Interview with Professor Terri Lee – Clinical Associate Professor and Regional Field Education Director at the University of Southern California

About Terri Lee, LCSW, CEAP: Professor Lee earned her MSW at University of Illinois at Chicago with a concentration in Occupational Social Work/Employee Assistance Programs. After completing her graduate education, Professor Lee worked as a psychiatric social worker at St. Joseph Hospital for three years. She also managed the employee assistance program at Loyola University’s Health System for 15 years before joining the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Social Work as an Adjunct Lecturer for their Virtual Academic Center. At this time, she serves as a Clinical Associate Professor, as well as Regional Field Education Director for the Northeast/Midwest, for USC’s online social work program. Professor Lee also teaches the Virtual Field Practicum. Terri Lee was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Field Education requires a significant time commitment from students and is even more demanding for programs that have a full-time option. Many online programs are geared towards working professionals. How do you recommend students balance field education with other responsibilities?

[Professor Lee] Graduate school is always a demanding commitment. I recommend that students realistically appraise how graduate school will fit into their lives. The field education component of the program will require 16-20 hours of time/week, which most often needs to occur within the business day. I would also recommend that students prepare the people in their life that there may need to be a shifting of responsibilities in order to open up more time for graduate school. It is a short-term sacrifice for a long-term benefit.

[] For some students, field education may be a completely new experience (especially for students who did not earn a Bachelor of Social Work). What is a typical day like for a student at a field placement, and how does that change as they gain more experience?

[Professor Lee] Students should expect that they will be oriented within the organization where they are placed. Our goal for most students is that they will work up to the point where they have their own caseload, and at least 50% of their time will be spent in direct client interaction. (Students in the COPA or Social Work & Business in a Global Society concentration are the exception to this, as they will often be doing more macro level work). Students will have a preceptor or field instructor on site at the agency who will mentor them through the experience. Students should expect to have an hour of individual supervision/week. Students also have a field liaison as an additional source of support for them on a bi-weekly basis.

[] Many agencies require students to interview for field placement positions. How do you recommend students prepare for these interviews and what types of advice do you give them on how to make the best impression during the interview?

[Professor Lee] Students should present themselves just as professionally as if they are going to a job interview. Field placements are competitive and you need to put your best foot forward. This includes your resume, your appearance, and the preparation that you put into your interview. You should attempt to learn something about the organization before you interview, and come prepared with questions. You should also present yourself as an enthusiastic learner, and open to new experiences.

[] What are some of the main questions and concerns students have while completing their field education requirements?

[Professor Lee] Students tend to be very concerned about their “hours.” How many, how often etc. Hours are important but so is the quality of the experience. Students should be familiar with the competencies for social work education and be motivated to achieve them by the time they have completed their field placement.

Students often wonder whether they can do their field placement where they work. The answer is “maybe.” It is important that a student have new learning opportunities that are separate from their paid employment. They must have different working hours and a different supervisor. Your field faculty member can assist you in determining whether this arrangement might work for you.

Students also wonder where they will be placed and how much input they can have. Field placement is a collaborative process and we welcome ideas from students. While USC does the actual arranging of the field placements, we work with the students to find out their interests, experiences, and hopes.

[] Can you describe the importance of self-care in social work and social work education? How do you recommend students manage their own self-care to prevent burnout?

[Professor Lee] Self-care is incredibly important. Social workers need to be proficient in this area if they are going to role-model it for students. Students learn a great deal about this topic in the Virtual Field Practicum, as well as their other coursework. While this field is very rewarding, it can also be emotionally exhausting if one does not find ways to rest/recharge/rejuvenate.

[] For some students, field practicums may be the first time they have the opportunity to work with real clients who are suffering. Is it normal for students to be affected by the stories of their clients and if so, how do you recommend they handle these new emotions?

[Professor Lee] It is so normal to find that it is hard to leave the pain at the field placement, and not take it home with you. I believe this is one of the most important lessons for young social workers, because in some ways it determines whether social work will be a viable career choice for you. Supervision is an important place to process these feelings and learn how to create important boundaries which allow you to continue to care deeply, but also to continue to live the other parts of your life.

[] Finally, can you summarize the importance of field education in online MSW programs and why students should consider pursuing their MSW online at USC?

[Professor Lee] I feel so fortunate to work at an amazingly innovative program like USC. Students are able to enjoy the benefits of a program which is head and shoulders above the commonly understood “online program.” Students interact with the peers and faculty in real time and form very real relationships with one another. They also are able to apply this education in an organization within their own community when they complete their community based field placement. USC is also the only program to offer the “Virtual Field Practicum” which gives students the chance to interact with a “real” client (actor) in a safe and supportive learning environment.

Thank you Professor Lee for your time and insight!

Last Updated: April 2020