Insights into the USM Community: Interview with Jeanette Andonian, Professor, Advisor and Director of Masters of Social Work program at USM
Interview conducted by Tara Roberts
1. What is the best kept secret at USM?
Don't know how secret this is, but I'm not sure how much it is known that USM stands out as a University where students can get a really high quality education and faculty are truly invested in their students to support and promote their success. We have high expectations for the work students do, and at the same time, we do whatever we can to support them to achieve their goals. We have an impressive, accomplished faculty at USM and people should know this--most everyone on the full time faculty is trained at a doctoral level or holds the highest degrees in their fields, and they come from all over the U.S. and the world; they are engaged in nationally and internationally recognized research and scholarship; they invest themselves in community service; they are great teachers who care about their students. We are very skilled at working with students "where they are at" at USM, holding them accountable to do the work required to obtain an excellent education while building in the supports when needed along the way, too. I am not sure that people really appreciate these things about USM. I also want to say, that the quality of our STUDENTS is something that people should know. We have a dynamic, bright, diverse, and talented student body at USM. From my standpoint as a social work professor in particular, I am so impressed with the life/work experience and social justice awareness that our students bring to the classroom, which makes them so ready to take in what we have to teach them about being a professional social worker. I feel privileged to be a part of the USM community because of the great students here and the caliber of my colleagues.
2. What class do you love to teach?
I love all of my classes, really. Teaching social work is the best part of my multifaceted job! My expertise is in the areas of human behavior theories and social work practice. Theory excites me--I have always been an observer and I am interpretive by nature. I love to examine real life situations in light of different theoretical and philosophical perspectives to reach a deeper understanding of phenomenon that we just take for granted. I try to get my students excited about it, too, because theory helps us to step outside of ourselves and develop rich insights into our work. I try to help my students to see that they hold their own theories about human behavior that may bias them in particular directions. In order to be a professional social worker, one needs to be willing and able to set aside personal views and integrate ideas that have been researched and examined more rigorously. One of the best things about teaching this material for me is seeing how sometimes students find a new way to explain their views or they realize how biased they have been and they transform their thinking entirely. I promote critical reflection in all of my courses--about theories, about practice methods, diagnosis, etc. Knowledge had its limitations and does not provide answers to human problems, but rather, new knowledge helps to guide us in conceptualizing about the genesis of human strife and navigate the complex task of organizing and interpreting human stories. I teach my students to apply theories in a tentative way to ensure that they remain open to change their thinking as situations warrant them to do so.
3. Tell me about your favorite place to go in the area.
Good question--and difficult to answer! Portland has so much to offer and I have so many favorite places here, depending on the time of year. I love the ocean, and Higgins Beach in Scarborough is one of my favorite places. I also love taking the "cliff walk" at Prout's Neck, a walking path that reaches around the point and offers stunning quintessentially Maine views of the ocean from the beach rose-lined rocky coast. I love the outdoor Kiwanis pool in Portland that allows me to do my lap swimming outside during the summer months. I love the accessibility of the Casco Bay islands. Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Isle is another favorite place. Also, since I am into food (cooking and eating!), there are many restaurants here in Portland that are my favorite places, and I love that Portland is such a robust local, organic food community. The Farmer's Markets in Portland are my favored places, too.
4. Describe the BSW program in 3 words.
I am the coordinator for the MSW program here at USM, but I also teach in the BSW program. My colleague Barbara Rich is the coordinator for the BSW program and we work closely together to ensure continuity between the two programs. Its hard to offer three words, per se, but the following generally captures the philosophy of both programs: (1) the importance of diversity, culture and community (2) human resilience (3) social justice. All social work practice, whether clinical/direct practice or macro level, embodies these ideas.
5. What are the top 3 qualities that the BSW program looks for in potential students?
I can speak to this question more generally, that is, what qualities we look for in social work students, bachelor's or master's level. (1) Again, the term social justice comes to mind--students who demonstrate an understanding of the far reaching impact of social injustice are very appealing to us. If they come to us with a basic indignation about social injustice, we can help them acquire the knowledge and skills to work toward making society a better place for all; (2) Students who have some beginning insight into their own personal beliefs, values, and experiences and are willing, open, and able to reflect on themselves honestly and accept supportive feedback for the purpose of professional growth; (3) empathy, sense of responsibility to others, diligence and perseverance--social work practice at all levels is about helping people to solve all kinds of problems and these qualities are important in helping processes. I think these are the most important qualities for social work students to possess.