Part-Time Program Student Spotlight: Mahalia Sobhani

The Part-Time MSW Program is designed to allow students who are not able to pursue full-time study to work towards a master’s degree on a structured, time-extended basis with classes delivered in a hybrid manner: using in-person sessions and online technology.  Some courses are designed as blended courses with a mix of online learning and in-person sessions while others are taught as online courses. In-person sessions take place every other Saturday on our Madison campus. 

Headshot of Mahalia SobhaniJob title and organization:
I am not currently working in the field, but I recently left my job of three years as an Afterschool Program Manager at Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.), an education nonprofit in Evanston, IL. Through that role I got to work closely with Y.O.U.’s clinical department, including counselors and social workers, which sparked my interest in social work.

Year in the program:
First year

Focus area:
Undecided, but most interested in Child, Youth & Family Services.

Future job interest:
Undecided, but currently interested in school social work and community organization-based social work.

Why did you choose the Part-Time Program?
I chose the part-time program because it would allow me the flexibility to work while earning my degree, hopefully allowing me to graduate with less or no debt. I also like that the classes are on Saturdays. Other part-time programs I looked at involved evening classes during the week. I recently moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to my family, including my younger siblings, and I like that this schedule allows me to be available to them after school. The Saturday class schedule also allows me to attend UW-Madison while still living in Brookfield, outside Milwaukee. I would not be able to make that commute to Madison on weekdays while working.

How would you describe your experience in the Part-Time MSW Program?
It’s been amazing so far! My classmates come from such a wide variety of life and work experiences and because of that, I feel that I learn just as much from them as I do from the course material. The classes are rigorous and engaging, so I don’t feel I’m sacrificing the quality of my education at all by being in a part-time program. It’s been interesting to learn social work concepts and theories for the first time (I don’t have a BSW) and then reflect on my previous work experience and realize how they showed up in my work without my even knowing it.

What has been your favorite course so far in the program and why?
My favorite course so far has been SW 606 – Social Policy with Jen Rubin. When I was deciding whether to pursue an MSW, I was also considering a master’s in counseling. The deciding factor for me was that social work as a field seemed dedicated to understanding and dismantling harmful systems in addition to directly supporting people in need, and that was important to me. The Social Policy class has confirmed that! The class has been engaging for me intellectually and personally. I have such a better understanding now of the way social policy impacts the everyday lives of people and how major pieces of legislation have shaped the way our country functions now with regards to welfare and incarceration, among other things. It’s also showing me ways that social workers can get involved with policy, which was not something I was really aware of before.

How do you think the Part-Time MSW Program has prepared you for entering the field of social work?
I’m still early in the program, but I think it’s already preparing me well with a solid understanding of the history of social work in the U.S. The program pushes me to critically reflect on my values and how they show up in my work, and it’s exposed me to all the different kinds of social work that exist. It’s a way more diverse field than I initially realized!

What would you say to someone who is considering the program?
If you already have some experience in the social work field and you know it’s what you want to do, then this program is probably a great fit for you. It allows you to continue working and gaining that valuable work experience without sacrificing the quality of your master’s education. And because the part-time program tends to draw people who already have some work experience, you’ll learn so much from your classmates and their perspectives.

What’s one effective (or ineffective) strategy you’ve used while attending classes remotely during Covid?
Since this is my first semester, remote class is all I’ve known in the program so far! I have found it helpful to have a backup plan in case of an internet outage, which I learned the hard way. It’s a good idea to have a hotspot in case your WiFi goes out and to get a classmate’s phone number or email address early on so that you can ask for notes or updates if you miss anything. Reading my classmates’ Canvas posts and responding or reaching out to them when I like something has also been helpful for starting to form relationships, something that’s harder to do remotely.