch Sudolsky, Debbie Webb, and Mary Velasquez. I am also so grateful that I took professor Yessenia Castro’s “Clinical Assessment and Differential Diagnosis” course. These professors invested in my professional and personal development, deeply care about social work values and integrating that into course material, and have remained available beyond my time in their courses. I have referenced books, articles, and notes from each of their courses beyond the semester I was enrolled and anticipate I will continue to do so in the future.

Plans for the future: I will be wrapping up my final field placement in July and am beginning the job search in Austin. After graduation I will sit for my LMSW and then pursue my LCSW. Among many things, I am interested in child welfare, trauma-focused therapy, and integrated behavioral health. I am hopeful to continue working with children, adolescents, and their families.

Words of wisdom for the incoming MSSW class: Congratulations!! First, I hope that you are celebrating the accomplishment of getting in and committing to graduate school! That is fantastic! Now for my “words of wisdom”… My hope is that you would keep your heart and mind open to whatever this season of life has for you – maybe this program affirms what you’ve wanted to do all along, maybe you decide to focus on serving a different population, switch from clinical to APP, or life happens and you need to slow your program down a bit. Whatever it may be, be honest with yourself about where you are at and invite others into that process. Embrace the role of being a learner; you’ll make mistakes and that is okay. Lean in when it feels uncomfortable. Take advantage of the opportunities to explore different things by attending lectures or taking a class on something outside of your comfort zone. Don’t shy away from a class with a “hard” professor or a syllabus that seems daunting. Go to office hours (seriously, the professors are great!). Graduate school is what you’ve probably heard – hard, stressful, and worth it. For me, what’s made it most worth it (and fun!) has been the friendships I’ve made here. I hope that you intentionally invest in the folks around you, listen to their stories, and let them shape who you are as a social worker.