Graduate Programs

Blogs from students, faculty & staff

Entering graduate school is a significant decision that often requires careful planning, finding the right resources, and making the necessary adjustments for success. In a recent episode of “Victors in Grad School,” hosted by Dr. Christopher Lewis, the conversation with Samara Hough, the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality at the University of Michigan Flint, provided invaluable insights into her graduate school journey, including her decision to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, the challenges she faced, and the resources available for success. This blog post aims to expand on the key points discussed in the podcast, offering a comprehensive guide for prospective graduate students.

Exploring the Decision to Pursue Graduate School

Samara shared her unconventional path to graduate school, which began with an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and six years of work experience in the nonprofit sector and state agencies. Her decision to pursue an MSW stemmed from the urge to expand her skills and knowledge beyond what her undergraduate degree offered. This emphasizes the importance of gaining practical experience before embarking on graduate studies, as it allows individuals to identify their areas of interest and potential career paths. Prospective graduate students can benefit from taking a similar approach by gaining work experience to better understand their academic and professional aspirations.

Researching and Choosing the Right Program

When Samara decided to pursue her MSW, she sought out the best program to fit her specific needs. Her experience serves as a reminder of the significance of researching and understanding the offerings of each program. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of exploring education opportunities, such as taking trial classes or talking with current students, to gain insights into the program’s expectations and culture. Prospective students should thoroughly research potential graduate programs, considering factors such as course offerings, faculty expertise, and campus environment before making a decision.

Preparing for Success in Grad School

Transitioning into graduate school after several years in the workforce presented Samara with challenges and anxieties. She emphasized the importance of setting oneself up for success by leveraging support resources, such as academic advisors and building relationships with classmates. Prospective students should anticipate and prepare for the transition by seeking advice from current students or mentors, understanding program requirements, and familiarizing themselves with campus resources to facilitate a smooth adjustment into the academic environment.

Connecting Graduate Education to Professional Practice

Samara’s insightful reflection on the link between her MSW education and her current work in higher education underscores the practical benefits of graduate education. Her MSW concentration in family systems and grounding in group dynamics and crisis management aligns with her role in the Center for Gender and Sexuality. This connection highlights the importance of aligning graduate education with career aspirations and professional practice. Prospective students should seek programs that offer practical experiences and specialized knowledge that complements their desired career paths.

Finding Support and Resources

Through her work, Samara actively supports students through mental health and crisis concerns. She emphasized the need for graduate students to seek out available resources and support systems on campus, such as mental health services, student organizations, and diverse community programs. It is essential for prospective graduate students to explore and connect with the support resources available within the campus and surrounding community, ensuring holistic support throughout their academic journey.

Samara’s experience provides valuable insights for prospective graduate students, emphasizing the significance of thoughtful deliberation when considering graduate education, choosing the right program, and preparing for success. Her journey underscores the interplay between graduate education, professional practice, and community engagement. By taking the time to research, prepare, and seek out available resources, prospective graduate students can navigate the challenges of graduate school effectively and set themselves up for a successful and fulfilling academic experience.

In conclusion, Samara’s journey in graduate school exemplifies the importance of a thoughtful, diligent approach to graduate education. Aspiring graduate students can draw inspiration from her experiences to make informed decisions, address challenges, and leverage available resources for a successful academic journey.


Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:01]:
Welcome to the Victor’s in Grad School, where we have conversations with students, alumni, and experts about what it takes to find success in graduate school.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:11]:
Welcome back to Victor’s in Grad School. I’m your host, Doctor Christopher Lewis, director of graduate programs at the University of Michigan, Flint, really excited to have you back again this week. This week, as always, we are on a journey together. I know that you are either you’re on that journey for graduate school, whether it’s You’re at the very beginning just thinking about graduate school. You’re in the thick of it. You’ve been admitted. You’re starting the program, or you’re in the thick of it, and you’re Actually, in the program and you see that light at the end of the tunnel, no matter where you are, there are things that you can do to find in that graduate school journey, and that’s important. So every week, I love being able to talk with you, to work with you, to help you along this journey, To be able to help you to learn some different things, some different skills, some different things that others have done that will help you In the journey that you’re gonna be on.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:01:04]:
I also love being able to introduce you to different people every week that have gone before you, that have gone to graduate school, And have some of their own perspective, but also might have some other resources to share. And this week, we got another great guest with us. Samara Howe is with us today, and Samara is the director of the Center For Gender and Sexuality at the University of Michigan Flint, but she has her own graduate school story. We’re gonna talk about that as well. Samara, thanks so much for being here today.

