Faculty Spotlight: Wanda Anderson, Master of Social Work
Farming is not for the faint of heart. Growing up poor on a small potato farm in northern Maine, Wanda Anderson and five siblings started working in the field at age 7. Now a clinical professor of social work at UNE Online, Wanda would carry that agrarian work ethic throughout college and her 26-year career. Potatoes may not have been her passion, but helping people—particularly struggling families like her own—was.
Finding her passion
As a first-generation college student at the University of Maine, Wanda had a truly eye-opening experience learning from peers and professors from across the country—further broadened during an exchange program in Reno, Nevada her second year. But graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she had trouble finding work and purpose. Adrift, she joined the Army, only to receive a disability discharge. Wanda saw this as an opportunity to return to the familiarity of academia—where she would discover her passion for social work.
But it took some convincing. Like many, Wanda thought social work just meant child protection and human services. When she told her professor at a local community college what she wanted to do, he explained that was social work—and managed to persuade her. Maine in the 1980s, however, had no accredited social work degrees. One vacation to Hawaii and her love affair with the landscape led Wanda to enroll in the graduate program at the University of Hawaii.
She returned to Maine with an MSW and worked in various settings across the state, from private practice to a large mental health agency, as an administrator, supervisor, trainer, and clinical social worker. But it was in case management—specifically helping rural families caught in the poverty cycle—where she found her true calling, or so she thought.
Increasing her impact
Over the years, Wanda had turned down several requests to teach, committed to working directly with families. Then she considered the impact she could have in academia. “I realized through training new social workers, I could influence hundreds of thousands of families.”
Wanda accepted her first post at UNE in 2003. She was hired as an assistant professor and a year later also as the coordinator of the Presque Isle satellite program, a partnership with the University of Maine to help meet the need for more social workers in the state. It also gave her the chance to reframe the popular misconceptions of social work she once believed herself: “Our goal is to help make life better for everyone and empower people to have more say in their lives, more equity. We are trying to change the world.“ After joining the UNE faculty, she never looked back.
Wanda claims to have never had a job in social work that she didn’t love. What she enjoys most about UNE Online is the ability to offer social work education to students in rural and remote areas—students who otherwise wouldn’t have such access. “When we provide training to a disabled veteran in Wisconsin or a single mom in Alaska, we not only change their lives but the lives of their future clients.”
By training a new generation of social workers, Wanda continues to realize how many more lives she can reach through teaching than in practice. She emphasizes the importance of letting clients guide social workers in what they need, empowering students to empower their clients and communities.
And every year, she leaves graduating students with Wanda’s Words of Wisdom, a list of tips that many students still reference ten or more years out of school. On that list is a familiar adage: Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
She sure did.
If you are interested in pursuing your Master’s in Social Work, or even if you’re simply interested in discussing the program, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (207) 221-4143 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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