Hannah Neto is a second-year student in the AWELL (Advancing Health and Well-being across the Adult Lifespan) concentration; her current field placement is with Kaiser Permanente. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Before coming to Berkeley Social Welfare, what were you doing?
I was working as a licensed vocational nurse at a clinic where we processed a lot of immigration applications; we were in charge of doing the health screening. We did lots of physicals, including assessments on CHP officers, and a wide array of other services. And then I was also simultaneously going to school for my bachelor's in social work at San Jose State, so I worked full time and went to school full time.
What motivated you to pursue an MSW?
My whole family is in medicine. My grandfathers were doctors, and all my aunts and my mom were nurses, and my grandmother was a pharmacist. So I tried to follow the nursing path. However, when my grandmother passed away, the hospice social worker did some bereavement work with us. I started talking with her, and I volunteered in organizations like JW House, Girls for Change, and Meals on Wheels. And something about this type of work just drew me more to it.
I applied both to get my RN and I also applied for Social Work at San Jose State. And I'm like "I'll just go to whichever program, I'll let life lead me." I got into both, but I chose social work because I might as well pursue something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life and that I'm really passionate about. And it's still in the service of others.
And then my mission kind of changed in the population I'm working with. In Filipino culture, there's a lot of stigma around seeking therapy. People who seek therapy, they label them as crazy. They're kind of cast aside by society. There's a notion that if you're dealing with a problem, you keep it within the family, you don't want to air out dirty laundry. So in a lot of ways, me being in social work, and me wanting to be a clinical social worker and provide therapy services is stepping out of the mold and breaking some barriers within my culture.
Why did you choose the Berkeley MSW program in particular?
Through conversations with my professors. I was in student government at San Jose State. Emily Bruce supervised the student government program, and she went to UC Berkeley. Dr. Lee, who is also the director of San Jose State's [social work] program, also came from UC Berkeley. They said, "We love San Jose State and it will prepare you well for a career in social work. But if you want to really understand why you are doing certain things that you do, and have a full understanding of the theory behind it, go to Berkeley."
Could you talk a little bit about your field placement?
I'm at Kaiser South San Francisco in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine. At the beginning of the year, it was hybrid: we would provide therapy services Wednesdays and Thursdays online, and then I would go in on Fridays when my field supervisor would be in the clinic as well. Things shifted to fully online [because of COVID prevalence] and the transition has been pretty seamless, but hopefully I can go back to in-person.
How has your experience been overall with field placement?
I love my experience, because I do both individual and group therapy. Last year I was at Sutter Health Alta Bates. I really pushed for that internship — even though it's not usually open for first-year students — because I wanted a mental health setting in a hospital. That was more group therapy, and my current placement gives more experience to do individual [therapy]. I feel like they treat us with soft gloved hands, although sometimes they really push us because we're combined with post-MSWs and also post-doctorates. So we also learn from our peers.
COVID has caused a lot of disruption over the last year. Is there anything that you'd like to share about how that experience has been for you?
When we went online last March, it definitely threw us all for a loop. Our instructors, the school, my peers... we were all struggling to come to terms with not seeing each other until the end of the year. And then as the summer went on, it gave us an opportunity to adjust our thought process and how we viewed this opportunity to go to school online. And I think that has helped. It's definitely hard to give 100%. We, as students, are all striving to do the best that we can. But it's sometimes the best that we can be right now is not what we used to be. Our professors have been really flexible. They try to make it work and they just have more patience, and I'm really grateful for that.
There was definitely some talk from some of my classmates about whether or not they should step away from the program and come back when this whole pandemic is over. I didn't have that option, but I felt secure progressing forward, in part because there was so much support from the faculty and staff.
What do you appreciate most about the program here?
The wealth of knowledge that professors have shared. They work so hard on their craft and they're so passionate that you can't help but be swallowed up by their enthusiasm. Jennifer Jackson is amazing. Christine Scudder was so understanding as well. Last spring semester [at the beginning of shelter in place] when things felt like they were falling apart, I felt safe and secure because Greg [Merrill] was someone I could trust to help me figure out what to do for my internship. The professors have just gone above and beyond.
What keeps you busy outside the MSW program?
I've been helping my mom transition into retirement. I also have two dogs, and one of them is a little puppy. And I have been going on a lot of hikes during the pandemic; I'm so grateful that there's a trail two blocks away from our home.
Is there anything else that you might want to add?
Going to UC Berkeley has been definitely a lifetime dream. I bought a UC Berkeley sweater when I was 17. And I said, "I'm gonna go to UC Berkeley. I don't know how since they don't offer a nursing program." That was the sweater that I wore when I took my board exam for nursing, and I wore it when I took my finals at San Jose State, and I still have it. And here I am at UC Berkeley. I've been really grateful to be in this program.