Samara Hough [00:01:32]:
Thank you for inviting me. This is exciting.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:01:34]:
Well, I’m really excited to have you On and 1st and foremost, we’re gonna talk about that graduate journey that you went on yourself. And I’m gonna turn the clock back in time because I know you did your undergraduate work at the University of Michigan And then went on from there, a little while down the path as you decided to continue your education and getting an MSW from from Wayne State University. So during that time, whether it be during undergrad or during your work experience, Talk to me about what made you decide that you wanted to go to graduate school?

Samara Hough [00:02:08]:
Yes. Well, Chris, it’s a interesting journey. I actually had to plan Host be, grad undergraduate to, take 2 years off and get experience, and that turned actually into 6 years of work history, working in a nonprofit realm, working in for the state. There was a time period where I was a CPS worker, and it was actually during that time where Where I thought I felt like there was a kind of a limit. Like, I had reached my limit of kind of what experiences I could get with Which is having the BSW under my belt or, actually, having the BA under my belt because U of M did not have a BSW program at U of M Ann Arbor. Thankfully, here, We have a BSW and a MSW program here at U of M Flint. By the time, I didn’t have that option, and so I was just trying to figure out How I can really build my skills and help families over case management, over, like, really dealing with some of the clinical aspects of Kind of really the origins of what may have gotten folks stuck, whether it be emotionally or mental health wise or what have you. And so I thought I went to get my MSW degree and started shopping around institutions.

Samara Hough [00:03:20]:
Actually went first to U of M and I were kind of that I optioned because I was also a working student. I was working full time at U of M Ann Arbor. I really felt that Wayne State gave me an opportunity to work Part we’re working my master’s part time, and so that was what part of the draws there. And then also just working in the city and just, The learning in the city of Detroit, that was something that was really a big draw for me. My classmates were also working folks And at the time as well, expanding my family, got married, all those kinds of things were happening all while my working part time on my master’s degree And working in a crisis agency in Detroit. So that was a little that’s a snapshot on that journey. I actually walked across the stage while gosh. I was probably 6 months pregnant at the time when I walked across the stage, and my daughter is now 12.

Samara Hough [00:04:14]:
So that’s a little bit of my, experience there. It was not a direct route. And even with that indirect route, I still think, Yeah. There was definitely lessons learned there in the journey.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:04:24]:
Now you said that you looked around and you tried to identify the best program for yourself. You chose Wayne State University’s MSW program, and every person has different things they’re looking for, different reasons. Talk to me about what made Wayne State The right program for you at the time.

Samara Hough [00:04:40]:
I think in part, there are pros and cons to going to a very large institution. I would say my undergraduate experience at U of M Had, again, like, its pros and cons. I wanted a different kind of individual experience as best as I could. So I felt like Wayne State gave more individualized even though it’s a bigger Campus as well, but it was definitely rooted in the city as well. And, honestly, it gave a kind of U of M Flint feeling, to be honest, where It’s a campus, but it’s also in the city, and there was that aspect of it. So I think there was that and then the course offerings. So I actually had a opportunity to take a course there at Wayne State. We could take up to, like, 8 credits without being a a full time or part time students.

