Joniel Thomas has always sought to be a resource for others. Thomas, a second-year MSW student at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College focusing on Clinical Practice, once intended to be a psychologist rather than a social worker. In a career-altering coincidence, she unwittingly missed a psychology program deadline and turned to social work, applying to Silberman in order to combine her passion for counseling people with her commitment to social justice. Her many involvements at Silberman have affirmed for her the great and exciting responsibility which being a resource entails.
Thomas’ zeal for that responsibility – her motivation to “open horizons…do what we can to shape environments and help others navigate [them]” – compelled her to join Silberman’s Faculty-Student Senate, an internal governance council comprising students and faculty.
Now well into her tenure on the Senate, Thomas is happy to share that she is “building a real knowledge base.” While recognizing that she does not have every solution every time, she emphasizes, “I value the role and responsibility of having answers to my peers’ questions and concerns.” Serving together with faculty, particularly, has refined her clear appreciation for gaining and sharing new knowledge. “The experiences they have, we don’t. The things they understand, we often don’t, and vice-versa,” she articulates. “The common denominator is that we yield our differences to meet our common goals.”
The links Thomas identifies between the Senate and her academics don’t end with the interaction between students and faculty. She also highlights overlaps between the content, strategies and lessons learned in her Silberman courses and the skills she harnesses on the Senate. This is especially true in light of her clinical practice concentration.
She explains that “trying to do something collaboratively for the school is a lot like social workers collaborating to shape an environment or community.” Thomas points as well to the Senate’s involvement with the Curriculum Committee, because working on the committee “directly impacts and informs my classroom experience,” she says.
The deft support Thomas is able to provide her Silberman colleagues through the Senate also extends to people and places beyond the school. Alongside her role as a social work student, Thomas is a social entrepreneur – she currently operates a service that helps middle-income families achieve and maintain financial well-being with debt negation and financial planning. Though separate from her school work, endeavors like this shape and are shaped by her evolving experiences as a community member and Senate member at Silberman.
“Learning [on the Senate] about all the different roles I can play and ways I can help in the school,” she describes, “has also shown me all these ways to be involved in the communities outside the school.”
Thomas sees the Silberman Faculty-Student Senate as one of Silberman’s most vital organizations, on account of its impact across such diverse spheres and constituencies. She is eager for more students to become part of it. Her pitch to them is an easy one for her to give:
“Knowledge doesn’t hurt anyone,” she asserts. “You [prospective members] will learn so much, and be able to do so much. It keeps you involved, and it keeps you informed. Most importantly, you will not just take from your school – you will give back.”