Dr. Jones talks with Lee Ferrell about his work and research developing community for older adults, intergenerational equity, advice to social work students and practicing social work on fictional television characters.
Bio: Lee Ferrell is a doctoral candidate in the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky. Lee is from Portsmouth Ohio, where he attended and received a B.A. in Psychology/Sociology in 2010. He received his MSW from the University of Kentucky in 2013. His research is centered on Age-Friendly communities, distributive justice, and intergenerational concerns. Lee plans to defend his dissertation in the upcoming academic year, under the guidance of his chair, Dr. Karen Badger, and the rest of his committee. Lee has taught numerous courses in the College of Social Work, including the Community Empowerment elective he designed in 2013. In addition to his studies, Lee is a graduate assistant in Assessment for Transformative Learning at the University of Kentucky, where he has supported the Faculty Fellows, Presentation U! Peer Tutoring, Academic Preparation and Placement, and Academic Coaching programs for the past three years. Following his graduation, Lee will pursue administrative/faculty opportunities where he hopes to support students in and beyond the classroom.
Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription and may contain errors. Please check the full audio podcast in context before quoting in print
Dr. Jones: [00:00:01] Hello and welcome to the social work Conversations podcast produced by the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. My name is Blake Jones. Here we explore the intersection of social work research practice and education. Our goal is to showcase the amazing people associated with our college and to give our listeners practical tools that they can use to change the world.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:24] My name is Blake Jones and I’m faculty here at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. I’m joined today by Lee Ferrell and so good to see you Lee.
Lee Ferrell: [00:00:32] Good to see you again.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:33] Thanks for joining me. Yeah I’m so so glad that we get to talk again you were my student several years ago. We were just talking. It’s been a few years ago.
Lee Ferrell: [00:00:43] It’s been a few years. I started at UK and my master of social work program back in the fall of 2011 and I was just telling you before we started that today actually marks six years since I moved to Lexington and began this journey. It’s crazy how we’ve come full circle.
Dr. Jones: [00:01:00] That’s great. And now you’re you’re finishing up your doctorate and doing so much that we’re going to talk with you about. I remember you in class very well you know some of my students I don’t remember too well. Others I remember very clearly and I remember you being a very eager student very informed and I’m just I’m really proud of you. I just want to let you know that.
Lee Ferrell: [00:01:23] Thank you.
Dr. Jones: [00:01:24] So good to see you going on and getting your Ph.D. I want to back up just a little bit and talk with you about what led you to social work. You know I think all of us have a story of what brought us here. I’m curious about your story.
Lee Ferrell: [00:01:39] I was in my undergrad program. I was a sociology and psychology major and I remember very fondly my advisor from my undergraduate education. He had a social work degree as well in addition to his Ph.D. that he had in forensic psychology. And he told us many times in his class that although he had a Ph.D. and he was very proud of it. The thing he was proudest of was earning his MSW and having his (in Ohio) his LISW and being able to be a practitioner. And so I remember talking to him in his office and asking him about you know what brought you to social work. Why should I consider it. I don’t really know where to go and he said for him that social work gave him his direction that he had a lot of uncertainty but his ability to work in the field and have practical experience as well as a student allowed him to see his direction very clearly and where he was wanting to go with his life and with his career. And he said at the end you know having the ability to be licensed for something gives you some more credibility it gives you some more marketability. And he said not to say that you should go into this for any wrong reason if you don’t want. If you don’t have the desire to help people or learn about how to help people whether it’s individually whether it’s at the community level then don’t do it. But if you think that this is something that could either be a long term career or be a steppingstone to what’s next then go for it.
Lee Ferrell: [00:03:22] So I said OK OK – I’ll try an advanced program. I searched around for MSW programs. I at this time I’m from a small town in Ohio called Portsmouth, Ohio. I had never left Portsmouth. I did my undergrad in Portsmouth and I was ready to leave but I was scared at the same time to leave and I knew I couldn’t stay if I wanted to do further education. And so I had a couple of offers to go between here and other places. And something about the University of Kentucky when I was meeting with some of the faculty who just gave me a positive vibe. I thought this is a place I need to try out. And so I chose UK and I ended up in courses and I developed a sense of a cohort and I think that that was the most valuable thing about my MSW education is that I developed a sense of a cohort outside of the applied experiences and field and the things that we were learning in our courses content wise having people that push you to be your best self. Whether it’s because you’re competitive and you want to be the best. And that and that may be one end. But just having a genuine group of people that wants everyone to succeed and they move forward together. I don’t know that I would have found that in another program and maybe not at another school.
Dr. Jones: [00:04:51] That’s great. I love that idea of of connection and group you know that’s what we teach in social work that’s what we believe is that connection of systems. I think in students it’s really important to have a group of people that are that are in your corner that are helping you.