Samara Hough [00:05:25]:
And so I took a couple classes there and really enjoyed the instructors, Again, the students and it gave me, like, a trial run, I think, of kind of what to see if if this was something that would be a good fit for me. I think the also, the other route is I was a psychology and women’s studies double major, and so didn’t doesn’t have a didn’t have MSW program as I mentioned, A BSW program as I mentioned, and so I was kind of in between. Should it be psychology or should it be actually MSW? And so I’ve I’ve been talking to other folks Who were clinicians, whether it be clinical psychologists or, licensed social workers. I felt like the social work route gave me more flexibility. And I Also, at the time, wasn’t all the way interested in the PhD route, and so that’s something that usually if you go with a master’s in psychology, you’d wanna go the full Routes to be able to do the work that you’re looking to do. So that’s a little bit about I think, for me, I had the opportunity for to try it on.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:06:19]:
It’s nice when you can Do that, and you can have the opportunity to go in and go through that opportunity to test out your professors or test out the campus, test out the feel to see, do I feel like this is the right fit for me? And not everybody has that opportunity, so it’s good that you had that opportunity to take advantage of. And it may not be something that Students even think about to consider or think about to try if they are really on the fence of trying to figure out for themselves, is this program really the right right place for me? Is is that might be an option, is to talk to the program and say, you know, I know I’ve been admitted here. You know, I’ve been admitted quite a while back. Is there is it possible for me to take a class or sit in on a class And see, you know, what the classes are like and get a feel for it. And not every program probably has even been asked that question, So it’s not a bad thing to ask and see if you can take advantage of that. Now you found success in the graduate school journey. And as you said, it was about 6 years or so after you got your bachelor’s degree and you’d been working, So there was definitely a transition that you had to make to get back into the groove, get back into school. So as you think about that, What did you have to do to set yourself up for success as you transitioned into grad school, but what did you also have to do to maintain that success throughout the graduate school experience.

Samara Hough [00:07:48]:
Yeah. Like, I think when I was in my bachelor’s degree, I struggled a bit. And so I had that kind of, oh, Kind of worry of, can I handle all of the demand? Like, that kind of concern. And so for me, like, I Took some time to that taking the time and take classes did help. And then also, I I was talking with my adviser about the plan, what I’d like To do with this degree was a part of that. And then, honestly, like, as you get started going back to school, it was kind of a bit of nostalgia, like, To getting my books and, you know, 1st day of class and getting, like, the materials. And then it it was a settling that happened. I think it was just really that initial, like, step that made it have that anxiousness a little bit, butterflies, but I think utilizing those resources, Like your adviser, talking to other students that have been there and really prior to you starting.

Samara Hough [00:08:43]:
The building those relationships, I think, are really important.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:08:45]:
Now you did get a degree as a MSW, and you’re working in higher education now. Little bit of a different field, but definitely still some parallels In regards to to at least what I see in regards to the the the skill set. But I guess as you think back to the graduate education that you went through And what you’re doing now, how do you find that what you learned in your graduate degree prepared you for the work that you do daily?

Samara Hough [00:09:13]:
That’s a big question. People often think social workers the surprise that their social worker is in higher education. I think there’s a growing trend of seeing more of us Even prior to COVID, in terms of supporting students through mental health or crisis concerns, or as I mentioned to you, I was a nontraditional student, Parenting, all the stresses of all of those different things, and I think, you know, we bring that to in our classroom. You know, we’re studying and learning, and then also Life is happening at the same time. So I think some of those experiences, like like, I think of some of the courses that I took as far as, Diversity, equity, and inclusion, our center supports members of the LGBTQIA plus community and intersecting identities within them. And so we think about How we are inclusive in our work, how are we really thinking about, you know, identity and elevating voices, and when we think about, You know, communities of color. Like, all those pieces are are central to how we approach our programming. I would also say, our students, Everyone is open to be in the center.

Samara Hough [00:10:17]:
So students come in and out and participate in some of our groups settings, like, core Thursdays and women talk Wednesdays. I mean, those are essentially, like, group support groups, but they’re not tagged as support groups. Right? And so and so we offer support to our students. So I think definitely those the grounding in group dynamics, Crisis management skills, because we also support survivors of sex and gender based violence in our office, providing advocacy. Those were all things that, you know, Where courses were things that we’re kinda rooted in in in social work. And I would say too, you know, my concentration was in family systems. And so really thinking about How families operate. And then social work really centers around a really core belief that it’s the person and the environment.

Samara Hough [00:11:02]:
So what’s going on behaviorally? What may be someone’s response to something is is not just that it is what something is it’s not that something is wrong with them, but We’re thinking about analyzing, like, what’s the ecology? Like, what is going on, that’s surrounding that person that’s also in the environment? How they respond to community based violence that’s happening in where they live, or maybe there are some things happening generationally when it comes to trauma, or what are some things that are limitations or gaps In terms of services that are available in this community, those are all things that impact individuals, impact our students, impact our families, impact children. So I think Having that mindset is helpful in helping to navigate and guide the direction of the center and also a response to our students. And one thing I think is interesting too, you know, social workers, we’re often collaborating with other nonprofit agencies on behalf of or Support of of a of someone, individual or family, and that happens as a part of the division of student affairs. So, like, I’m working at Harvard Student Affairs Connected with the Intercultural Center. I’m connected with CALVS. I’m connected across campus. I’m the dean of students on behalf of of students, the the title nine office. You know, these are all units that we work with on a regular basis.

