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Social work grad Kristen Garren excels, achieves what has ‘always been a goal for me’

Steve Jones

Spalding’s Mother Rose Meagher Senior Award – one of the university’s two highest undergraduate honors – goes to a graduating student who has proven to be a “mature leader and member of the campus community.”

That description fits this year’s recipient, Kristen Garren, who by all accounts, has embodied maturity and determination while achieving overall excellence in completing her Bachelor of Science in Social Work.

Garren, a 45-year-old former transfer student, is set to begin a career in social work after earning a near-perfect GPA and earning high marks for her work in her practicum placement at Frazier Rehabilitation Institute.

A former teacher’s assistant and substitute teacher in Jefferson County Public Schools, Garren was a nine-time Dean’s List selection in accomplishing her longtime goal of getting her bachelor’s degree, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, including a sudden shift to all online classes. She also worked, including as a work-study in the Spalding Library, raised a 12-year-old son and helped him excel at virtual school, and coped with the difficulty of losing a parent and a classmate.

“I don’t want to cry, but (this degree) has been something I’ve been working toward and something I’ve always wanted,” said Garren, who received the Meagher Award at Commencement on Saturday, June 5. “Years ago, I started out and went to school, then I quit. I had kids and life and family and everything. It’s something I’ve always wanted. It’s always been a goal for me, nobody else. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for myself.”

Garren has helped plenty of people along the way, including during her meaningful practicum at Frazier Rehab, where she helped with case management for patients with spinal cord injuries and illnesses.

COMMENCEMENT 2021
*Home page for info and links to ceremony replays and programs
*Bios of all university award winners
*Read President McClure’s Commencement address and top 10 list
*Tons of photos on Spalding’s Commencement Facebook album
*Graduate features and Q&As

Garren’s practicum supervisor praised her for her work ethic, kindness and empathy.

She helped arrange for patients to get durable medical equipment, including sometimes from the Project CARAT library of Spalding’s Kosair Charities enTECH assistive technology resource center. She helped answer patient questions about accessibility and care issues at their home and helped locate resources.

SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK | Overview | BSSW | MSW | DSW

As a former education major, being in the hospital was a brand-new experience for Garren, and she said was proud that she succeeded and helped others in a fieldwork setting that was out of her comfort zone. On top of studying for her classes, she devoted time to learning medical terms and healthcare computer systems.

“I feel like I needed to do that to give them the best care,” she said. “Whether I was an intern or not and no matter how many hours I spent there, I wanted to make sure I could answer questions and be able to help them.”

Garren hopes to land a job as a social worker in a medical setting.  At Frazier and through her studies at Spalding, she has developed an understanding and appreciative for trauma-informed care.

“No matter what field of social work you go into, I think trauma-informed care is probably one of the biggest things we need to consider post-COVID,” said Garren, who earned a minor in addiction studies from Spalding.

Garren said she “can’t gush enough” about the support she received from the professors in the School of Social Work, who were flexible with students during the pandemic.

Garren said her cohort was a close-knit group who supported each other when a classmate passed away last year. Garren’s father also died in the past year.

The small class sizes and the supportive network were among Garren’s favorite aspects of the Spalding program. She envisions staying in touch with all her classmates and instructors and expects that they will be valuable resources to each other, offering perspectives from their respective social work specialties.

Garren said finishing at Spalding is bittersweet because she will miss the interactions with her classmates and teachers. She is eager to get in the social work workforce, but she expects that she’ll eventually come back for her Master of Social Work degree.

Commencement has represented a time for Garren to reflect on her accomplishments.

“Things happen and you may feel like you’re never going to be able to attain that degree that you always wanted because life kind of gets in the way,” she said. “Then you take a chance and you make lots of sacrifices. You end up telling people no to a lot of things because you have to write a paper, you have to study, you have to (prioritize) what’s most important, and it’s to get that degree. I made the choice to make it my priority, and I’m glad that I did.”

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