Emily Nield wears a blue cap and gown and stands in front of a tree. She is smiling. Photo: Paul Jones

UOW Shoalhaven graduate reflects on the importance of community

UOW Shoalhaven graduate reflects on the importance of community

Emily Nield was an active member of campus community during social work degree

As the daughter of two nurses, Emily Nield was always drawn to the health space. She was motivated by a desire to help others and to truly make a difference.

In her final years of high school, the Cambewarra local realised her path lay in social work.

“Social work really gives you the chance to make an impact every day, in ways that are big and small. I also loved literature and creative writing, but I knew they wouldn’t give me the same opportunities to work with people that social work would,” Emily said.

While taking a few months off after high school, Emily travelled with friends through Europe, where she made decisions about her future while using the free Wi-Fi in local cafes. After receiving Early Entry to the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Wollongong and Shoalhaven campuses, she chose to stay local for the meantime with the aim of moving to Wollongong after a few months.

“I thought I would go to UOW Shoalhaven, stay at home, save some money and then transfer to Wollongong. But it was such an awesome little spot at Shoalhaven that I never moved. It turned into so much more.

“One of the big reasons I was so happy at Shoalhaven was the connections I made with my now fellow graduates. We stayed in the same tight-knit group throughout the entire four years of social work, and they will be my friends and colleagues for many years to come. We were, and continue to be, a great support to each other.”

Indeed, Emily, who on Wednesday (25 January) graduated from UOW with a Bachelor of Social Work (Distinction), became an active member of the student community at UOW Shoalhaven, located in West Nowra. She was among close to 50 fellow students, from the South Coast and Southern Highlands, who celebrated the conclusion of their degrees during the on-campus ceremonies.

Emily delivered the Vote of Thanks on behalf of the student cohort, a role that acknowledged her contribution to the campus community. As the student representative on the UOW Advisory Council, Emily advocated for the needs of students at UOW Shoalhaven. At the same time, she was a member of headspace’s Youth Reference Group, a position that saw her consult on policy and contribute to the events and services on offer.

“I really love being in a position to support others and to support them in any way I can,” Emily said.

Emily Nield, wearing a blue cap and gown, delivers the Vote of Thanks to the crowd at Shoalhaven Graduations. Photo: Paul Jones

In addition, throughout her time at UOW, Emily was Vice President of SHARP (the Student Health Alliance for Rural Populations), which saw her travel to schools along the South Coast, speaking to high school students about the importance of a career in rural health.

At UOW Shoalhaven, Emily found her place in the Bachelor of Social Work degree; it was everything she had imagined, and more.

“I loved it. I think you hear of a lot of students dropping out after a year or two, but I felt so lucky because I really enjoyed the content. It just clicked.

“The degree is really based on ethics and values, on having empathy for everybody, so I think when that is at the core of what you’re studying, you can get through it, no matter how much you might be feeling overwhelmed by your assessments.”

The social work course involves 1000 hours of practical training, split over the last two years of the degree. It is a daunting task for any student, and Emily said at times that the juggle between studying, placement and work, while still trying to maintain a social life, was overwhelming.  But she was able to carry out her placements in the Shoalhaven, while continuing to live at home and strengthen her connections in the local region.

“The placements are really stressful and full on. A lot of people don’t realise that we do 500 hours in the third year and 500 hours in the fourth year, which is more than teaching and nursing. During placement, you’re still trying to complete your uni subjects, so it’s a lot to juggle.”

The burden was lessened with the help of The Stevenson Family Scholarship in Social Work, awarded annually to students in their first year of the Bachelor of Social Work. The recipients are supported with a yearly stipend throughout their degree. Emily was awarded the prestigious scholarship in 2019, and said it made a significant difference to her financial situation and enabled her to study and undertake placement without the stress of additional jobs.

“I was so grateful for the scholarship. It meant that I could put petrol in my car, pay for appointments and upgrade my computer if needed.”

Emily is thrilled to have finally finished her degree but said it would not have been possible without the support of the lecturers and administration staff at UOW Shoalhaven, including administration assistants Adele Purhonen and Tracy Cox, and Student Support Advisor Sue Leppan. Emily also acknowledged Associate Professor Lynne Keevers from the School of Health and Safety.

“Lynne was the first person we met as social work students at Shoalhaven. She has had a huge impact on our experience of the course and of the campus. As a local herself, Lynne wanted to make sure our experience was just as good, if not better, than the students in Wollongong.”

For now, Emily has finally relocated to Wollongong to work in the health service. But she is hoping to work in regional or remote areas, and eventually also overseas.

“Social work is called and looks different in different parts of the world, but that sort of work is needed everywhere.”