Samara Hough [00:12:15]:
And so I think having that grounding of that grassroots nonprofit social work experience Also translates here in higher education.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:12:23]:
So you just talked about a lot of the things that your center does, and I think that as students are considering graduate School, I always say that one of the things that they need to look at are the resources that are available on campus, and we’ve had some people on, On, the show in the past talking about veteran services or disability services, and you’re talking about other services that are available. So Talk to me about some of your thoughts, especially with the populations that your center works with. If you were to talk to Students from the population that you’re working with. What are some of the things that you would say to them that they should be really on the look for On the lookout for when they’re looking at prospective graduate programs, but also the resources that are available in or around the campus that could support their graduate education.

Samara Hough [00:13:13]:
Sure. I mean, I think one of the biggest pieces that we deal with through our center are Students’ concern around safety, their sense of safety. What does that look like? Sense of belonging and also just, I would say, connection as well. And so What resources are available? I think, really, one of the things that we’ve worked hard at is that partnership, for instance, with CAPS. Right? So mental health services. So being able to know, like, There’s nothing taboo about reaching out to therapy. If there’s some things that you are maybe have never dealt with or talked about or something that occurred later in life that you need to kind of unpack, Those partnerships getting kind of shored up in terms of feeling in terms of your mental health and, that letting that be a practice of of self care. And I also think about socially.

Samara Hough [00:13:58]:
What are some things that you can how we might be able to get involved? And I know that’s harder for maybe some of us that are graduate students or may have other responsibilities outside of school, but I think those connections are can be so so vital because that can help, You know, learn more about resources that are on campus. You know, often students find us at the end of their career. You know, we when I think about Laverne Graduation, which is our Celebration of our LGBTQIA plus students. We’ve had students find out about Lavender Grad, like, literally their senior year, or they’re like as they’re exiting graduate Well, that has happened before. But, like, knowing that the center is available to to you beyond a beyond a crisis, but also we are available When you’re in crisis, some folks didn’t know we have emergency grants through the center. So I think making those connections and knowing what the services are and also, like, if there’s Connected with SIL, there are opportunities that for student orgs to get involved in. Like, those are definitely things that you can still have access to even at the graduate grad level. When you think about With the Sorority of Fraternity Life, there are grad chapters that are very active on on our campus and in community in in the Flint area.

Samara Hough [00:15:03]:
So I think just figuring out, like, finding your core groups So people, to connect with and then also knowing your resources and if you need something that At a critical level. But also, no, it doesn’t have to be critical all the time.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:15:16]:
I will echo what Samara just said because one of the things she just Talked about was getting involved and finding that community for yourself, and the community could be in your program. And especially if it’s a full time program, And you’re going to build that community with the core group of people you’re going to be in courses with throughout your entire program. But if you’re in a part time program, that community is a little bit fluid. So being able to find other communities that where you can connect with other like minded individuals is important And definitely something that will help you to find success and will support you in that success as you move Through your graduate education. So whether it’s in one of the groups that that Samara just talked about, whether it’s in some other kinda groups, It’s finding the right place for yourself within your academic program, outside of your academic program that will help you to build that network for yourself, But also help you to build the support mechanisms that are going to be there throughout that educational experience. So I really appreciate you sharing that because I think that’s so important and so important for students to for For any student, for anyone that is thinking about graduate education to think about it, because I think a lot of times, undergraduate students get drawn into it right away. And there’s the campus life and the campus feel. And a lot of times, when you’re going through graduate school, you’re balancing a lot of different things, and the pressure is on, Especially when it comes to academic success and and and really focusing in on the On the on the academic components of the program, but there is student life that is available for graduate students too, and You can take part in anything that is happening on campus.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:17:07]:
So it’s important for you to find that for yourself so that you can find your ultimate fit, But also your group of people and find your ability to be able to find holistic success, not just academic success For you as you go through that program. Now, Samira, as you think back to your own graduate education, as you think back to The conversations, the work that you do with students on a regular basis for people that are thinking about graduate school no matter what field that they’re in, Are there some tips that you might offer them that would help them find success sooner?