Lee Ferrell: [00:05:09] Absolutely and even when I went into my Ph.D. program and again I wasn’t sure you know will I do a Ph.D. in social work. But by the time I got to the end of my MSW program I knew the college was where I wanted to be that the faculty I’d met were people I wanted to work with so I had also developed the sense of a group with them and that these were people I could communicate with. I lost my MSW cohort in terms of being able to learn with them but they still rallied behind me and they would still be interested in hearing whenever I would go to dinner with them and tell them about what I was learning and I developed a new cohort. I had a much smaller cohort but I was able to get still a cohort feeling with some very valuable people in my life.
Dr. Jones: [00:05:52] What advice do you have for students to think about graduate students from now say say MSW some MSW students will be listening to this podcast. What advice do you have to give them.
Lee Ferrell: [00:06:03] I think that the advice that I always give my students when they’re looking into going into graduate school whether they choose an MSW program whether they know they’re in the social work program and they aren’t sure where to go into working afterwards. I always told my students to be really open to experiences. The greatest thing about social work is that social work can prepare you to do so many things and you can have the degree and you can have the license and your job description may not even have to say social worker but you can still apply that degree. The experiences the knowledge that you’ve gotten in that program and in that field experience into being your best self. I have seen so many of my former students go into great careers whereas you wouldn’t think the first person to do that job would be a social worker. But it is – that person as a social worker doing that job now and they still identify as a social worker and they’re really – they’re changing the game in terms of how we think of what a social worker can do. I remember and I don’t think this that this is a foreign concept but when I first came into social work and I told people what I was doing a lot of people don’t understand what social workers do.
Dr. Jones: [00:07:26] We’re the baby snatchers…
Lee Ferrell: [00:07:27] We’re the baby snatchers… and to learn over the course of just my MSW education and then even seeing it go through and how my students would grow and develop and seeing how my colleagues would develop their MSW. We are so unlimited and I sometimes hate the term the possibilities are endless but they really are endless in terms of making your own experiences. I do think that in a way you have to be creative and say this is what I want to do this is how I want to apply my education. But social work teaches you something that’s very valuable and that a lot of programs don’t teach you effectively how to do: how to work with people. And whether you’re doing that as a practitioner or as a community social worker or a government employee. Social work here at UK teaches you how to work with people. It teaches you from the experiences you have in the classroom from the experiences you have with your cohort to the experiences you have in the field. I became a better well-rounded people person and I think in that way.
Dr. Jones: [00:08:36] That’s great. I want you to talk a little bit about your doctoral work.
Lee Ferrell: [00:08:42] Sure.
Dr. Jones: [00:08:43] You’re getting ready to defend or you’re working on your dissertation.
Lee Ferrell: [00:08:47] I’m working on the dissertation.
Dr. Jones: [00:08:50] Blessings to you and good luck with that. Tell us a little bit about what your research is about.
Lee Ferrell: [00:08:58] So when I first came in to my doctoral program I had had some really good experiences working with the aging population and I thought that I wanted to do something with regard to the aging population on a more macro community level. But I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I got involved shortly after entering my doctoral program with the city of Lexington and with AARP. And what is called the Livable Communities or Age Friendly Communities Initiative. And there was one starting up in Lexington and they said do you want to get involved? And I was you know I was a little unsure. I thought I’m taking on a lot right now I don’t know that I need to do this. But it also is a good opportunity for me to explore what I would like to do for some dissertation work. There were some great opportunities to collect data and a lot of data and to really communicate with people who this is their life this is their livelihood. I wasn’t working with academics in this setting. I was working with real community stakeholders and I’m such a fan of I don’t know if I even knew what translational research was beforehand. But I’m such a fan of it now in terms of how you can take the research that we’re doing at the university and we can work with community members and people that would normally not be doing research as we think about it and pulling these people together and having what is true community engagement. And so I’ve been working in this initiative since 2013. One of the things that i quickly notice though is that you can’t make it all about the aging population. You can make it all about what it is to grow old but you have to make it something that is for all ages. And so I got really interested and the whole idea of intergenerational gaps whether it is what we think of as intergenerational warfare where the generations are all kind of competing against one another or how we bring it up to kind of this level of equity. How do people feel that that they are an equal stakeholder that we aren’t just paying attention to folks who are younger or are folks who are older. I remember reading some studies in Florida where you see floor many communities in Florida cater to the aging population. And in those same communities you see spikes in juvenile delinquency because there is not enough programming for the younger population. But working in the college setting we use terms like millennial a lot and I’ve heard how do we deal with millennials millennial is a generation but it’s become a negative label that you don’t hear the word millennial and hear a lot of positivity come out of that. You don’t hear the word baby boomer and have a lot of positivity come out of that when you think about community work. Oh how do we deal with the baby boomers and all of this. You know there are going to be flooding the assisted living and nursing homes and how do we deal with this.
