Flexible and Transformative: Brown School Part-Time MSW Program Tailored for Working Professionals

Social Work; Students

After two decades of teaching high school Spanish, Michael Smith found himself contemplating a career change, driven by an interest in mental health. His quest led him to the Brown School’s website, where he discovered the Master of Social Work program. As Smith contemplated graduate school, he was concerned about work-life balance and flexibility. Little did he know that his timing was perfect. The Brown School was launching a Part-Time MSW program, with a clinical social work track focused on mental health. 

In the fall of 2022, Smith became a part of the program’s inaugural cohort, which also included Tonna Wilson and Tory Drayton, both employees at Washington University.

Smith (center) laughs during a discussion with classmates on Nov. 18.

What sets this program apart and makes it particularly appealing to professionals like Smith, Wilson and Drayton is its exceptional flexibility. The program offers a hybrid schedule, incorporating evening and weekend classes, online classes, and summer sessions. This approach enables students to balance their educational pursuits with their professional responsibilities and other commitments and complete the program in three to three and a half years.

Steering the program is Marcia Ford, a Brown School alum, MSW ’93, and a former adjunct instructor. She brings to her role nearly 30 years of leadership experience with the Department of Mental Health, where she served as the Children’s Director. Ford emphasizes that Brown School’s program was meticulously designed with the unique needs of working students and the pressing demands of the community’s mental health crisis.

“Where do I want to go with my career?”

Smith had always harbored a passion for mental health work but was unsure about how to pivot.  “I’ve been teaching for 23 years and I’m like, what do I want to do with the next 23?” he wondered. “Where do I want to go with my career?”

After exploring various options, he realized that becoming a licensed clinical social worker was the path forward. “That’s exactly what I want to do. I want to work with clients,” he said.

Wilson (left) smiles during discussion on Nov. 18.

Wilson’s desire to work in the mental health sector grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, as she witnessed the unmet mental health needs, particularly within BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities. However, her full-time job limited her options. When she discovered the Brown School’s Part-Time MSW program, she was intrigued, but uncertain.

Plagued by self-doubt, Wilson almost didn’t apply. She questioned whether she had the qualifications to be a social work student. Recollecting on her initial apprehension, she recalled thinking, “It’s the Brown School, it’s WashU. It’s highly ranked. What if I don’t fit the criteria?”

Encouraged by colleagues in the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at WashU’s School of Medicine, where she serves as a program coordinator, Wilson reached out to the Admissions and Recruitment Office. She was connected with Ryan Lindsay, associate professor of practice at the Brown School and chair of the mental health concentration; and following a reassuring conversation with him, she applied.

Drayton’s motivation to enter the mental health field stemmed from personal experience. During counseling, his therapist admitted he couldn’t fully relate to Drayton’s struggles.

“My counselor, who was very well-meaning, was candid and said he couldn’t really visualize and understand what I was going through, which was the loss of a friend through gun violence,” Drayton recounted. That moment inspired him to become the counselor he wished he had.

“I wanted to be what I didn’t see, which is a Black counselor,” he said. An admitted lifelong learner, Drayton, currently working as an enrollment coordinator for Homegrown StL, already has plans to pursue a PhD in social work after completing the part-time program. 

“I’m glad I’m a part of this.”

Lecturer Sunghei Han (center) leads class with second-year students on Nov. 18.

All three students extolled the part-time program for its supportive atmosphere, engaging cohort members and dedicated instructors. They attribute their success to the guidance of Ford and academic advisor Chloé Risto, as well as to the commitment and caliber of their instructors. Drayton, in particular ticked off the names of Associate Professor Jack Kirland, Lecturer Atia Thurman and Assistant Professor Husain Lateef.

Smith said he had no regrets about enrolling in the program, and noted that conversations with Shaina Peterson, Brown School admissions & recruitment specialist, were instrumental in his decision to start the Part-Time MSW program. 

“I’m glad I’m a part of this,” he said. “The coursework is outstanding and I’m already applying what I have learned.”

Ford’s own journey to a social work career mirrors the winding path many of her students have followed. After earning an undergraduate degree in psychology, she had enrolled in an industrial organizational psychology graduate program when a chance job opportunity uncovered her true calling.

Ford recalled, “I saw an ad on a bulletin board for a substance use treatment program for adolescents that needed direct care staff. I had expenses mounting up. I started working there on the weekends and really fell in love with it, that direct experience of working with the kids.” This profound experience led her to shift her course and enroll in the Brown School.

Looking ahead, the Brown School is committed to expanding opportunities for aspiring social work professionals. In the fall of 2023, the second cohort of students embarked on their journey within the program. Notably, the Brown School has expanded its offerings to include concentrations in Children Youth and Families and Social Impact Leadership.

Discover your path to a fulfilling career in social work while maintaining the flexibility you need to balance your life’s demands. With a hybrid schedule that includes evening and weekend classes, online classes, and summer sessions, this program empowers you to achieve your educational goals while fulfilling your professional responsibilities and personal commitments. Our dedicated faculty, led by experienced professionals, has meticulously designed this program to meet the unique needs of working students and address the pressing demands of today’s social workers. Join us for an information session or contact our Admissions team to embark on your journey towards a flexible and transformative career in social work. Your path to a rewarding and impactful future begins here at the Brown School.