Graduating Part-Time MSW Program Student Spotlight: Ashley Osteen (Eau Claire site)

Headshot of Ashley Osteen
Ashley Osteen

Job title and organization:
I am currently working as a Juvenile Detention Worker with the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center at Eau Claire County.

Focus area:
Child, Youth, and Family Welfare.

Future job interest:
I am a Title IV-E Child Welfare Trainee and have not accepted a job yet that qualifies for the program’s work payback, but in the coming months I plan to secure a full-time job working in Public Child Welfare. I am passionate about crisis work and policy, so I am hoping to work either as an Initial Assessment Child Protection social worker, or with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families working on child welfare policy implementation and reform.

Why did you choose the Part-Time Program?
I love the flexibility of the Part-Time Program, especially since it has allowed me to continue working in the Eau Claire area while also receiving a high-quality education from a UW-Madison program. The fact that professors were willing to give up their Saturdays to share their knowledge with us was proof to me that this program would be special, because I knew everyone at the table was there because this was their true passion. I knew I wanted to get an MSW, but neither relocating for a full-time program nor doing a fully online program felt like the best option for me. The PTP is a blessing because it is the perfect option for students and professionals like me, who don’t feel like they “fit” into a traditional master’s program.

How would you describe your experience in the Part-Time MSW Program?
My experience in the Part-Time program has been phenomenal. All my professors have been extremely knowledgeable in the subject material and have been supportive of students who are pursuing a higher education while also dealing with the larger contexts of their lives. I have formed life-long friendships with my classmates, and I cannot express enough gratitude to my cohort for the support we have all given each other throughout the years. Going to school part-time on the weekends has not been all sunshine and roses, and I ran into plenty of obstacles that made it hard to show up or focus sometimes. Regardless, my professors and classmates were always understanding and supportive, and having such a strong sense of community really kept me pushing through.

What has been your favorite course so far in the program and why?
I can’t choose just one! I would have to say my favorite classes would be the macro-level courses that focused on policy, advocacy, and systemic change because they really stimulated me to think beyond the work that I was doing “on the ground” and to consider the larger impact of my decisions and the importance of advocacy in social work.

How do you think the Part-Time MSW Program has prepared you for entering the field of social work?
Completing the Part-Time MSW Program has prepped me for success as a master’s level social worker because I have had so many opportunities to take my learning beyond the classroom, applying ideas and concepts to my real-life work experiences, and the experiences of my classmates as well. Since I was on the four-year track, I was able to complete two different internship placements during my graduate career at UW-Madison, which gave me so much insight into the kind of social worker I want to be and helped me gain skills in advocacy, assertiveness, boundaries, and inclusion.

What would you say to someone who is considering the program?
Do it. This program does take a lot of hard work and motivation, but I have had so many invaluable experiences these last four years that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Especially for those of us who want to continue working while pursuing a master’s degree, the Part-Time MSW Program is perfect. Committing two or four years to a degree can be scary, and I was worried when applying for this program that I would be 28 years old and just finishing my master’s degree. But I have realized the time will pass regardless, so you might as well be 28 and have a master’s degree!

What’s one effective (or ineffective) strategy you’ve used while attending classes remotely during Covid?
While going to class in sweatpants can be fun at first, it gets old after a while. Especially if you’re someone like me who thrives on in-person discussion and activities. Covid has been hard for all of us, yet we have all adapted and become flexible in so many ways. I was grateful to be able to continue my education during a global pandemic, but I did struggle a bit with the transition to remote classes. In our field seminar course with Jodie Glaspie, we practiced mindfulness at the beginning of each class, which was so helpful in staying grounded and focused, and putting things into perspective. My professors and classmates helped a ton in reminding me that we were all navigating this new way of learning together.

What supports were needed for you to be able to complete your MSW degree?
There were so many supports that I used during my MSW program. So much can happen in four years, and it did. Through loss, life-changes, grief, different jobs, mental health struggles, racial and social injustices, family responsibilities and more, I relied on many different supports. My friends and family, UW-Madison faculty and advisors, medical and mental health providers, and my classmates were all monumental in contributing to my success. Relationships are at the core of everything, and I would not have been able to complete my MSW without the many positive relationships in my life.

What do you look forward to as you get ready to graduate?
I am so excited to begin my career as a master’s level social worker! I look forward to focusing more on my career and my advocacy role in the community, and less on juggling work, school, and internship. I am also looking forward to a much-needed vacation this summer!

What makes graduating with an MSW special for you?
As a first-generation college student, I have always taken pride in my education and being a role model for my younger siblings. Growing up without many financial resources, I had dreamed of having a higher education and a prestigious career since I was young, but I thought it was something unattainable for me. However, I knew as soon as I began working in the field after college that I wanted to learn more so that I could be the best social worker I could be, and that getting a master’s degree would help me do that. It took me quite some time and a lot of encouragement and research before I realized that I could make grad school a reality for myself but looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. Life happens in funny, painful, joyous ways, but it happens for a reason. I am so proud to be a social worker and earning an MSW has prepared me to serve my clients and community on a higher level, showing people that whatever higher version of themselves they want to be, they can achieve with the proper support and encouragement.

Who in your life is proud of your accomplishments and what would they say about what you’ve achieved?
My mom, my partner, and my siblings have all pushed me to finish my MSW and have all expressed such support for me, I couldn’t have done it without them! I think my grandma and grandpa, Maria and Dwayne, would be proud of how far I’ve come, and I wish they were here to celebrate with me. Lastly, I know all the previous versions of myself will be alongside me on graduation day, cheering me on. The experiences I’ve had and the things I’ve been able to accomplish throughout my life are things that young Ashley only ever dreamed of. They have made me kinder, wiser, louder, and stronger, and I take pride in being able to say that I have grown and changed so much. On May 8th, I will be showing up at graduation for my past selves, my future selves, and all those who paved the way for me to get here.

Now that you won’t have classes, how will you spend your Saturdays?
Sleeping in! But seriously, although I will miss my cohort and professors on Saturdays, I am most excited to have more free time on the weekends for camping and road trips with my partner and dogs. I am such a busy body that I will likely try to find something to fill my time on Saturdays, but I am going to try hard to keep my weekends open for self-care and adventure…at least for a year or two.