Faith Spillman (MSW, '16) shares her experience as a MSW graduate student and reflects on how an internship with the Alexandria Public Defender's Office inspired her to pursue a career as a social worker, supporting court-involved youth.
Faith Spillman (MSW, ’16) began her graduate school journey with a mission to find a career that supports adolescents and young adults. When she joined the Master of Social Work program at Mason, she learned about the variety of ways she would be able to achieve her career goals and help young adults in the process.
“The MSW program really broadened my horizons because I didn’t know there were so many types of social work,” Spillman said. “Before I [started my MSW], I assumed I would work in Child Protective Services (CPS) or Foster Care because that is what I knew social workers did. When I think back on my time at Mason, a lot of my focus was on reducing the number of youths who are police involved or court involved.”
During her second year in the program, Spillman accepted an internship that changed her career aspirations. After expressing that she would like to work with court-involved youth, Spillman’s practicum advisor connected her to an internship with the Alexandria Public Defender's Office. “That internship completely changed my career desires and what I wanted to do,” Spillman said.
The opportunity allowed Spillman to get a glimpse of how interdisciplinary the field of social work is and inspired her to pursue a career in the criminal justice field. “The internship was vital in preparing me for where I am today,” Spillman said. “I feel like that was such an integral part of my education.”
Spillman’s first post-graduation role was with Pathway Homes, a nonprofit organization in Fairfax, Virginia. In this role, Spillman worked with adults with mental health challenges. “It was a wonderful learning opportunity,” Spillman said. “It really expanded my understanding of psychotropic medications, clinical practices, residential care, and case management.”
Following her desire to work with youth, Spillman later transitioned into a new role in the law enforcement field. As the Youth Services Coordinator with the Alexandria Police Department, Spillman works to reduce the occurrence of adolescents and young adults becoming involved in the criminal justice system. Spillman accomplishes this through connecting youth and families to local resources, instructing Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings, developing community-based programs and initiatives, as well as coordinating outreach events to bridge the gap between governmental agencies and the communities they serve.
“What we found here in the City of Alexandria is that we are super fortunate in terms of resources,” Spillman said. “However, the youth and families don't always know they exist or how to access them.”
One of Spillman’s favorite outreach initiatives is organizing community outreach cookouts, an event that involves bringing neighborhoods together while raising awareness for local organizations and agencies committed to serving the community. The cookouts began several years ago under the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities’ SafePlace Program. With Spillman’s assistance, the program grew to now having over 80 service providers that help sponsor events and share helpful information with communities throughout the City of Alexandria. Even with COVID restrictions and precautions, the 2021 cookouts linked around 1600 community members to resources, including offering on-site COVID vaccinations.
“The goal of [the cookouts] is to bring all of us to the community, so they know that we exist, we care for them, and we support them,” Spillman said.
Spillman’s commitment to serving her community did not go unnoticed. To recognize her service, Spillman was recently honored in the “40 under 40 Honorees” by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Zebra Press.
Having worked in a field that supports her passion, Spillman advocates for social workers and encourages current and prospective students to reach out to her with any questions regarding the program, career opportunities, or what it is like to be a social worker.
“One thing that is awesome about the social work field is that it’s super flexible,” Spillman said. “You can end up becoming a therapist, work in policy, do outreach, and even write grants. The skills that we learn as MSWs are translatable to other fields.”
As a proud Mason alumna and accomplished social worker, Spillman continues to pass along the support she received throughout her career to others, as she strongly believes in creating communities that help one another. “We are all better together,” Spillman said.