Newell has been a member of UM’s faculty for 11 years and was recently named University Scholar. Photo courtesy of University Marketing and Communications

Where did you attend school? When did you join the UM faculty? 

I have a BA in psychology from Auburn University, an MSW (with concentration in services to children, youth and families) and a Ph.D. in social work from the University of Alabama. I joined the UM faculty in 2008. 

How many years of experience do you have within the discipline of social work?  

21 years of combined experience in social work practice, research and education.   

Why did you go into social work?  

I felt compelled to choose a career path that would allow me to make a “real difference” (whatever that is) in the lives of people, especially those affected by trauma. Witnessing the systemic effects of trauma, especially in children, could have easily turned me away from the profession of social work. Alternatively, their struggles and narratives fueled my spirit to embrace a career with meaning, purpose and reward beyond financial gain. 

What are the primary themes of your research?  

My research and specialty areas include clinical social work practice with the mentally ill; treatment of anxiety, trauma-related and mood disorders; self-care and professional resilience; practice with veterans and military families; and, child welfare.  

How does UM’s social work program differentiate itself from similar programs?  

UM has the oldest and first accredited social work program in Alabama. We trained the first professional social workers in this state to serve those who are poor, vulnerable, oppressed or otherwise suffering in some way. We have a relatively small program, which allows the faculty to teach students in cohorts of 10 to 20.  Our small cohorts allow faculty to foster mentoring relationships with students as they cultivate their professional identities as future social workers. Small cohorts also allow us to match students with a field placement experience that pairs with their career aspirations post-graduation.  

What are three words to describe the discipline of social work?  

Challenging, humbling and rewarding  

Did any aspects of the discipline surprise you?  

Of course, how resilient human beings can be in the face of adversity.  More than anything, I am always amazed at how people simply get through the challenges of life.  On the other side of that is how cruel human beings can be to one another, also amazing (shocking) in a different way. This can be personally and professionally challenging to accept for social workers (and most people for that matter).  

How has becoming involved in social work altered your worldview?  

My profession has shaped my entire life. I can’t imagine doing anything else. At the start, like many young professionals, my goal was to change the lives of my clients; over time, I have realized they changed me. Collectively, through trauma and resilience, we changed mutually through the helping process (and in my case, certainly for the good).  

What advice can you offer aspiring social workers?  

Don’t let the myths (like professional burnout) steer you away from this work. It is a rewarding career and a great life. It is hard, but I’ve never regretted giving my time and energy to help another human being.  It is much more than a job, it is a life, and I believe in our profession whole-heartedly.