When Daniel Gaylor received a hand-carved cross made of wood from one of his patients at the end of his life, Gaylor knew he was doing the right thing and making a difference in the world. This is also the moment he realized all the hard work he put into a Saint Leo MSW degree was worth it.

The 30-year-old native of Tampa, Fla. resides in nearby Land O'Lakes. He is the proud dad to two furry friends – a Beagle-Retriever mix named Sasquatch and a Labrador-Pit bull mix named Nellie.

A graduate of Land O'Lakes High School, he attained a bachelor's degree in psychology from Florida State University in Tallahassee.

"As I got into my undergrad, I got more interested in counseling and therapy," he says. "I reflected on how people would talk to me and how I might be able to help others."

Pursuing a Saint Leo Graduate Degree

The next step in his higher education would be right around the corner.

"When I graduated with my bachelor's, I was contemplating whether to go to grad school," he recalls. "So, my mom put me in touch with Dr. Cindy Lee, the chair of Saint Leo's MSW program. She talked to me about this online program and what I could do with this degree. After our conversation, I was immediately sold."

His mother, Dr. Barbara Caldwell, serves as the chair of the Department of Economics, Finance, and Accounting in the university's College of Business.

Shortly thereafter, Gaylor enrolled in Saint Leo's MSW program in August 2011 and wrapped up the graduate degree in 2014. He says two faculty members are memorable from his Saint Leo experience.

"Dr. Diane Scotland-Coogan was my supervisor for my licensure, and we had a great working relationship. Also, in the first year of the program, Dr. Patricia Senger gave us an assignment to do a role-playing exercise with another student where we'd play the social worker and had to talk with a client. At the end of this exercise, she told me to smile more and to remember why I wanted to get into this work. I remember feeling kind of ridiculous about being so focused on how to respond in the conversation, and she was absolutely right about having to make that personal connection with the client."

Core Values at Saint Leo

Since its founding, Saint Leo University has always held a number of core values in high regard. Gaylor can attest to how these values were implemented into the Saint Leo's MSW curriculum.

"In terms of personal development, I always sensed my professors wanted me to succeed and bring out the best in me, wanting us to strive to be the best we could be. We were shown the benefits of living our lives as decent people and clinicians. Plus, the core value of community is so important in social work. You have to view those around you as a support system and make those connections."

Advice to Future Students in Saint Leo's MSW Program

He believes this graduate program is so valuable for those who take full advantage of it.

"Soak up everything around you," he says. "Every conversation with your fellow students and professors can help you learn so much since we've all taken different paths. This program genuinely wants to make good clinicians out of everyone more than just being a student in a classroom or online."

The online format was perfect for his lifestyle, he adds.

"I honestly found the online program to be more enjoyable overall than my undergrad in a traditional classroom setting. We were all able to connect face-to-face with each other using a webcam. The online capability offered me the best of both worlds since I could continue working while earning an advanced degree and having flexibility."

Professional Pursuits in Social Work

Gaylor's introduction to the social work field began with an internship at Gulfside Hospice & Pasco Palliative Care in Pasco County. He then spent some time at the Veterans Administration in Tampa.

"After the VA, I was hired at Gulfside Hospice where I had interned. I was a social worker for a few years and was then promoted to social services manager."

As a manager, he now oversees 10 social workers and continues to work with patients in their homes and in nursing homes.

"Most of these patients are terminally ill and have six months or fewer to live," he explains. "My role is to comfort them and help them fight off denial."

The patient who was referenced earlier had a major impression on him.

"He was a man still living at home who I saw every two weeks. We had a great rapport, and he was a strong man of faith. He was a carpenter who did woodworking, and he made each of us on our staff a wooden cross in our favorite colors with our names on them. He gave these to me the last time I saw him."

Giving Back in Saint Leo's MSW Program

In addition to his full-time role with Hospice, Gaylor enjoys giving back to current students in Saint Leo's MSW program. He works as an adjunct professor

"I reached out to Dr. Courtney Weist about potential opportunities and was eventually asked to teach a few classes," he says. "I find teaching brings me back to the core values of this program. In my day job, we get caught up in real-life challenges. When I teach, it brings me back to what it means to be a social worker. It's truly a reminder for me about why I got into this work."

Wise Words for Future Social Workers

Thanks to his own journey already, he has some tips for aspiring social workers.

"It starts with a genuine ability and willingness to help those in need. You really have to be a source of someone they can vent to and someone who can step outside their own world to see others' perspectives."

Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Daniel Gaylor and is used with permission.