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Leigh Robertson: Combining Passion, Preparation and Purpose

As she approached her retirement, Leigh Robertson recounted how she came to the Office of Field Education in the School of Social work as a field educator, lecturer and field liaison.

 Robertson has been a social worker since 1980. “I discovered a love for higher education early in my career. I was thinking about doing student life or residence life work. I learned how to do macro social work as an executive director in Cleveland. I eventually moved back to Michigan and got my MSW at Western Michigan University. I did my field placement in Battle Creek at the VA with Betsy Voshel. Eventually, Voshel became the director of field education at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and hired me in 2006.”

 Robertson was excited about the opportunity. “I’m not an alum of Michigan. Actually, one of my claims to fame is the fact that I did not go to Michigan, but I work here. I felt extra excited when I actually got hired. ”She was aware Michigan was more than just a powerful brand or a top tier School of Social Work, but a place where she could uniquely combine her passion, preparation and purpose. She could be completely herself in the work environment. “For me there are so many reasons the job is so appealing because it married social work and higher ed, which are my two loves. It also married the academy with the community. It also allowed me to teach the next generation of social workers.” 

 During her time in the Office of Field Education, Robertson often drew on her experience from all of the field placements she had in her career. This allowed her to help her students understand how to develop their social worker identity and apply the Council on Social Work Education standards in their own social work practice. She described her goal as helping students find the courage and clarity required to make the right social worker decisions in the heat of the moment. “Yes, we are teachers, but all social workers have to learn how to decide stuff in the moment in light of our moral code and commitments.”

 Robertson describes her colleagues as a family and a team. Robertson’s career highlights include receiving the distinguished lecturer award and being celebrated for her work with over 1500 students. A key highlight and legacy of her career is the Out in Field program that she spearheaded. “I came out in the ’80s. I always had to navigate my identities. This job allowed me to be completely authentically myself. It also allowed me to be able to mentor and grow our students. So, one of my legacies will be our Out in Field initiative.”

 In a wonderful way, she has come full circle. She started her career as a domestic violence counselor. She attended the March on Washington in the late 1970’s. She is a community organizer at heart. She is comfortable in the field and is energized by work that is located in the streets. She has often felt more comfortable in the field as opposed to the ivory tower of abstract theorizing. Leigh has a lifelong commitment to social justice. Whether formally employed or not she plans to continue to work at the intersection of social justice and volunteering in the community. “The intersectionality of social justice is real. I feel like my volunteer commitment is going to be around homelessness and food insecurity.”

As for retirement, Robertson feels blessed to be able to retire. “I’m really interested in not working to be honest. I am going to travel. I am going to spend more time with my sister, my mother, my wife and travel.” 

However, her work won’t stop. In fact, retirement will open up other opportunities to continue to impact the next generation of social workers. “I think that down the road I would do limited license supervision for new professionals as they are launching into their careers.”



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