A Few of Our Favorite (Brown School) Things | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
MSW/MPH Student Emma Swinford
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A Few of Our Favorite (Brown School) Things

The Brown School currently houses three dynamic and complementary graduate programs: Social Work, Public Health, and Social Policy. Because of this co-location and an institutional dedication to interdisciplinary work, students at the Brown School are exposed to topics, theories, and skills from all three fields.

While each program has a distinct curriculum that includes a set of required foundational courses, the curriculum also provides space for electives that align with your individual interests and goals. As students comb through the course catalog for next term's classes, they can choose between classes about policy-making or clinical skills, biostatistics or the built environment, sexual health or organizational management.  

With options that span from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Evaluation of Policy to Applied Linear Modeling, how do students choose which classes to take?

I spoke with a few second- and third-year students who shared their favorite classes and most valuable academics experiences (and, along the way, received some of their advice for incoming students):

Molly Pearson, MSW/MSP:

"Taking Social Work Practice with LGBT Populations taught me about policies, service delivery, and ethical issues that affect queer people-- I also learned a lot about myself as a member of the community. The concepts covered have the power to make us all better social workers, reminding us that LGBTQIA+ issues intersect with all matters of social justice."

Aparna Malshet-Casarella, MPH:

"Social, Economic, and Political Environment is a required course for MSW students, but I elected to take it as an MPH student. We've learned about how to strategically approach social change through a game theory lens by understanding motivations and challenges of decision-makers and influencers. I think these are really useful skills for public health practitioners, regardless of your area of focus." 

Taylor Davidson, MSW:

"As an incoming first-year student, foundation courses can feel demanding and overly structured, but they are foundational for a reason. I remember being annoyed with Practice 1, but then later found that the social work elements of the course were a guiding light for my subsequent work in the field, from planning groups to having effective individual sessions with youth. It's like I have my instructors' voices in my head and teachings in my heart everywhere I go. I'm grateful for that."

Lindsey Nienstedt, MSW/MPH:

"Policy Design Lab taught by Anna Shabsin. We discussed everything from current events to  influential past legislation. Professor Shabsin took the class through the three branches of government in a way that compelled thought-provoking dialogue for a small classroom size. She allowed students to work independently on a final project that built on coursework throughout the semester. I looked forward to attending class every week and learned that even the Farm Bill includes policy that influences social work and public health."

Laura McNulty, MSW/MPH:

"Social Justice and Human Diversity with Dr. Jason Purnell is one of the best courses I have ever taken. Throughout the semester, we worked through an in-depth, guided 'cultural self study' to explore and unpack our own histories and identities, drawing on class discussion and two excellent books -- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki. Each class session focused on a different phenomenon or issue, ranging from the theoretical and evolutionary underpinnings of social identity and trust, to the Black Lives Matter movement, to gender pay equity, to marriage equality -- and the intersections thereof. The combination of reflection, masterfully facilitated discussion, and readings about theory, science, and historical and contemporary manifestations of diversity and social justice issues made this course tremendously valuable. 

"Social, Economic, and Political Environment with Anna Shabsin taught me how to be a better, more effective strategist and advocate. By using game theory to understand stakeholder motivations, identify aligned interests, and apply influence and pressure accordingly, students learn a pragmatic approach and framework for advancing policy and practice decisions. The theory and tools we learned in this class should be in every social work and public health professional's toolkit, especially in a world where negotiation and strategic agility are necessary in order to realize equitable and just outcomes. 

"Program Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation with Dr. Jessica Levy gives students a practical, thorough approach to designing high quality, rigorous, impactful programs that prioritize understanding the needs, assets, and context of communities -- and, that appeal to funders and stakeholders. By the end of the course, students will have developed a portfolio-worthy project proposal that could be used as a sample for job applications, or for reference when designing, executing, and evaluating real-world projects."

Alex Berezin, MSW-Advanced Standing:

"Honestly, the mental health professors are incredible professors. It's very hard to go wrong when choosing a section for the core mental health curriculum classes. Talk to people who have taken those courses before to see if a particular teacher may be a better fit for you. Craft your schedule, spread it out if you can, such that you are able to take time for yourself every day. I can't speak enough to the importance of prioritizing your humanity and well-being over earning this degree. Once you get into classes, take learning seriously but don't break your back trying to do every little thing. So long as you follow instructions and turn assignments in, you'll be successful. Your time here is about you, and what you want to get out of it. Do your best, learn as much as you can, but try not to care about grades. Good luck, don't forget to breathe.

Brandon Smith, MSW/MPH

"The Brown School present amazing opportunities to thrive and grow professionally and personally. As third year MSW/MPH student, the best classroom experience through my time in the MSW curriculum is the American Indian Social Welfare Policies and Administrative Practices with Jessica Black. Notably, this class discussed the intersectionality of various policies surrounding healthcare, elder care, violence against women, economic disparities, child welfare, and many more policies affecting federally, state, and self-identifying American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

"As for the MPH curriculum, Health Administration and Policy with Professor Linda Raclin supported and guided my understanding with professionals working in the health sector as social workers and/or pubic health practitioners. It provided a multitude of frameworks of tools to analyze, evaluate, and advocate finances in healthcare policy for diverse populations, the influence on Medicaid and Medicare, and other implications created by the U.S. Congress. It allowed a greater understand to bridge contemporary tools with social work to address an array of health disparities for at-risk AI/AN populations and other marginalized communities."

Lisa Hayibor, MPH

"Transdisciplinary Problem Solving: Chronic Disease: Obesity Prevention & Public Health Policy has given me insight on the perspectives of physicians, nurses, dietitians, social workers, researchers, and other disciplines when addressing obesity . By better understanding these roles, this class has better equipped me to anticipate and handle challenges involved in forming and implementing policies, and helped me to identify my unique responsibility in the complex fight against obesity."