Teaching social work is a great responsibility. Being a social worker is an even greater responsibility, according to Dr. Billie Terrell.
A University of St. Francis alumna, director of the MSW program and a professor of social work, Terrell has managed the undergraduate Social Work program’s growth and quality. And, when seeing the community’s need for master’s degree prepared social workers, she began the MSW (master of social work program at the University of St. Francis in fall 2007.
In May 2008, Terrell will greet the first graduates of USF’s MSW program as they leave the stage. “Leadership is making a vision a reality. We’ve done that for so many of our students in social work,” said Terrell.
Terrell holds a Ph.D. from the Institute for Clinical Social Work.
Terrell, who has been a social worker in hospital intensive care, pediatrics and hospice, is a proponent of bringing real-life experience to the classroom. Her 25-year private practice as a social worker not only keeps her abreast of the issues facing people today; it also helps her teach best practices in helping others help themselves. Her private practice specializes in work with the disabled, school social work and multicultural families. “I bring it all to the classroom. In the social work field things change every day. Working with clients helps keep me in touch with the issues and challenges that social workers face every day,” said Terrell.
Choosing the right fit is extremely important for those who wish to be social workers. Being empathic with others means knowing yourself, maintains Terrell. “A social worker must have a strong sense of self. We help students explore this in class and through a paper on ‘Who am I?’” she said. “A social worker needs to be able to work with anybody at any time. To do that, you have to understand yourself, your heritage, your skills and all you bring to the table.”
Terrell feels she connects with persons with disabilities, particularly those who have a disability that is not immediately noticeable. She has hearing loss and wears two digital hearing devices. “I talk about my hearing loss in class and let students know I may have to tell them that I didn’t hear their comment. I’ve come to appreciate hearing more, especially since the most important skill a social worker has is hearing and listening—listening beyond just the words being spoken,” said Terrell.
“I teach what I know. I teach my passion,” said Terrell, who works with many national organizations, including the Veterans’ Affairs Joint Task Force of the Council on Social Work. She recently presented at a national conference on Combat Stress: Understanding the Challenges, Preparing for the Return. She works with employers throughout the country to present programs on diversity and crisis management, And, Terrell has also presented “The Impact of Ethnic Socialization and Ethnic Identity on the Self Esteem and Parenting Attitudes of African-American Fathers” at the Diversity of Society Conference at St. Anne’s College in Oxford, England.
“Today’s jazz” intrigues Terrell along with a good mystery book—something by that features a geographical component. She recommends the Garden Speller by Sarah Addison Allen. “I’ve always read since I was a little girl. Reading is a great escape,” she says.
But, the best escape is a really good movie. Terrell characterizes herself as a movie buff. “I’ll drive a long way to see a movie that just won’t come to the general cinema,” she reveals. “And I don’t mind seeing two movies in a row.” Her recent favorites include “Away from Her” about a man coping with his wife suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and “The Namesake” about the cultural issues experienced by the American-born son of Indian immigrants.
Terrell uses the movies that touch her as teaching tools to open her students’ minds and hearts. “So many times, the movies are relevant to real life and can give us insight that we may not otherwise see,” said Terrell.
Terrell brings all her passions to the classroom. Social work is all about connection, she believes. Three of her former students have joined her private practice. “My students and I get to know each other well. We have some really good discussions”—from the nature of social work to personal loss to the joys of grandchildren (Terrell has two that spend a month with her each summer). “I worked my way through college so I understand what so many of them are going through. I know what it feels like to lose a loved one and to have a disability. Their personal struggles, their life experiences will make them better social workers,” Terrell said.
Dr. Billie Terrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Terrell teaches at the bachelor and master levels. In the BSW program, she teaches Social Work Practice I, II, III, Social Work Policy I, II, Social Work in a Pluralistic Society, and Women in Contemporary Society. For the MSW program, she teaches Cross-Cultural Practice Systems, Advanced Social Work Practice, Domestic Violence and a Bridge Course: Social Work Policy I & II.