Student Growth Assessment Paper

Student Growth AssessmentAngela MatijczakVirginia Commonwealth UniversityAbstractThis paper is a self-evaluation of my growth throughout my first semester of the Virginia Commonwealth University MSW program. This course in particular has been instrumental in beginning a process of growth, both personally and professionally. First, this paper re-assesses the primary influences on my behavior that had initially been discussed in a previous assignment. Then, I assess my ability to be self-aware, a skill that I have improved immensely in the past three months. Additionally, I discuss the challenges that I have grappled with, some of which have promoted growth and others that require more attention and work. Finally, I consider my potential contribution to the field and the manner in which I can be a beneficial professional. Student Growth AssessmentContinuous growth is a vital part of achieving success in any profession. There is always room to learn and develop, both personally and professionally; this process is particularly important for those in the social work field, due to the sensitive, taxing nature of the job. Objectively, I have had a quite successful semester. Regarding grades and knowledge of the material, my improvement has been noticeable. However, my growth at a personal level is more difficult to evaluate positively. This semester has been personally challenging in a number of ways, some of which have led to growth, but others have highlighted my limitations that require more work and development. The aim of this paper is to reflect on my past assignment, as well as my progress throughout the course in the past three months, and thoroughly assess and evaluate myself. Regarding my Influences on Human Behavior assignment, I still agree with the three influences that I initially chose as having a primary impact on my behavior. However, I do think that I have re-evaluated the weight that each influence has on my behavior now (versus at the beginning of the semester). I believe that I underestimated the importance of biology, particularly genetics, on my behavior. In my previous paper, I presented evidence of the genetic element of mental health disorders (Brent & Melhem, 2008; National Institute of Mental Health, 1997; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2008; Telman, van Steensel, Maric, & Bögels, 2018), in which my family history leads me to be predisposed to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality. I discussed how I am cautious of my behavior to avoid these predispositions, but, despite making these active efforts, I unexpectedly struggled with my mental health this semester. This isn’t necessarily surprising given the stressful, emotionally draining nature of the content and format of the program. However, it was surprising for me because this was something that I thought I was prepared for, but I failed to consider the combined impact of genetic predispositions with an immensely stressful environment. Thankfully, I am self-aware of these issues that have come up and, thus, can face them prior to entering the professional field.Being able to say that I am self-aware was a large part of my development this semester. Coming into the program, I did not spend a great deal of time reflecting on my emotions or how I felt on any given day. I frequently engaged in denial, a common defense mechanism that involves ignoring or not acknowledging important information that may be upsetting (Hutchinson, 2019). In activities such as the Influences on Human Behavior assignment or class discussions, I have been forced to acknowledge my own vulnerabilities and the impact they have on my behavior. In particular, the discussion of the ACEs study and the copious evidence of how influential trauma experiences can be on every aspect of an individual’s life, from physical to mental health, was both painful and powerful for me (Felitti et al., 1998; Hughes et al, 2017; Kalmakis & Chandler, 2015). It was painful in the sense that I had to unbox past traumatic experiences that I had processed fully, and that understandably can be traumatizing on its own. However, I now recognize how important that process is and how empowered one can feel after engaging in that process. Though it is a work-in-progress, I am considerably more self-aware of my mental states now and, thus, am much better at predicting and regulating my emotions in unavoidable times of intensity or stress. Another challenge that I grappled with this semester was the experience of imposter syndrome. Clance and Imes (1978) coined the term “imposter syndrome” and defined it as the experience of academic illegitimacy, in which an individual feels they are not qualified to be in the position they hold and that their success is due to luck or external forces rather than ability or skill. Though they originally studied this experience for women in professional fields, recent research has found that is a particularly common experience for graduate students (Bothello & Roulet, 2018), and is especially prevalent for first-generation college students (Parkman, 2016). This experience can be extremely isolating and can lead students to avoid reaching out to professors, advisors, or others when they need assistance, thus affecting their ability to achieve success (Ramsey & Brown, 2018). The imposter phenomenon relates to the cognitive theories of social work practice, in that it provides an example of the cognitive distortion of arbitrary inference, in which