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College of Social Work

Social Work Five: With NASW-SC Student of the Year Katherine Mai

You won a huge state honor earlier this year. And had an interesting internship at MUSC. Can you tell us about it – how were the two connected? 
Winning the NASW-SC MSW Student of the year award is an enormous honor. I completed my advanced year placement at MUSC’s National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center (NCVC). NCVC specializes in educating trauma-informed providers, producing evidence-based research, and providing evidence-based mental health care for people who are impacted by crime and trauma. I want to thank Meg Wallace, my field supervisor, for nominating me for this award and for whom it was truly a privilege to learn from. 
Meg guided me through the process of developing a comprehensive social work approach to trauma-informed care. Dr. Christine Hahn, clinical psychologist, acted as my field preceptor. Dr. Hahn provided me with the unique opportunity of co-authoring two poster presentations which were presented at the annual conference for the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). I was also able to co-author a research manuscript which has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Presently, I am working as lead author on a research manuscript which will also be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal upon completion. Dr. Hahn’s knowledge and expertise provided me with learning opportunities that are not widely available to social work interns. Meg is truly an exemplary social worker that any student would be lucky to learn from. I found myself humbled to be nominated for this award by someone I so deeply admire. 
During my spring semester I had the opportunity to take on clinical cases and deliver several different evidence-based interventions which NCVC provided training for. During this time, NCVC’s sexual assault services coordinator left to pursue another employment opportunity. This provided me the opportunity to step into her role as Sexual Assault Services coordinator. This role has taught me follow-up, case management, and database management skills.  
You’ve worked, been in grad school, clearly achieving. How did you balance it all – what’s the secret? 
Well one secret is that I mostly did not work while pursuing my graduate degree, so I can’t offer any insight into how others might balance that. I worked during my first semester in graduate school and I found I could not manage that level of stress. My husband and I had to make some financial decisions to determine how this process could work for us. I am grateful for his support and patience through this journey that we have really taken together as a team. 
Graduate school is inherently demanding and stressful. I found that I had to be diligent about my time-management skills so I could give myself the space to be fully present in every setting. I tried my best to never procrastinate and completed most of my assignments a few days before they were due. This practice allowed me time to rest my brain so I could review and edit my assignments with a fresh mind. Throughout this process, I learned how to prioritize daily activities that lower my stress, like taking long walks, meditating, and improved nutrition. My approach to graduate school became more bio-psycho-social-spiritual over time. 
Best experience in your MSW program? 
I’ve had so many positive experiences in this program that it is difficult to select a single one. I have really enjoyed learning and developing into someone more than what I was before. I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity I could as a student in this program. 
I am especially appreciative of the experience I received as a part time student out of the Charleston cohort. All 17 of us took nearly every class together these past three years and have developed close knit relationships. We social workers never do this alone. University of South Carolina offers a unique opportunity for non-traditional students, like me. I was able to take most of my classes locally, and in-person. I appreciated the opportunity to develop relationships with knowledgeable, skilled instructors and with local institutions like MUSC. I want to especially thank Dr. De Zeeuw Wright, Professor Budlong, Dr. Gowdy, Professor Rainey, and Dr. Bryant for their unwavering dedication to the Charleston cohort and the advancement of social work education. I want to also acknowledge James Truelove for his stellar guidance as my field instructor from my prior year which prepared me for my advanced-year placement. 
We’re excited about your future! What are you doing now? 
I am excited that NCVC has hired me as the new Clinician/Coordinator for their Sexual Assault Services program. I will continue to do the work I began as intern. I look forward to continuing to serve survivors of sexual assault in our community and continuing my professional development under Dr. Hahn and Meg Wallace. 
And for the non-Charlestonians – favorite thing to do in your off hours? 

My favorite thing in the world to do is to hang out on my couch with my husband and our fluffy little dogs and cats while watching Netflix. Aside from that, we enjoy riding around Charleston’s beautiful waterways on our jet ski and spending time with friends and family. 

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