Dr. Jones: [00:12:14] We try to compartmentalize people.
Lee Ferrell: [00:12:16] Well, we try to compartmentalize people all the time. This is just one of those examples. And one of the things that I became so interested in is that just like any groups that we study who are marginalized they oftentimes don’t pair up together because they see one another as competition for civil rights. Really. And so I saw this group the millennial group the younger generation and the baby boomer generation who are oftentimes being compartmentalized and marginalized. But what happens when you filter and diffuse this intergenerational communication between them. How can you build some consensus and how can you build some equity when you bring them to the table in the community in terms of decision making and planning.
Dr. Jones: [00:13:08] Yeah that’s terrific. You’ve got a lot going on.(laughs)
Lee Ferrell: [00:13:12] <laughs> (laughs) Got a lot going on. Got a lot going on.
Dr. Jones: [00:13:14] So here’s a question I’d love to ask social workers. I ask my students this I asked my therapy clients this what do you do to take care of yourself?
Lee Ferrell: [00:13:25] I wish I could say the typical I exercise a lot but I don’t typically my exercise comes from me frantically running across campus and that is my exercise. But I engage a lot with people. I have a lot of my really close personal social relationships with friends with family and I think it’s really important to keep those things intact. Oftentimes we can see those those just blow by us and we realize that we have missed out on some time that we can never get back with some of those people and even if even if it’s more in the morbid sense but you know people still they move forward and they grow and they develop. Whether you’re are by their side or not. And you don’t want to miss out on those times with friends and family. So that’s one way… I’m very much into a lot of popular culture because I like to incorporate that into my courses for the students. You know it’s really funny that we bring this up because when we think about millennials and the age gaps I’m a huge fan of Survivor and I watch Survivor all the time and I think engaging with that and even talking about it with friends and having friends share and that it’s a good way to kind of escape from you know school and work in some of these other things. But Survivor very interestingly did a season where they hit Millennials and Gen Xers against each other. And so….
Dr. Jones: [00:15:05] I’m curious who won, who that.
Lee Ferrell: [00:15:07] A millennial did but it was really interesting because when I was having conversations about my dissertation proposal this season was airing and I thought what a good time to be doing this that the the media is talking about this generation war and you see on the TV that these people that have such stereotypical views of one another what a millennial is what an older person is so to speak and then actually having to work with them in a scenario that it’s no longer my child or my parent. But it’s just another person out here and I have to live with them and survive with them. It’s fascinating.
Dr. Jones: [00:15:49] I agree and it’s hard to turn your social work brain off when you’re when you’re looking around at the TV shows (laughs).
Lee Ferrell: [00:15:56] Absolutely. I you know I have found myself watching so many different shows or movies and thinking Oh this reminds me of what so-and-so was working on or this reminds me of what I was working on or we had this conversation at work today and it still reigns true or you almost feel jaded or biased in a way and how you view characters in a movie or you even how you approach your social relationships based on things that you’ve been studying. And sometimes my friends have to remind me you know we’re we’re not your study subjects we’re like your friends.
Dr. Jones: [00:16:29] Right. My kids tell me that sometimes your dad stopped being a therapist just be our dad you know.
Lee Ferrell: [00:16:33] Yeah my parents they…. I think I finally broke some of this, but they used to tell people because and they’re very proud that I’m working on my doctorate. But they would tell people you know he’s learning how to take care of us when we grow old and I was like that’s not really what I’m trying to do. It’s just it’s all of this constant education and understanding of what it is social workers do and what it is that someone who’s working and aging does. And what my research does beyond just you know taking care of someone but really showing – showcasing life and showcasing that life doesn’t just end because you’re 60 or and because you’re an older person or it doesn’t start because you’re a young person who people believe don’t have any meaningful things to contribute because you’re the millennial getting past some of those compartmentalize labels.
Dr. Jones: [00:17:27] Yeah, I think that’s so important. Well I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. Really again very proud of you. I love the work that you’re doing and good luck.
Lee Ferrell: [00:17:40] Thank you so much.
Dr. Jones: [00:17:41] I’ll be calling you Dr. Ferrell next year.
Lee Ferrell: [00:17:43] Let’s hope but it sounds like you will (laughs).
Dr. Jones: [00:17:49] You’ve been listening to the social work Conversations podcast. Thanks for joining us. And now let’s move this conversation into action.
Announcer: [00:17:59] This production is made possible by the support of the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, interim Dean Ann Vail and all the faculty and staff who support researching contemporary social problems and prepare students for the social work profession. Hosted by Dr. Blake Jones produced by Jason Johnston. With thanks to our Web master Jordan Johnson. Music by Billy McLaughlin. To find out more about the UK College of Social Work and this podcast visit https://socialwork.uky.edu/podcast