Ashley Osteen is pursuing a degree in our Part-Time MSW Program in Eau Claire. Her focus is Child, Youth, & Family Welfare. She recently spoke about her experiences as part of an on-going series highlighting students and instructors in our Part-Time Program. Learn more about the Part-Time MSW Program.
What is your focus area?
My focus area is in Child, Youth, & Family Welfare. I am passionate about working with children and families, specifically in the areas of child protection and youth justice.
Why did you choose the Part-Time Program?
I had been living and working in Eau Claire and wanted to be able to continue working and gaining experience in the field while also furthering my education. I had been considering a master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to school full-time, especially because graduate school can be so expensive. I had always liked UW-Madison because of their renowned contributions to the field, rigorous program, and experienced faculty, and I knew that I would be so proud of myself if I were to receive a degree from Madison. The Part-Time Program was a perfect fit for me because I was able to work in the field and keep living in Eau Claire, while also getting a master’s degree from UW-Madison at the same time.
Were there any challenges?
I struggled in the very beginning of the program, just getting used to doing homework again. It was challenging to come home from a long day at work and then jump into reading articles and writing papers instead of watching Netflix. It did get better as I became more accustomed to it and got into a more regular routine. I had to learn how to say “no” to some extra responsibilities and activities, but it was an excellent way for me to practice setting boundaries with myself and with others, and I have grown so much as an individual and as a professional because of it.
Another challenge I have faced in the second year of the program was balancing work, classes, and a field placement along with other life obligations. So many people hear about my schedule and ask me “how are you doing that?” and I sometimes ask myself the same thing. Although it may seem impossible, it is possible! It is very hard at times but learning that you can do something you never thought you could do is an incredible feeling. I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from high school, so sometimes the thought of sticking this out is scary, but I have received so much support from faculty, staff, and classmates. I know I will look back on this time in my life and feel so accomplished for having challenged myself and unveiling my potential.
What do you plan to do when you graduate?
I plan to work in the state of Wisconsin, either at the county or state level, in child welfare. I really enjoy teaching others and would eventually like to facilitate foundations trainings for the State of Wisconsin Child Welfare Professional Development System. I am also passionate about corrections and might like to work in some capacity where I can combine my interests in child welfare and corrections by possibly working with incarcerated individuals and their children and families. I am considering the idea of getting my APSW/LCSW somewhere down the road as well.
How would you describe your experience in the Part-Time MSW Program?
My experience in the Part-Time MSW Program with UW-Madison has been outstanding. I have loved all my classes and my cohort is so close. Even when I am exhausted after a long week, I look forward to coming to class on Saturdays because being around like-minded individuals, having meaningful discussions, and even just being able to talk about our shared experiences is so uplifting. It really revives me and makes me feel like I can tackle whatever the coming week will bring.
I am also a part of the Title IV-E Child Welfare Training Program, which provides extra support and opportunities for me to attend child welfare dialogues and conferences, and to become a part of a tight knit community of like-minded students and professionals. I enjoy going down to the UW-Madison campus each semester for dialogues, book clubs, and meetings because I feel like my experience is being enhanced on a deeper level and it is nice to compare my experiences with some of the full-time students.
How do you think the Part-Time MSW Program has prepared you for entering the field?
I think this program has prepared me for entering the field in so many ways. I appreciate that everyone in my classes is also a working professional in the field, so we can bring our diverse experiences to the classroom which enriches our discussions so much. I feel that if we were in a full-time program we might not have as many real-life case examples to apply to our learning. Working in the field and attending the Part-Time Program is such a valuable experience. Because of the discussions we are having in the classroom, I feel I can be a better practitioner in the field right now. And knowing that I can balance an education and a career helps me feel so much more prepared to tackle the large caseloads, intense interactions, or whatever else I may experience in the future throughout my career.
What is one thing you wish you would known before starting the program?
The only thing I wish I would have known or that I wish could be improved is the “student life” experience within the Part-Time Program. It is challenging having classes in Eau Claire and missing out on the opportunity to go to different clubs, organizations, and meetings on the UW-Madison Campus, especially when we still receive emails about them. However, we do hold panels and discussions outside of class sometimes and have potlucks for special occasions such as homecoming. For being a Part-Time Program two and a half hours away from the UW-Madison Campus, I think we are doing the best we can.
What would you say to someone who is considering the program?
All I can say is that it is hard work, but it is absolutely worth it. Four years, or two years if you are advanced standing, seems like a long time. But in the scheme of life it really will fly by. I know a barrier for me going to school full-time was the financial obligation and not being able to work, so if you are second guessing advancing your education because of money, please don’t! This is a great way to make it work and there are always options for financial assistance. You won’t regret it.