Hoda Shalash is like many students in college.
She thought she knew what she wanted to major in, and for three years, Hoda worked toward her degree in special education. As she began filling out graduate school applications, Hoda realized how restricted she was in what she wanted to do.
“I always knew I wanted to work with inner-city kids and mentor youth, but I’m also so passionate about developing communities and working within them,” Hoda said. “So, I never saw myself within a school setting. I felt restricted by that.”
Everything in Hoda’s world outside of her schoolwork seemed to align back to social work. It became clear to her that that was where her passion for helping others was meant to be.
Hoda also realized how much more versatile a degree in social work would be.
“You know, getting your bachelor’s in education only certifies you to work in a school setting. A degree in social work is a lot more versatile,” Hoda said. “I hope to get my master’s in clinical social work, too, to apply those skills to whatever I do on a macro level.”
Changing her major felt like a quarter-life crisis. Still, once Hoda entered the social work program, she quickly found the fuel to ignite her passion for helping others. While sitting in one of her intro classes, she learned about the institutional injustices and systemic racism.
“I was sitting there, and this is going to sound so cliché, but the thing I told myself is – ‘If not me, then who?’ Our communities need so much healing, and that’s not going to get done if we don’t have enough social works and enough passionate social workers.”
Growing up as a Palestinian Muslim girl in Lexington, Kentucky, Hoda had the opportunity to see and experience the need for healing in the communities that surrounded her. One community that she felt a significant connection to was the one she grew up with. Being in Lexington played a substantial role in her decision to come to the University of Kentucky College of Social Work.
“Lexington plays a considerable role, as well as the community. So much of the faculty here are so interconnected and intertwined within the community. I think that there are so many people here doing amazing things,” Hoda said. “Like Dr. L (Diane Loeffler, Director of Undergraduate Programs), I met her at a coffee shop, and now we’re friends. Everyone here is so supportive. I look up to so many of the people here.”
Alumna Nada Shalash is also someone Hoda looks up to, and not just because she’s her big sister. Hoda said she is her biggest role model because of how passionate she is about social work. Not only has Nada been successful in her endeavors upon graduating, but Hoda has had the unique opportunity to see her passion grow throughout her time in the CoSW program.
And a growing passion is what has fueled Hoda to do the same.
“I think it’s been easy to be ambitious in this program and actually feel confident because there is so much support and so many opportunities for student success,” Hoda said. “Even financially, I feel like they (CoSW) offer great scholarships, and they always send job opportunities. I feel like they truly care about student success.”
The biggest take away for Hoda has been being able to finally study her passion – and it’s been fun. Although she struggled a little at the beginning when she switched her major, it was worth it knowing she had found her purpose.
Her advice to others having their quarter-life crisis is to sit and reflect on what their values are, to self-assess what they want in life and what their purpose is.
“It goes back to value setting. Once you layout your values, you realize how much it aligns with social work,” Hoda said. “That’s what’s going to take you far and what is going to reignite your passion. You also have to be open-minded and challenge your discomfort and learn from it. Within social work specifically, you can’t go far, and you can’t be successful if you don’t challenge yourself.
And as cliché as this is going to sound – unlearn your fears and hatred.”
Hoda anticipates graduating in May 2021 and is considering applying for the Integrated Behavioral Health program.