School Welcomes 125 New Students in Master’s Degree Programs

AUSTIN, Texas – The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work welcomed 125 new students in the Master’s Degree Programs during orientation, August 27-28.

Among those in the fall 2012 graduate student cohort are 51 non-residents from 18 states and the District of Columbia as well as three international students from India, Venezuela, and Colombia.

The incoming master’s students represent a wide range of professional fields and hold degrees in social work, psychology, government, art, religious studies, business, biochemistry, physics, and theatre, among many others.

Why did these professionals choose to pursue a Master of Science in Social Work degree (MSSW) at UT Austin? What are their career plans? Three new MSSW students provided their answers in the following profiles.

Deidi Olaya Rodriguez

Hometown: Bogotá, Colombia

Undergraduate Degree: Social Work, Universidad De la Salle, Bogotá, Colombia

Previously: Social Worker at Casa de la Mujer in Bogotá, Colombia

“There are many great things about the UT Austin social work program,” says Deidi Olaya Rodriguez, a social worker from Bogotá, Colombia. “There were two main reasons why I really wanted to come here, the school’s commitment to social change and its impressive faculty. I am particularly interested in work and research of Dean Zayas and Dr. Noel Busch-Armendariz, who directs the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.”

Deidi, a student in the Clinical Concentration, is interested in helping efforts to prevent interpersonal violence against women and children. Her professional experience centers on providing psychosocial support and political advocacy for women victims of violence. For seven years, Deidi was a social worker with Casa de la Mujer in Bogotá, one of the founding feminist organizations in Colombia.

“The experience at Casa de la Mujer has most shaped my life professionally and personally,” Deidi says. “I worked directly with women, health care professionals, and social organizations from all over Colombia that partner with Casa de la Mujer. The job allowed me to practice at the macro- and micro-levels to empower women. Witnessing hundreds of cases of domestic violence against women and children made me feel deeply that I should do something to bring about social change. I want to eventually get a Ph.D. in social work and conduct research on the cultural roots of abusive behavior in preventing interpersonal and domestic violence.”


Katie Casstevens

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Undergraduate Degrees: Psychology; Hispanic Studies, UT Austin

Previously: Teacher in Santiago, Chile

“I’ve always wanted to devote my life to helping make the lives of others, especially adolescents, more positive and successful. I discovered social work too late at UT to get my BSW, but while teaching and traveling in South America for a year, I became certain of my interest in international social work. I am aware of the School of Social Work’s national prestige as one of the top schools of social work, and I have several friends who have completed the MSSW program,” says Katie Casstevens, a Longhorn alumna who will pursue a dual degree in social work and public affairs.

The MSSW/MPAff program, one of four dual degree programs offered at the school, was established with the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs to prepare graduate students for a career in social welfare policy development and human service management.

“I’m excited to receive training from two different professional programs so that I will be more fully prepared for career opportunities,” says Katie.

“Social work is where my heart is — helping individuals and communities to be in a better place. By adding public affairs coursework, I hope to gain extra knowledge and skills to successfully become an effective community organizer and advocate of policy that supports social justice.”


Deric Hollings

Hometown: Amarillo,Texas

Degrees Held: MA, Counseling; BS, Justice Administration from Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, Texas

Previously: Active Military, United States Marine Corps

“I chose UT Austin because it is one of the top ten schools of social work in the nation,” says Deric Hollings, a military veteran who is preparing for a career with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Deric, a student who will enter the Clinical Social Work Concentration, wants to work in mental health services. He is particularly concerned about the suicide rate of combat veterans that has risen sharply since 2005, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified.

Deric served for 11 years with the United States Marine Corps during which time he was assigned as a Marine Security Guard to the U.S. consulate in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and U.S. embassy in Lima, Peru. After his military discharge, he earned a master’s degree in counseling from Wayland Baptist University and most recently had entered the Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision Program at Texas Tech University.

“I withdrew from the Ph.D. program after discovering that for what I want to do — work one-to-one with our nation’s veterans in the VA — a master’s degree in social work is more marketable,” says Deric.

Social workers are in high demand at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to support troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA is the largest employer of social workers in the country with more than 8,000 master’s prepared social workers serving in the VA health care system.

“I am appreciative for those Longhorns who have stopped me in the halls and in classrooms to thank me for my service to our country,” says Deric. “Veterans don’t care about yellow ribbon magnets, a 10 percent discount at a local restaurant, or ‘Support Our Troops’ bumper stickers nearly as much as we do the appreciation from the citizens for whom we served. Please take a minute out of your day to recognize the brave men and women who have served both at home and abroad.”

These are just three of the stories of our diverse entering MSSW class.  Welcome all!