By Mary Giles

Students in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program not only learn about interactions between individuals, but also the connection between political, economic and social structures. They learn the best approaches to intervention, social development and social change and have the opportunity to work directly with individuals, groups and communities through field placements.

Kevin Amirault is one of 10 graduate recipients of the Senate Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement this fall. He says, “The MSW program at Carleton provides a really supportive environment. The encouragement of professors gave me confidence in my research ideas and abilities.”

Kevin Amirault, recipient of Senate Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement

Kevin Amirault, MSW graduate and recipient of Senate Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement.

“The faculty and staff at the School of Social Work are so honoured to have worked with this fall’s graduating class,” says Director Sarah Todd. “They faced unprecedented challenges finishing their degrees and carried themselves with grace, patience and compassion during the process. There were months of uncertainty for many of them when we didn’t know whether we would find them practicums to finish their programs. Their ability to steer through this speaks volumes to their character as a group and I look forward to hearing about the wonderful things they will do in their careers.”

Susan Braedley, supervisor of the MSW program, says, “Students in this year’s MSW cohort are graduating to a pandemic-transformed field of social work, but they are well equipped. Their program ended with the rock and roll of completing work placements in organizations that closed and reopened or went on-line during this period. These students have had their resilience and flexibility tested. They are ready to make their contributions and are more than capable.”

Although some placements were cancelled or delayed, most were able to switch to working remotely. Amirault completed his placement in Counselling Services, Student Support Services at Algonquin College. He had the opportunity to provide remote individual and group counselling, as well as collaborate on student engagement and wellness projects.

Lisa Deveau is another student graduating from the MSW program this fall. She has been a constable with the Ottawa Police Service for five years, but decided to pursue the MSW to improve her counselling skills. She completed her job placements with both the Citizens for Public Justice and the Victim Crisis Unit with the Ottawa Police Service.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

The School places a strong emphasis on community analysis and social policies, focusing on issues regarding class, gender and race. Students are able to build on their existing knowledge and experience by learning from professors, but also from students in their classes.

Amirault says that students who enter the program have a common purpose despite coming from diverse backgrounds. “The program really helps students to learn about equity, diversity and inclusion while being accepting and compassionate about where students are coming from.”

“During the intensive core course in first semester, Professor Sarah Todd brought folks together to form a bond and to learn from each other. I’m grateful for the close community of both the School and my cohort. We were able to discuss important issues like anti-black racism and decolonization and what it means to be white and working in the field. The anti-oppressive structural approach that the program provides is invaluable.”

Professor Todd explains, “Over the years, we have found that the intensive courses in the first term are key to helping students to build connections. The more we are able to build a sense of community that first week, the more students are able to support each other and work through tensions during the program.

“This is the key to having a transformative learning experience. The content is not enough — content with community is where creative learning and change happens. Kevin and his cohort were quick to understand this and came together in very powerful ways to support each other through the program. In the end, these were also the relationships that helped support them through the pandemic and the many impacts it had on their lives and their learning.”

The MSW program boasts an impressive group of alumni, including Natahsa Pei, who is working with Vibrant Communities Canada, an online community of poverty reduction advocates. Murray Angus is the founder of Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a college program affiliated with Algonquin College for Inuit youth. Fireda Ahmed, a registered social worker with the French-language Public School Board of Eastern Ontario, works with many new immigrant and refugee children and is working to improve equity and inclusion in the classroom.

From Wilderness Expeditions to Public Schools

Amirault was hired this fall as a school social worker and is currently working in eight different schools in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. He helps students virtually and in-person with academics, attendance, and social and emotional behavior as it relates to school. He has also joined a working group hoping to find ways to increase cultural competency in the social work department.

“I’m also working to connect students’ families to resources during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Amirault says. “For example, Bridges Over Barriers, through the Education Foundation of Ottawa, is a financial fund for families in need. In my position, I see the effects of various obstacles that students face firsthand and work to identify needs and to help find solutions.”

After completing the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program at Laurentian University in 2013, Amirault worked in adventure therapy before coming to Carleton. During this time, he worked with the Boundless School, an outdoor alternative high school, as well as with Wendigo Lake Expeditions, an adventure therapy program.

Amirault says, “After working for five years in the bush, counselling and motivating kids in care or who were involved with the law, I was ready to take the next step. At Carleton, I initially felt out of place and just wanted to step back and take everything in, but the inclusive and supportive community made it easy to feel at home.

“I would like to get back to using wilderness, adventure and outdoor therapy to facilitate change — it is a really powerful and transformative experience for everyone involved.”

Kevin Amirault at Brigham Chute in Algonquin Park, near the Barron Canyon.

Kevin Amirault at Brigham Chute in Algonquin Park, near the Barron Canyon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020 in ,
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