Tessy Pachner, who received her PhD from the University of Kentucky College of Social Work in December, was among those social workers who answered the call to help as a wave of refugees from conflict-ridden countries including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Europe in 2016. A native of Germany, Pachner had just completed a master’s of social work program in the U.S. and returned home to help some of the more than one million refugees and asylum seekers acclimate to their new surroundings.
“My first job as a social worker was with unaccompanied minor refugees, mainly from Syria, who fled during the crisis,” Pachner said. “I saw how these teenagers and young adults had a lot of struggles and a lot of successes. That kind of sparked my interest–what else can we, as social workers, do to help?”
That spark would lead Pachner to return to her studies and pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. “I chose UK because everyone was very interesting. They made sure I had a support system, and there were assistantships available,” Pachner said. Having the opportunity to learn from researchers who had worked with refugee populations was also a big factor in her decision.
Under the guidance of UK College of Social Work faculty, Pachner developed a practical skillset and confidence that can be readily applied in her future work. “The teaching practicum really helped me prepare for being an educator and figure out my teaching philosophy,” Pachner said. “The research practicum helped me understand how research works. It was my first experience doing actual research and it definitely set the foundation for my dissertation process.”
Pachner’s research continued her focus on understanding how to help refugees become comfortable in their new environment, find employment, and thrive in their new community. Specifically, she looked at what support systems help refugees in Germany find jobs, including the differences in employment attainment by men and women refugees.
After graduating with her PhD from UK College of Social Work in December, Pachner plans to return to Germany and use her degree for both research and fieldwork.
“I really want to pursue my passion of doing research with the refugee populations, but I also would like to find a job as a social worker so I keep my practice experience,” Pachner said. “Research is a lot about numbers and it’s also more behind the scenes, but I still want to be at the front and helping people.”