Finding Practica in Unlikely Places

Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina taught me that there is history all around us — sometimes it just means you have to be creative in the ways that you look for it. There is history in the big, sprawling oak tree in the middle of a park. There is history in the indentations in the concrete sidewalks from children’s handprints. There is history in the stucco-covered brick buildings that line the streets of my hometown. Living in Charleston also taught me that learning history, at its core, is not about memorizing important dates, but rather seeking out the stories of other people, and connecting those stories to the formation of the world we live in today. As I got older, I came to realize that human relationships and biases as well as organized systems in which these people live are at the core of not only history, but social work as well.

This perspective was one of the many reasons that I took a concentration practicum with the Missouri Historical Society and Missouri History Museum. At the Brown School, I concentrate in Mental Health … so when I first shared my concentration practicum site with my friends, they seemed a little confused. A social work student, working at a history museum? That hardly seemed conventional, especially compared to my friends whose practica were centered around providing therapeutic services like play therapy or CBT to clients. I, however, could not have found it a more natural fit. 

 At the Missouri History Museum, I work with the Director of Visitor Engagement and Accessibility to create accessible museum programs. So often, spaces and programs are not explicitly accessible for disabled individuals. Sometimes museum exhibits have flashing lights or motion-activated displays that provide a loud explanation of the display when someone steps inside a certain boundary; this can be difficult for people who experience sensory overload. Sometimes displays are dark, and therefore difficult to navigate for people who are blind or visually impaired. Sometimes museums can simply be overwhelming due to their crowded nature that restricts people’s personal space. The Missouri History Museum works intentionally, designing their exhibits to be accessible to as many people as possible. Over the past few months, I’ve designed, drafted, and begun evaluation for a social skill-building program for autistic young adults that uses the museum to share stories of people of the past with the hopes of connecting them to the lives of program participants. It is both my hope and the museum’s that programs like these will create a welcoming environment for visitors who otherwise may not feel comfortable coming to the museum on their own. 

And this is what I’ve loved most about the Brown School. I found my practica through the Brown School’s mutual-matching process, which means that I chose to work at each site and each site chose me to be their practicum student. This process allowed me to be as creative as I wanted in my practicum search. While in the search process, I described the kind of work that I hope to do in the future to the Office of Field Education. In turn, the office sent me a list of sites that they felt matched that work. I sent a resume and cover letter to a few of the sites, interviewed, and was offered a practicum at my number one choice: the Missouri History Museum. My conversations with a field advisor were reassuring. She believed in the necessity of accessible programs, and saw the belief that accessibility work is mental health work. My advisor believed in the vision I had for my concentration practicum experience, but also validated that the work I want to do is not only worth doing, but possible.

Like with history, people are at the center of social work. And just like with history, people are everywhere. Through my time at the Brown School, my perspectives on both have been uplifted and supported, and not just inside the classroom. I also have been impressed with the flexibility and creativity afforded to me in creating a practicum experience that provides me with experience directly related to the work that I hope to do after I graduate in May. So as you consider your own path within this field, remember that there is place in this work for everyone, and that your perspective may just end up being one that changes the narrative of your own history.