Melissa Stewart, Ph.D., is happy she will get a chance to participate in one final VCU School of Social Work Commencement ceremony, after the 2020 event was switched from in-person to virtual because of COVID-19.
With the return of an in-person ceremony in 2021, Stewart will be able to say one last goodbye – albeit socially distanced – to graduates, and vice versa, before she retires June 30. She has served as assistant professor, tenured associate professor and M.S.W. Program director since she joined the school in 2000.
“The May commencement ceremony is always very special for me because I am able to greet all graduates personally and congratulate them,” she says. “I am so glad we will be able to have an in-person ceremony this year, even if it’s not the traditional one where we can give our graduates a hug and show them how much we care about them.
“Over the past year, it has been incredibly surreal to me that we have not been able to experience the energetic and diverse environment of the VCU campus and the Academic Learning Commons, as well as engage in thoughtful and lively interpersonal experiences with students and other colleagues.
“My decision to retire is definitely bittersweet. I will miss many things about the school, especially those interpersonal relationships. But the decision to retire was based on family factors that make this the right time for me.”
What will you miss the most?
“There are several things, really. I will greatly miss the vibrant diversity of the campus life. I will miss the camaraderie of my colleagues who have been wonderful partners and collaborators. I will miss interacting with stellar students who will graduate and become practitioners.”
What are you most proud of?
“First, I am proud of the implementation of the online format of the M.S.W. Program. While the ‘distance education’ format of the M.S.W. Program started rather modestly and improved over the years, it was enhanced when we engaged with an online program management company in 2019. As a result of that partnership, we have built high-quality online courses and a program that has contributed to a strong online presence in social work education.
“Second, I am grateful to the many people who contributed to the self-study materials that led to the reaccreditation of the M.S.W Program in the 2018-2019 year. Our submission to CSWE and our site visit was exceptional. As a result, CSWE fully reaccredited the M.S.W. Program for another eight years.”
What is your advice for graduates?
“Plan to be a ‘game changer.’ Think critically about the work you do. Your education has provided a solid theoretical foundation for understanding how to solve problems. Keep focused on the reasons you came into the program, which was to provide solutions to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people and communities.”
What is next for you?
“I look forward to spending more time with my partner, children and grandchildren and enjoying the outdoors. In addition, I plan to engage in volunteer work that provides opportunities for interaction with others through feeding or housing programs.”