Mika Shivers, BSW ’18, has been selected by theirs peers as commencement speaker.

Hometown: I was born in Kaiserslautern, Germany, but I consider El Paso my hometown.

Why social work? My values reflect those of social work. I love seeing the look of joy on someone’s face when they’re thriving and I was fortunate enough to experience what it’s like to shift from surviving to thriving. A lot of people don’t have access to the resources and support that I had the privilege of utilizing, and that shift from surviving to thriving was so revolutionary for me that I want to be able to help in the cultivation of the resources and the support that people need in order to get them thriving.

Favorite on-campus experience: Oddly enough, one of my favorite on-campus experiences was being a part of a Freshman Research Lab about genetics. Genetics! It was an experience that I never thought I’d have, but the lab instructor Tony Gonzales was so kind and motivating and knowledgeable, and I had so much fun being able to see and understand molecular processes and the power of science and research. To me, it was like solving a puzzle and I love solving puzzles. I’d do it again as a human with a BSW if I ever got the chance.

Most challenging time at the Forty Acres: My freshman year was by far the most challenging part of my undergrad experience. I was shy, had just left a schooling experience where I’d known a majority of my classmates since elementary school, and I was away from my parents in this huge brand new environment. It was tough to find my place because that also involved finding out who I was, which sounds cliche but I really did have to put the effort in of figuring out the things that made me happy and I had to do it all on a trial and error basis. It was frustrating, tiring, and quite frankly annoying but I’d be remiss to say that I wish it didn’t happen.

Social work internship: I was placed at Girls Empowerment Network where I’m facilitating social-emotional learning groups with elementary, middle, and high school girls. My absolute favorite thing about GEN is that they are so open minded and willing to change. They just recently changed their definition of “girl” to include trans and non-binary youth or anyone who would benefit from their programs. GEN has some of the most compassionate, thoughtful, intelligent people on its staff and I’m grateful to know that a workplace like GEN exists and is constantly influencing the lives of our youth.

Favorite professor: I really can’t narrow it down to one professor, but there are certain traits that all of the professors in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work all possess that make them such amazing mentors. They are persistent and confident in our abilities, like professor Angela Nonaka, who sometimes knew our worth a little more than we did. They are compassionate and accommodating, like every single word that comes out of professor Vicki Packheiser’s mouth. They are motivating and inspiring, like professor Lauren Gulbas who shared so much love for her work with us. They are authentic and reflective, like professor Shane Whalley. And they are human and genuine and silly like Jen, who shared her puppy struggles with us nearly every week.

Plans for the future: My ultimate “reach for the moon” goal is to open up an LGBTQ clinic where queer youth can receive services, support, or referrals to queer-friendly practitioners in their area. I want to cultivate a future where youth are confident and comfortable with figuring out who they are and how they identify, even if my stake is only in an office or a school or a youth group. For now, I’m focusing on direct interactions in easily accessible spaces which looks like school social work or non-profit work.

Words of wisdom for the incoming BSW class: The most important thing that I’ve learned is how to be vulnerable, how to be honest, and how to be humble. So much of our message to people is conveyed through body language, tone, eye contact, tiny things that we don’t realize that we do and we’re going to be working with people who pick up all of those things. The best way to teach is to model certain behaviors, and you’ll hear this over and over and over, but “do as I say and not as I do” is not going to fly in this profession regardless of what age you work with. Be genuine and be authentically yourself and you’ll do amazing things.

Posted May 16, 2018.