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NewsAug 1, 2022

Tackling society’s most serious challenges

Lesley’s first Master of Social Work graduates are equipped to fight for change

MSW graduate cohort in academic regalia
Our Master of Social Work program graduated its first cohort this year. From left to right bottom row: Herdine Cheridor, Rose Pierre, Sydney Espy, Berline Robillard. Top row; Meagan Quinn and Sophie Vidaña.

May marked a major milestone for our Master of Social Work program with the graduation of its first cohort.

The first graduates of the program, a cohort of six, were Herdine Cheridor, Sydney Espy, Rose C. Pierre-Sylvester, Meagan Elizabeth Quinn, Berline Robillard and Sophia Elizabeth Lorenza Vidaña.

Some of the graduates, such as Cheridor, grew up in Boston and attended Lesley as undergraduates. Others, like Vidaña (San Diego, California) and Espy (Charlotte, North Carolina), came some distance to pursue their master’s degree.

“I actually found Lesley's MSW program from a random Google search,” Espy says. “I searched ‘Social Work Master's programs in New England.’ I was interested in the small class sizes and holistic approach that comes from a liberal arts school.”

Though Vidaña hails from the West Coast, she was already familiar with Lesley, having completed her bachelor’s degree here in Child, Youth and Family Studies, with minors in Sociology and Social work.

“What prompted me to pursue my MSW at Lesley was not only my love for the school and the area it is in, but the opportunity for Lesley alumni with the dividend program. It was very much a help financially,” Vidaña says, referring to the Lesley Dividend, our largest discount that provides Lesley graduates with 12 free credits toward a Lesley master's degree.

“I also had heard about the MSW program and knew it was a brand-new program the year I was entering, and this made me really excited,” she adds. “Excited about being a part of the first cohort, as well as having a part in the adjustments of this program. It was scary being part of the first cohort, but it was nice how often they asked our opinions and how it could be better for the years to come. It made us feel like our opinions mattered and were heard.”

Cheridor, an Everett, Massachusetts, resident who grew up in Boston’s Mattapan section, also learned about the MSW program while finishing her Lesley undergraduate studies. She majored in Counseling and had a double minor in Psychology and Social Work, and originally was seeking a graduate program in Licensed Mental Health Counseling.

But her experiences and interactions prompted a different path.

“I connected to (acting program Director) Joshua Baldwin right around the time applications were due to LMHC programs and expressed my excitement and concerns around graduation and next steps,” Cheridor says. “He shared his journey in connection to social work and, believe it or not, that is what allowed me to be content with taking a year off to figure it out at my time.”

That time also provided other lessons for Cheridor.

“Another advisor of mine at Lesley, Uma Chandrika Millner, connected me to an educator position in an elementary school in Newton,” Cheridor says. “In addition to being the only Black after-school educator and feeling the weight of being the diversity worker to bring awareness to the issues some of the students of color were facing, (issues exacerbated by Covid) … prompted me to pursue my MSW at Lesley University.”

Quinn, a Sutton, Massachusetts, resident who grew up in nearby Millbury, was similarly excited to become part of the first cohort when she learned about the master’s program. Quinn, a Marine Corps veteran who began her undergraduate studies in Human Services at Anna Maria College, earned her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts, with a focus in Human Services, via our Center for the Adult Learner.   

She really appreciated the program and its flexibility.

“Beginning my MSW, I knew that it would be difficult,” Quinn says. “I am a single mother who was juggling two jobs and trying to return to school, and in the height of a pandemic. With the ability to do classes virtually, it helped me be able to take care of my daughter at home where she was comfortable while attending classes.”

Her instructors understood if Quinn needed to turn her camera off, or if they saw a little girl’s head pop into the frame. And there was more good news when the classes were in-person.

“My professor, Dr. Jean Clarke-Mitchell as well as (Baldwin) were very open to allowing me to bring my (6-year-old) daughter to class and were great about including her in the classes whenever possible,” Quinn says.

Life outside Lesley

With their master’s degrees in hand, the women know many social work challenges lie ahead.

“The great thing about social workers is that they are educated in how to help a variety of populations and be able to wear so many different hats,” says Quinn, adding that her focus is the area of substance abuse.

“We are in a time of our lives, where social workers are needed more than ever,” Vidaña says, adding that their skills can be brought to bear on the issues of gun violence, poverty, the justice system and even the stigma against those struggling with mental illness.

Espy agrees that the area of mental health care requires more attention, yet attention must also be paid to the contributing factors, such as a lack of livable wages and affordable housing.

Cheridor adds that social workers are needed to jump in the breach of the nation’s systemic racial strife, and that’s what motivates her.

“Black lives, Brown and Black bodies being ignored, neglected, shunned, turned away. Racial tensions, living while Black means living with fear while being forced to be resilient,” Cheridor says. “Dying for being Black, for walking down the street, sleeping in your own home, driving your own car, exercising your own rights.

“All of that and for that, make me want to be a social worker, will make me a great social worker and unfortunately, those experiences, those lived experiences make the field of social work important and needed.”

Baldwin, an associate professor, extols the virtues of this groundbreaking cohort.

“The social work faculty are beaming with pride at the accomplishments these students achieved both in the classroom and in their social work field placements,” he says. “Each and every one of these students is an asset to the social work profession. We are proud to call them Lesley University graduates!”

Graduates smile during Commencement
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