Graduating Adult Learner Honored by Professional Social Work Organization

May 16, 2017

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Sharmaine Burr, a Bachelor of Social Work student who studied at the Tampa Education Center was named the BSW Student of the Year for Tampa Bay Unit of the National Association of Social Workers – Florida. It is the first time that a Saint Leo student has been selected for the award.

Burr, 40, is among those who will participate in a local commencement Saturday, May 20, at the Tampa Convention Center. She and 13 classmates comprise the first cohort of BSW students to have completed the program in Tampa.

The opening of the program in Tampa has helped Burr achieve some long-held goals. When the program began enrolling students in 2015, she already had an associate degree in counseling and human services from Hillsborough Community College. She also had already been promoted to director of social services at the small emergency services agency where she has been working since 2012, ECHO (Emergency Health Care Organization) of Brandon.

She wanted to continue her education and work in a helping profession. (Her favorite inspirational saying is: “When we lose sight of our humanity, we lose sight of our purpose.”) She knew of Saint Leo’s long-established Bachelor of Social Work program at University Campus, which includes weekend offerings, but could not fit the long commute into her life. In addition to holding down a full-time job, she is married with two children.

There was a point at which Burr thought she would have to try a second-choice career program elsewhere, when she learned about Saint Leo’s BSW in Tampa. Burr said she felt called to social work, and that with this development, God was showing her a path, “and I had to go out and do it.”

So she enrolled at Saint Leo in Tampa, and with support from her workplace and from her family, managed to handle the added commitments of evening classes and a required field placement. She interned at a local church in its social services ministry. Burr applied her education and work experience to develop case management guidelines and procedures that will allow the ministry to service its clients more efficiently.

She took another step while in the program, in agreeing to fill a board position as the BSW student representative on the statewide board of the National Association of Social Workers.

Despite the added investment of time and energy required to be an effective student representative on the board, Burr saw the role as an opportunity to grow in professionalism as a new social worker. “I believe in being effective. I know I need to know the ins and outs of things,” she said.

During meetings, she found herself in rooms with veteran social workers whose careers she deeply admired. And she was honored, she said, that “they wanted to listen to me” on matters that Burr decided she could speak to.

NASW-FL Executive Director Jim Akin explained the importance of an involved student representative. “Her contributions and insights assist NASW-FL to continue to represent and support future social workers.”

In recognition of her efforts, Burr’s student peers named her BSW Student of the Year for the Tampa area. She was surprised and honored, she said.

The recognition is another in a growing list for her collegiate accomplishments and family work in the community.

Just last month, she was honored locally for community service by Black GIRLS (Gifted, Influential, Renowned, Ladies Showcased) Rock Tampa Bay, a group inspired by the national Black Girls Rock™ movement to promote self-esteem among teenage girls of color.

“God is really good. I give him the glory,” Burr said about the recognitions and university diploma she will soon receive.

She is happy, too, to share ownership of her new academic credential with her family in thanks for their support. “It’s their degree as well.”

Burr is not planning on stopping at the BSW, which provides graduates with the credentials to work in direct services in many settings, including social service agencies, hospitals, and schools. She has already started in the Master of Social Work degree program at Saint Leo. The MSW can lead to career paths in supervising agencies, programs, other social workers, and more.