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Social work senior starts career with Air Force Civilian Service community readiness program

Sydney Gwyn

Last summer, social work senior Sydney Gwyn wove her lifelong passion for helping others into a career in social sciences through an internship with the Air Force Civilian Service. Raised in Wichita, Kansas, home to the McConnell Air Force Base, Gwyn connected her passion for service with the military community she was raised in.

"I initially went into social work thinking I wanted to work with kids and families, since that's what most people tend to go into. My brother went into the Air Force, and being from Wichita, there's a big Air Force base there, so I had grown up with a lot of my friends' parents being active duty military," said Gwyn. "I never thought that was anything I ever would want to do. But the more I got into social work and started hearing about the different opportunities I had, I became interested in military social work."

Gwyn's internship was through the Air Force Premier College Internship Service, a program designed to match applicants with a sector that aligns with their academic focus, experience and career goals. Gwyn was matched into the Air Force's community readiness program, a collection of services and resources designed to help service members and families adjust to civilian life. The Community Readiness Center works with all ages to assist with academic challenges, disability accommodations, medical specialist recommendations and much more.

"Community Readiness is on every single Air Force base. It's essentially a center that has all kinds of social programs for service members and their families. We worked a lot with kids to help them with academic challenges, like disability assistance and adjusting to moving schools often," said Gwyn. "We also worked a lot with young enlisted military members. We taught them how to navigate things like finding a place to live, paying rent and finding a job after they leave the military. Basically, anything you could think of, it was us."

After completing her internship at the Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Gwyn returned to Auburn for her senior year. The Plains have provided an ideal backdrop for Gwyn’s development as a social worker. Engaged in a close-knit cohort within the program, she emphasized the significance of forming meaningful connections with professors.

"My cohort is very close. There are probably 20-something of us who are all pretty much best friends. I feel like I found people who think like me and look at people the way that I look at people. It's nice to be around," said Gwyn. "I like to have personal connections with people. I don't like to have that feeling of just sitting in a classroom. Being in a smaller program like social work, it's been really easy to make meaningful connections with my professors. It has really added to my experience."

Auburn's social work program puts a strong emphasis on practical experience, something Gwyn felt prepared her for the challenges of a professional internship. The experiential curriculum culminates in a community involvement opportunity all students must complete. The course, Senior Integrative Seminar, tasks each graduating student with completing 480 hours of practicum in their desired field.

"One thing I love as part of our curriculum is going out to do things in the community. A lot of social work is talking to people and learning how to get somebody to trust you, things like that. You have to be able to practice it outside the classroom to be successful," said Gwyn. "The integrative seminar matches you to an agency based on what you want to do. I wanted to try something a little bit different but still something I could take into my post-grad role. I'm working at the Department of Human Resources in Child Protective Services. I work mostly with kids, families and foster care. It's pretty action-packed."

Gwyn admits social work can be overwhelming at times, but she emphasizes the importance of remaining calm and seeing the positive side of every situation. She advises those interested in social work to stay motivated.

"Social work isn’t always something that you can just leave at the office, which is difficult. But I feel there's a healthy balance between keeping yourself level and helping someone who might be going through difficult things. When I go home, I try to remember that I did the best I possibly could for somebody and maybe they are a little bit better because of me," said Gwyn. "Because it’s hard at times, it's important to be ambitious and go after it. I never thought that this was where I would be, but I have loved it. Take chances."

Upon graduating in May, Gwyn will return to the Air Force where she will convert into the Palace Acquire Program and continue her work in community readiness.

Learn more about social work in the College of Liberal Arts.

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