Davina Mena, originally from Tucson, is passionate about her Latino community and has dreamed of supporting and advocating for cultural organizations in a meaningful way for over a decade.
Those dreams are coming true this fall. Mena graduated from U.S.S. online with a Master in Social Work from Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
The mother-of-three made the decision to quit her job as a behavioral health technician at the start of the pandemic for her family. She soon realized that taking time off from work meant more time to pursue higher education.
“My mom and my husband said to me, ‘Two years come and go, and either you’re going to graduate or you won’t graduate,'” Mena said. “They were right. Two years have passed, and now I can’t wait to get back into the workforce.
Mena said the master’s program opened up opportunities for her that pushed her out of her comfort zone. Her studies and internships were a powerful reminder of why she chose this path and helped solidify the many ways she could empower her community through her social work.
“My last internship for the MSW program was with US Congressman Raul Grijalva’s office as a congressional intern,” Mena said. “Mr. Grijalva and his congressional staff have solidified for me what my entire academic journey has meant to me – my community. United States, and I have seen with my own eyes the immigration journey for hundreds of people.
At the heart of Mena’s social work ethic is the value and importance of human relationships.
“I do my best to bring my personal and professional identities together so that I can provide those I have the privilege of serving with an authentic experience,” she said. “It’s a beautiful moment to hear the testimony of someone’s life and to feel connected to them.”
If Mena could offer any advice to future learners, it would be to lean into the unnerving and the unknown, because these are the opportunities that offer the most growth.
“The best way to learn is by doing, and the work experience classes towards the end of my program were perfect (for that),” she said. “It’s always stressful to start a new internship, especially in areas I didn’t know, but that’s where I learned the most. They allowed the teaching and learning space to become tangible and real.
Mena shares her experience pursuing her education through ASU Online and tips for those who decide to pursue the same degree.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: It was often an ongoing joke with my academic advisor that I was on the 10-year plan at community college because I knew I wanted to help people, but I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to help people. After exploring nursing, the idea of becoming a lawyer or a teacher, she casually suggested social work. After my first lesson, I was hooked. Focusing on social work has allowed me to participate in social change and help people in various capacities.
Q: What did you learn at ASU Online — in class or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I wish I could say there was a specific lesson learned during my time in the program, but nothing comes to mind, only a feeling. A strong surge of confidence that eases the anxiety that tries to paralyze me as I think about my future. You see, I not only survived this program, I thrived on it.
This whole MSW student experience has been difficult. It tested me academically, physically, mentally and emotionally. So many nights without putting my babies to bed because I had to finish an assignment, working with classmates and teachers with different personalities was difficult at times and yet I still delivered quality work, made myself a few good friends in Phoenix and I networked like my life depended on it.
The lesson I learned during my time in this program was that I can do hard things and do them with grace. I always lacked self-confidence as a social worker, like I never did the right thing the right way. And now I have confidence in my skills. The truth is, social work deals with people and all the beautiful and difficult things that make us human – there’s never a right way to work with the human mind. I’m ready now though. I know a few theories and what they might look like mobilized. If there’s something I don’t know, give me a week and I can write you a short article on it, APA format of course. I have built my skills as a social worker and I feel ready to enter the professional world with developed services to offer future clients.
Q: Why did you choose ASU Online?
A: ASU Online was flexible and accommodating to me and my family’s needs. When I started the program I had a 6 year old, a 4 year old and a 1 year old, so flexibility was a big must. Being an online student has allowed me to always be there for my growing family and to have my teachers readily available with just a few taps from my keyboard without having to leave home.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson at ASU Online?
A: Catherine Crowley lectures SWG 610: Advanced Social Work Practice III, and taking his course was amazing! All of her video lectures were personal and she was always available when I had questions.
What I appreciated the most in her class is that she integrated into our program the participation in the activities of the newspaper “Mind Over Mood”. These activities developed mindfulness and were a great way to reflect on our academic journey.
Q: What is the best advice you would give to those still in school?
A: The social work program will test you in every way. It will challenge your worldview, your privileges, and the systems in which we operate unconsciously. It might even peel away some layers of self that you may not have known about. If you can read between the lines of assignments, which can sometimes be awkward, and read the 20+ suggested readings in your modules, I promise there will be at least one golden nugget in every reading and assignment that will sharpen your skills.
Q: Where was your favorite place for the power study?
A: Once I put my daughters to bed, I loved sitting at the breakfast bar with a cup of coffee, all the lights in the house turned off except for the stove light and the TV light on…I had some of my best study done between 9:30pm and 2am right in the kitchen.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I hope to dedicate my time, experience and education to empowering and supporting cultural organizations, especially the Latin (a/o/x) community in mental health and intergenerational healing.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve a problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: You can’t ask a social worker to deal with ONLY ONE problem! It’s torture for us.
I would make plans for the $40 million to promote wellness for all ages and all individuals. Wellness can look and be many different things to people.
Written by Margot LaNoue for ASU Online.