Samara Hough [00:17:46]:
I think some of the things that may hold someone back are finding funding. And so I think finding out what fellowships or scholarships or what what, kinds of Funding opportunities that may exist within that those schools. Certainly, I actually won a scholarship. It was, like, the women of Wayne scholarship when I was a a graduate student, but those were things that I had to seek out, look for, find out library days, at the time of it well, back in the days when we had to go physically to the library. I mean, we still do, but But there was lots of researching around that, and I think there’s certainly some pro depending upon whatever major you major in, there are some Organizations or foundations that will support you in your graduate program, your graduate degree. Like, for instance, SAMHSA, I know offers, like, a Fellowship for minority mental health workers or folks who are interested in mental health and in other organizations. But I think I would say kind of getting Your feet under you as it relates to funding support, getting those kinda shored up. And I think, 2, talking with Did some informational interviews.

Samara Hough [00:18:50]:
So I would say do some informational interviews with other people who have already gotten the degree that you’re interested in Essentially, in seeing kinda, like, what were their journey, what were some things that they would have liked to do, or kind of what maybe some Challenges that they encountered or so that you can kind of have a plan of action if that happens with you. So one of the biggest things with social work is that licensing process. People are always asking about that. Right? So finding out, like, what kind of what that would look like for you postgraduate school obtaining those hours of supervision, what are some, like, tips or things when you think about the job market? So all those like, what would be marketable for you depending upon whatever career path that you’re on. I remember talking with people who, for instance, were in IT and learning, like, what what are those certificates or things that you would need. And I know those things Change and evolve and, you know, we’re in the age of AI, lots of things. So, like, finding out, like, what are some of the again, like, what are some of the gaps or needs in that particular field of choice that that would set you up for success like before at post graduation. And I think just enjoy the journey.

Samara Hough [00:19:53]:
I wanna say that part. Like, there’s a lot of preparation. There’s connection and finding out more, but I would just say enjoy the journey. There are definitely still professors that I remember Being in those classrooms and learning so much from them and continue to even in continuing education, like, there’s some professors that that I just still admire to this day that are doing the work. So enjoy the journey. You know, soak it all up. Don’t get too ahead of yourself before it’s time, but enjoy enjoy the journey. Grad school is A great opportunity is different than undergrad.

Samara Hough [00:20:23]:
I feel like in my experience, it was like a deeper dive into where I really wanted to be. And I was I was a little anxious on being able to get to those courses that were really tied to, like, the clinical work and wanting to do that so so soon, but just enjoy the journey, I would say.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:20:39]:
I really appreciate that. Now if people wanna find out more about you, is there a place they can go?

Samara Hough [00:20:43]:
Well, I’m always available at the center, the Center For Gender While they were on 213 USEN, I often will speak with students. So if you’re ever interested in social work or the field, you know, I’m definitely open to Chatting about those experiences. I’ve worked in both nonprofit and higher ed environments. So if you’re interested in learning more about that, most of my history has been working with Survivors of sex and gender based violence. And so I can talk about that, like, what those experiences were and also working with with youth and families. So having Those lenses, if you’re ever interested in learning more, you can stop by the office. You can also email me. I can definitely put my email address In the chat or in whatever, way to get connected, and I look forward to talking with you all.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:21:26]:
Well, Samara, I just wanna say thank you. And Samara did talk about her email address if you wanna reach out to her directly. Her email is samara, s a m a r a, [email protected]. You can find her there and be able to shoot her a message if you have specific questions. Samara, thank you. Thank you for sharing your Story for walking us through this journey that you went on, and I wish you all the best. The University of Michigan Flint has a full array of masters and doctorate programs if you are interested in continuing your education. Whether you’re looking for in person or online learning options, the University of Michigan Flint programs that will meet your needs.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:22:04]:
For more information on any of our graduate programs, visit to find out more. Thanks again for spending time with me as you prepare to be a victor in grad school. I look forward to speaking with you again soon As we embark together on your graduate school journey, if you have any questions or want to reach out, email me at flint [email protected].