Alessandra Ellis-Lodmell can't say enough positive things about her experience in Saint Leo University's Master of Social Work degree program. Not only did she learn so much that she continues to apply to her work, but she also made some everlasting friendships.

The 45-year-old native of Catania in the Sicily province of Italy says she met an American military member at the NATO installation there and moved to the U.S. to get married in her early 20s. Now remarried, she and her current husband, Joe, reside in Saint Marys, GA in southeast Georgia. They have three daughters, Dalilah Vandervieren and Kimberly and Shayne Wolfe.

Tackling Higher Education as an Adult Learner

According to Ellis-Lodmell, she has had a fascination with psychology and the human mind for many years.

"I've always been curious about what makes people tick and what is involved in mental processes and decision making," she explains.

For her undergraduate studies, she attended the College of Coastal Georgia to attain a Bachelor of Science in psychology focusing on human services. She wrapped up that degree in 2016. While there, she served as president of the International Association and vice president of the Psychology Club.

During her stint as a case manager with Starting Point, a nonprofit in the Jacksonville, FL area, a clinician she worked with told her about Saint Leo University and its Master of Social Work degree program.

"After that conversation, I started doing research and was really impressed with what Saint Leo offered," she recalls. "I thought it was an affordable graduate program compared to others out there."

She applied and was accepted into the program, embarking on her coursework in the fall of 2018.

Professors Exuding True Professionalism

She was highly impressed with her instructors in the graduate social work program.

"All of the professors in the program are literally experts in the field," she says. "They have been a huge resource for me. As I work with clients each day, I can still hear some of their teachings resonating with me in my mind."

A few who were extra memorable include Prof. Elizabeth Ruegg and Drs. Michael Campbell and Robert Lucio. In addition to soaking up a wealth of practical knowledge from them, she says they were always willing to help outside of class.

"They were very supportive and you could always reach out to them and talk to them."

What It Takes to Complete Graduate School

Having a strong support system both academically and personally is a key ingredient to succeeding in a graduate degree program, she advises.

"My husband was a very important figure throughout the whole process of me getting my Master of Social Work degree. He supported the family and our children even helped make dinner some nights. I'm very grateful for their support."

Benefits of Online Learning

She offers up plenty of praise for the online format of the master's degree program.

"They translated a face-to-face classroom into an online setting in which you could interact with your professors and smaller groups of students where you could work together on projects."

Plus, she found the experience to be quite user friendly.

"The technology used in the program was very advanced, but it was easy to use," she explains.

Face-to-Face Connections with Her Fellow Online Students

While it was an online degree program, she found several opportunities to meet up with some of her classmates who were within driving distance of her. These include Jessica Nudo, Cosset Cerra, Janet Braden, and Samantha Dunn.

"We lived within a few hours of each other, so we actually met up and spent time going out to dinner and supporting each other in our classes. It was really neat to be able to do that. I now consider them lifelong friends."

Saint Leo University's Core Values of Note

In terms of the six Saint Leo core values, she can appreciate all of them but notes two that are especially significant to her.

"Personal development has always stood out to me," she says. "No matter what u do or where you are in life, you should never stop learning and improving in your life. Excellence is also big for me because I try to be the best version of myself I can be each day."

Ellis-Lodmell completed the Master of Social Work degree in the spring of 2020.

Career Highlights

As far as her social work career, she has had several unique opportunities to gain practical experience in the field. One internship she completed was at The Arc Jacksonville, an agency serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"I designed a program for the participants there which encompassed art as a therapeutic means," she says. "I did a lot of research on art intervention and how expressing oneself through art can help people in so many ways. I even applied this research to one of my leadership classes in the MSW program."

Her current role is with Family Matters of Coastal Georgia where she works as a mental health clinician. Her main focus is individualized counseling through cognitive behavioral therapy. She explains how she got her foot in the door.

"I spoke with the owner of the company about potential opportunities," she says. "They created a program through which I could see clients who were uninsured on a cash basis. Now I'm able to see even more clients. My youngest client is 13 and oldest is 71. This variety of demographics makes it so interesting and keeps me on my toes."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of her appointments have been conducted virtually.

"I do prefer face-to-face appointments because of several reasons. I like to use certain types of lighting, soft music, and a diffuser with essential oils. Also, when clients get out of their home environments, I think the therapy can be more impactful being in a more neutral environment."

In addition to her full-time work, she serves as secretary on the board of directors at Camden Behavioral Wellness, a nonprofit agency based in her county in Georgia that supports the behavioral healthcare needs of all residents. Plus, she is a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Since completing her graduate degree, she has also attained her certification as an anger management specialist (CAMS-II). She is proud to say she passed the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) licensing exam to become a licensed master social worker (LMSW).

"I'm happy to say that the MSW program prepared me to do well on this exam. I didn't have to take any additional courses or purchase other study materials to do this."

Looking Ahead

She is currently on track to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

"As soon as I get 100 supervision hours and 3,000 clinical hours, I can take the exam for this certification."

And what kind of career goals does she have in mind?

"I had thought about working as a social worker on a military base, but now I think I'd like to stay in private practice. I could see myself eventually getting into teaching social work."

An Artistic Mind

When not helping her clients, she enjoys making sculptures and painting. This interest goes back to her time living in Italy and is something she has incorporated into some of her professional roles in social work.

"It's definitely my go-to stress reliever," she says.

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Alessandra Ellis-Lodmell and are used with permission.