Mother, daughter earn MSWs together

Evelyn and Jasmine ScottJasmine Scott (photo right), front, and her mother, Evelyn Scott, graduated together in May with MSWs from the North Carolina Central University social work program. Courtesy photo.

When Evelyn Scott’s daughter, Jasmine, told her they should go to graduate school together, she thought Jasmine was kidding.

“It started as a joke,” Evelyn Scott said. “But going to grad school was on my bucket list, so we made a Christmas plan in 2013 to apply together.”

The Durham, N.C., residents and NASW members both graduated in May from the North Carolina Central University social work program with master’s degrees in social work.

The two-year journey to complete their degrees had plenty of bumps along the way, and at one point the pair almost gave up after Evelyn’s mother, Virginia Keith Scott, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Although she passed away before seeing her daughter and granddaughter graduate, it was her encouragement that made the Scotts stay the course.

Virginia Scott was a single parent — like her daughter — and instilled strong family values, Evelyn says. She was strong, and exemplified a warrior after her cancer diagnosis, she added.

“When we talked about taking a semester off to spend more time caring for her, she said ‘You will finish school,’ then went back to being silent,” Evelyn said. “Since she wasn’t talking a lot (during her illness), when she did she had everyone’s attention. We stayed in school.”

NASW-North Carolina Executive Director Kathy Boyd says it’s rare for a mother and daughter to pursue an MSW together.

“How special and meaningful to see two generations committed to service and the social work profession,” Boyd said. “And to be graduating together from the same program is just unique.”

The Scotts said social work has always been part of their lives on some level, even before they officially had the MSW. Evelyn Scott has been a therapeutic foster parent for the past 20 years, primarily for teenagers with mental health issues. The teenagers stay in her home for a period of time, and she teaches them the independent living skills they may need — such as cooking and budgeting — once they are out of the foster care system at 18 years of age.

When Jasmine was about 10 years old, she said her mom started a free summer camp program for families who couldn’t afford the fee. Her mother provided a way for more than 150 children in Durham and the surrounding area — mainly from impoverished neighborhoods — to attend camp for free.

Jasmine also worked as a YMCA summer camp counselor, and developed a passion to help the mental health population, especially young children with disabilities. She chose psychology and childhood development as her undergraduate degree, and says she has a fascination with learning how the brain works and why people with disabilities are born the way they are.

She still works at the YMCA as a site coordinator for the Y-Learning program, and juggled two practicum positions during her graduate studies: one as a care coordinator for Alliance Behavioral Health Care in Durham, and the other as a school social worker for the Kestrel Heights charter school, also in Durham.

“(Mom) always has been doing social work, just without the title,” Jasmine said. “I followed my mom’s footsteps. (Social work) comes naturally to us, and we really are passionate about what we do.”

But it was a little weird going to school together, she said, and mother and daughter each faced challenges — some shared and some different. They said they kept each other motivated during fast-food fueled days that often started at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t end until almost midnight.

As one of the youngest students in the program, Jasmine would talk her mom through technologies like Blackboard — an online tool to submit class assignments — that didn’t exist the last time Evelyn attended college in 1986.

They both said it was an interesting dynamic, and Evelyn — who said she was one of the oldest in the class — had a hard time adjusting to her younger classmates’ behavior. They would text and sometimes talk about their previous night out while the professor was talking, she said, which she found surprising.

“I thought it was inconsiderate, but nobody seemed affected by it but me,” Evelyn said. “As the oldest person with the most maturity, it was hard to take a backseat to that.”

“I had to tell her sometimes to just let it go,” her daughter said.

With the long days, strenuous curriculum and family challenges they experienced, both said it had to be a family affair to get through and they couldn’t have done it without each other.

Evelyn, who works full time as a youth coordinator for the city of Durham, says she feels better equipped with her MSW, and the social work theories she’s always had a sense of before now make sense.

Evelyn says she looks forward to strengthening her practice skills before finding her own social work niche, but she’s also looking forward to a little rest.

“ … I’d like to focus on helping teenage mothers and getting more exposure about grief counseling in the African-American community, as it’s not talked about very much,” she said. “But I’m taking a couple weeks off first.”

Jasmine says summer is the busiest time of year for her, so she won’t have a break just yet. She is still involved with her practicum position as school social worker, in addition to her role at the YMCA, and hopes to focus on her passion to help children with special needs.

“I’m still trying to find my purpose, but I know I’m passionate about youth and I love the students I’m serving,” she said. “I’m also learning about making sure I have some ‘me time’ every so often, and setting up boundaries for myself.”

And they both said that as hard as it was to experience Virginia Scott’s passing, they felt she was a guardian angel guiding them through their master’s program.

“She was always a giver, so it’s not surprising that Jasmine and I turned out the way we did,” Evelyn said. “We are a direct result of what she instilled in us, with integrity being the first and most important character trait.”