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Professional Networking is Path to Next Steps

Phyllis Shelman-Ford, MSW ’15

Phyllis Shelman-Ford, MSW ’15, studied political science and history at Clark Atlanta University (CAU), but it was her summer job as a camp counselor that led her to the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

As a freshman at CAU, she saw a flyer looking for camp counselors with the C5Youth Foundation, a camp for kids with high potential who come from high-risk environments.

C5Youth Foundation embraces a “live to lead” philosophy and works to close the gap between income and achievement for Georgia students by transforming the lives of high-potential teens from challenged environments, empowering them to lead themselves and their communities.

I looked at a lot of graduate schools, and when I looked at the U-M SSW alumni and what they’re doing across the country, in addition to the school’s top national ranking, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.

Phyllis Shelman-Ford, Child Welfare Scholarship Recipient

“I saw the flyer, applied for the camp counselor position and it was a life-changing experience,” she said.

Shelman-Ford taught leadership skills as a camp counselor for four years, and was able to follow her eighth grade campers until they graduated from high school.

“It was a beautiful thing to watch them learn and grow” Shelman-Ford said, “so much more than what they’d get in a traditional setting. Being in an isolated environment lets the campers focus on themselves, and teaches them how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

“Through my camp counselor experience, I saw these children who had so much potential but didn’t have someone nurturing their talents,” Shelman-Ford said. “That experience helped me see the social issues in their communities. I learned so much about compassion and patience and empathy, which is so important with the work I do.”

Shelman-Ford’s work as a camp counselor inspired her to get an MSW.

“I looked at a lot of graduate schools, and when I looked at the U-M SSW alumni and what they’re doing across the country, in addition to the school’s top national ranking, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

Shelman-Ford loves her classes and her field placement with the Family Assessment Clinic in Washtenaw County, where she works with multistress families and children who have experienced some sort of trauma.

“I’ve learned how to help family members navigate the resources available to them,” Shelman-Ford said, “and that work has been really rewarding because I’m able to hone in on my clinical skills and learn how trauma affects the body, and the ability to be resilient. I’ve learned how to collaborate with different systems and help families deal with the stressors.”

Graduation is just around the corner for Shelman-Ford, and not surprisingly, she has established a professional network in the Detroit area. 

“I’m from Washington, DC, and I’ve seen how a city can change, and I think Detroit has some great possibilities ahead,” she said. “I would love to be a part of Detroit’s growth and work with an agency offering wraparound services including healthcare and educational services that’s focused on community so that people don’t have to go to multiple places to get what they need.”

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