an individual reaches a negative conclusion about a situation (in this case, their own ability) without sufficient evidence (Hutchinson, 2019). From a personal perspective, the experience of imposter syndrome was exactly as supported in the research. I felt very isolated, didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to peers for support, and certainly was not comfortable reaching out to professors because I felt that my questions would distinguish me as not belonging. I recognize that this is a challenge that I am still grappling with and is an area in which I need more growth. Unfortunately, the imposter phenomenon is present in many stages of one’s career trajectory, so while this is the first experience that I’ve had with it, it’s likely not to be my last. I am still working on the best ways to approach this challenge, but my first step has been to be more vocal about it. As mentioned previously, this experience is common and the more I’ve talked about it with my peers, the more I’ve realized that this is something many of us are feeling. That feeling of community helps provide me with a sense of support and also can be confidence booster, as the people around me are able to remind me of my strengths and weaknesses in a more objective way. In terms of my potential contributions to the field, one strength I’ve identified is my passion for research. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that most of the students are interested in pursuing a clinical career, and a smaller group is interested in macro work (ie. policy or nonprofit work), but I have yet to meet anyone interested in engaging in social work research (although this certainly does not mean that these students don’t exist). This is a benefit in numerous ways. Research in any field is extremely important; social work research provides the framework and evidence that is necessary for the implementation of interventions, the development of theory, the understanding of etiologies of disorders, and more. I hope to engage in research that informs the field and provides frameworks for best practices. Additionally, I have the ability to cultivate relationships with upcoming professionals engaging in clinical work. This is important, because as important as it is to have research-informed practice, it is equally as important for research to be practice-informed. A constant conversation between practice and research is needed in order for researchers to identify where the gaps in understanding are, and to be aware of new problems arising in the field. I hope that I can be a part of a group of researchers that strive to facilitate that conversation. In conclusion, my growth this semester has been noticeable, but cannot be classified as complete. There are areas that need further improvement and work, and there are areas of growth that reflect my potential as an emerging professional in the field of social work. I hope to be in a continuous process of growth and self-improvement, led by self-reflection and self-awareness. This course has been instrumental in beginning that growth process, and I strive to stay committed to engaging in growth throughout my graduate and professional career. ReferencesBothello, J., & Roulet, T. J. (2018). The imposter syndrome, or the mis-representation of self in academic life. Journal of Management Studies, 56(4), 854-861.Brent, D. A. & Melhem, N. (2008). Familial transmission of suicidal behavior. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31(2), 157-177.Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241.Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., … & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American journal of preventive medicine, 56(6), 774-786.Hughes, K., Bellis, M. A., Hardcastle, K. A., Sethi, D., Butchart, A., Mikton, C., … & Dunne, M. P. (2017). The effect of multiple adverse childhood experiences on health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health, 2(8), e356-e366.Hutchison, E. (2019). Dimensions of human behavior: Person and environment (6th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Kalmakis, K. A., & Chandler, G. E. (2015). Health consequences of adverse childhood experiences: a systematic review. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 27(8), 457-465.National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; National Institute of Health. (2008) Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders. National Institute of Mental Health; National Institute of Health. (1997). Genetics and Mental Disorders: Report of National Institute of Mental Health’s Genetics Workgroup. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/advisory-boards-and-groups/namhc/reports/genetics-and-mental-disorders-report-of-the-national-institute-of-mental-healths-genetics-workgroup.shtml#acknowledgments. Parkman, A. (2016). The imposter phenomenon in higher education: Incidence and impact. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice, 16(1), 51.Ramsey, E., & Brown, D. (2018). Feeling like a fraud: Helping students renegotiate their academic identities. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 25(1), 86-90.Telman, L. G., van Steensel, F. J., Maric, M., & Bögels, S. M. (2018). What are the odds of anxiety disorders running in families? A family study of anxiety disorders in mothers, fathers, and siblings of children with anxiety disorders. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 27(5), 615-624.

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