Ask a Professor: Mary Hylton Discusses the Future of Social Work

View all blog posts under Faculty Interviews | View all blog posts under Social Work

What does the future of social work look like? Just ask University of Nevada, Reno Social Work Professor Mary Hylton. With more than 20 years of experience in social work, Dr. Hylton has unique insights on the industry’s current and future trends and demands, and the ability to weave them into every course.

Learn more about today’s and tomorrow’s social work field from Dr. Hylton in the short question-and-answer session below.

Why did you go into social work?
I believe a lot of social problems we experience in our society stem from structural issues, particularly from inequality. As a sociology undergraduate, I acquired tools to analyze these issues, but not to do something about it. That’s why I went into social work. I chose a master’s in social work program that had a concentration in community organizing, planning and administration with the intent that we can change some of those social structures.

Why do you think social work is one of the nation’s most crucial and fastest-growing professions?
I think social work is crucial given the level of economic and social inequality we have in our country. It’s fast-growing because it’s a flexible field that allows people to do a multitude of things and work in a variety of settings.

What are the most common challenges social workers face today?
The biggest challenge social workers face is being under-resourced. Social workers are put in the position of tackling the outcomes of huge degrees of social and economic inequality without the resources to always do it adequately.

What does it take to be an effective social worker?
Critical thinking, problem solving and flexibility in thinking are the three most important skills. Because of the complexity of problems, social workers have to think critically, beyond what is obvious to uncover solutions to the challenges of practice.

How do you foresee the field changing?
We have an aging population and increased opportunities for working in health care. These opportunities put social work in an interdisciplinary position. We need to be prepared to work with interdisciplinary teams and think outside the box more than in the past.

What are employers, in rural and urban settings, looking for in Master of Social Work graduates?
Employers look at the degree first, but also personality. The people who advance and move beyond entry-level positions are those who are innovative, smart, can-do people – the ones who say, “Here’s a problem and I am going to find a way to solve it.”

What advice might you give to a potential online Master of Social Work student to be successful in the field after graduation?
Always remember that you are a person first, a social worker second and an agency employee third. Your perspective should always be driven by humanist values and your code of ethics. Often people become agency employees first and forget the humanist or ethical perspective.

If there’s one thing you want a potential student to know about the Online Master of Social Work program, what would it be?
The AGP concentration really prepares you for a wide array of opportunities in social work — some you may not even have considered.

Do you have questions? Learn more about your role in social work’s future with the University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Social Work program today. The School of Social Work at University of Nevada, Reno has a long history of educating Nevada’s social workers and professionals in the United States. Its focus is to educate, advocate, and empower.