RIC grad overcomes major barriers on her way to Master of Social Work degree

For some, education is not a trivial pursuit; it is a series of difficult sacrifices. Erica Mitchell, who earned a Master of Social Work degree and attended the advanced-degree commencement on May 20, faced severe obstacles of health, transportation and lack of income during the two years she studied to become an MSW at RIC’s School of Social Work.

Erica Mitchell
To accommodate a full-time class schedule and internships, Mitchell had to reduce her employment time to 8 hours a week. The result was two years of “barely getting by” while trying to afford books, bus passes, food and bills.

Mitchell also went a year and a half without any health insurance. Stress weakened her immune system, but she continued to pursue her education at full speed even when she got sick, which happened frequently.

Her biggest barrier, however, was her lack of transportation. Unable to afford a car, she spent two years using public transportation to commute to her classes and internships. When she missed a bus, she would sometimes take taxicabs to RIC just to be on time for class. And she was often the last person to be given a field placement because it was difficult to place a social work intern who did not drive.

“There have been so many nights that I have cried myself to sleep worrying if I would make it through this program at all,” Mitchell said. "For me, the letters MSW that follow my name don't just stand for Master of Social Work but also stand for Ms Strong Woman because it took a lot of strength not to give up on myself and my own dreams.”

Mitchell said she is very passionate about and enjoys working with adolescents, especially adolescents of color.

“Adolescence is such a critical period of time where so many physical and emotional changes happen,” she said. “For many youths of color, this time period becomes that more turbulent due to other barriers and obstacles such as poverty, lack of resources, exposure to violence, etc.”

Mitchell grew up in similar circumstances, she said. “I know firsthand how expensive a sense of hope seems when you don't know how you are going to make it through the next day with next to nothing.”

She wants instill hope in those young people who society labels “hopeless” or “troubled.” “I want to provide an example for these young adults and serve as a positive role model,” she said. “Sometimes all it takes is one person to care and believe in you for you to start believing in yourself. I am so ready to help these youngsters start believing,” she added.

In accomplishing her goal of becoming an MSW, Mitchell gave thanks to her mother, professors, friends and fellow members of the MSW graduating class of 2010. They were “the glue that held me together when I was falling apart,” she said.

Her message to those students who will follow in her footsteps? “Don’t let anyone define your dreams for you because at the end of the day they belong to only you,” she said. “I believe that nothing is impossible if you believe that you are possible."