Elena Brennan
Elena Brennan, MSW - 2016(expected)
When did you decide to pursue a degree in social work? Why did you choose social work? MSU?

I have been interested in human development, specifically the relationship between the individual and their environment since high school. Originally I began my undergraduate studies to become a clinical psychologist, although several internship experiences through the psychology department altered my career path towards social work. In my junior year at MSU I was involved in the Adolescent Diversion Program, an intensive two-semester internship working with adjudicated youth in Ingham County’s court systems. Under the supervision of program directors Dr. Bill Davidson and Sean Hankins, I found myself working with an extremely vulnerable population, spurring my interest in program development, policy and advocacy work, and analyzing the criminal justice system within the United States.

After achieving a B.A. in Psychology at Michigan State in the Spring of 2014, I decided to pursue a Masters degree in Social Work in order to be a better advocate for change; implementing policies at individual, community and state wide levels. Upon my entrance to the program, I was also provided the opportunity to direct Youth Advancement Through Athletics, a multi-faceted youth development program designed to improve the lives of Lansing youth through mentorship, athletics, community outreach, and career-driven activities. Once again under the supervision of Dr. Bill Davidson and Sean Hankins, I found myself immersed in program development, leadership/team building activities, and the chance to develop and implement lesson plans in the class portion. My involvement in the program sparked my interest in teaching higher education courses and solidified my interest in the Organizational Community Leadership route of my graduate studies.

Are there any experiences outside of the US that have impacted your life and decisions to pursue a degree in social work?

Travel has always been an important component of my life, as I truly believe that experiencing other cultures and ways of life different from your own are important to personal growth. The opportunity to travel and immerse myself in other cultural practices opened my eyes to the situations that others experience and how systems and policies in different countries affect their people, allowing us to study the cyclical nature of certain social structures. My passion for this began in high school after a trip to Costa Rica where I was part of an exchange program, giving me a first hand look at what its like to experience the lives of others in a country much different from our own. I have since been to the Dominican Republic as part of MSU’s alternative spring break trips, as well as Finland and Estonia as part of the Graduate School of Social Work’s study abroad. My recent trip to Finland deepened my passion and love for the field of social work, as I had the opportunity to study in a country with one of the most progressive social systems in the world. Through personal reflection, observation, and collaborations with my classmates and other Finnish individuals, I not only brought home a different perspective of how social services are built and dispersed, but I got to explore the micro and macro aspects of Social Work seen through the eyes of a different culture. I have since brought home that knowledge and plan on implementing what I learned in my last year of graduate studies. I hope to pursue more international studies in the future, as there is much more to learn from other countries and cultures.

Elena Brennan Study Abroad Finland
What is your dream job upon graduation with a degree in Social Work?

My dream job upon graduation would revolve around the macro side of social work, as I do not plan on becoming a clinician. To be a part of an organization as a program coordinator, advocate, or community educator would be an ideal job for me, as my passions revolve around analyzing policies and programs. I want to continue working with at-risk populations and would love to continue developing programs for adjudicated youth throughout cities. My ultimate goal is to end up back in the classroom, teaching and inspiring students to make social change.

Have you received any awards/scholarships that you’re particularly proud of?

In the summer of 2015, I participated in an international study abroad in Finland focusing on social service delivery. I applied and was awarded an MSUFCU scholarship to help fund this educational development opportunity. I was honored to receive such financial assistance, as my participation in the Finland experience was highly influential on my studies. I encourage other participants to seek out scholarship opportunities as much as possible.

Do you have any advice for others considering social work? Do you have any advice for students currently enrolled in a social work program?

Social work is a profession that comes with the responsibility to empower and affect the lives of many different individuals. My advice for others considering the social work profession would be to thoroughly research the type of population, workplace, and social services that you may be interested in, as this is such a versatile career. The beauty of social work is that you have the opportunity to influence so many people in many ways, although that in itself can be a daunting thought. To go in with an idea of what type of job you want to accomplish, gives you the proper perspective on what you should focus on during your program. I encourage future and current students to constantly seek out extra opportunities in which to develop their skills as a practitioner, individual, and advocate. As field of social work constantly changes, so should your knowledge about various micro and macro issues happening in the world that could ultimately affect your clients. I encourage other students to be proactive in finding ways to go above and beyond their studies, as being a self sufficient learner is an invaluable skill to have.

Has anyone in Social Work outside of MSU had a particularly strong impact on you?

Although not specifically in the social work field, my mother has always been my inspiration for helping others. As a speech therapist in Midland, MI for over twenty years, my mom has changed the lives of many children with developmental disabilities, giving hope back to families and chances back to children to live functional and happy lives. Growing up, she shared her stories of successes and spoke of the power of helping, empowering me to find my passion for influencing the lives of others. There is nothing more rewarding than helping someone else to realize their potential and give them tools for success, and I thank my mom from the bottom of my heart for instilling that value in me.

“All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and someone to believe in them” – Magic Johnson