Meet Samantha Nelms: 2021 MSW Outstanding Student Award Winner

By Lucy Ruscitto
May 28, 2021
samantha nelms
MSW Outstanding Student Award winner Samantha Nelms never imagined herself to be so involved in the field of social work.

Growing up, with her mother as a member of the city council in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, Samantha had been raised to appreciate and prioritize policy and politics. Because of her passion for the two, she decided to major in sociology, a field where she could study social organization, structure and the reasons behind it.

Because of her expertise in the field after conducting her senior capstone on community partnership and education, Samantha remembers her friends that were already in the MSW program at the GSSW encouraging her to apply.

“[At the time] I thought social work was just therapy, which was nothing what I wanted to do,” she admitted.

But, after speaking to her friends about the program, and about what they were learning in their classes and studying out in the field, she discovered the macro-side of the field that she had never considered.

“I had no idea of the doors social work could open for me, especially with the emphasis on neighborhood engagement and community partnerships,” she said. “This field is honestly perfect for me.”

Because of her knowledge and zeal for working within and for communities, Samantha was able to land an internship in community development working alongside former MSW GSSW alums such as Elise Jones, MSW ‘18, at Grassroots Waco.
Samantha has shown strength in her vulnerability as this semester has present many unforeseeable events, including the death of her friend, peer, and co-intern Alicia. Her ability to be honest with herself and with people around her has aided her in her growth and development through loss and she continues to succeed in her education, her role in BLMSW, her services to the community.

Grassroots is a Waco-centered nonprofit is committed to “cultivating healthy neighborhoods through leadership development training classes, free financial literacy and homebuyer education, and counseling to prepare families to become homeowners,” as well as promoting literacy and partnering with local Waco schools.

Samantha said her days consisted of popping into neighborhood association meetings, sitting in on and contributing in grant meetings, and reflecting inward toward the Grassroots organization in order to make improvements.

While she thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of her internship role, Samantha said she certainly faced some obstacles while at Grassroots, but they made her all the better as a social worker.

In one instance, Samantha recalls a time from the fall semester, shortly after she had just began her time with Grassroots. Many members of the North Waco community were upset that a liquor store was being built in this specific part of Waco, because of surrounding nursing homes and nearby recovery homes.

“I was a new face and so trying to gain their trust and their understanding in those moments were really difficult because they were really upset about all of the predatory businesses that had been popping up in their areas,” she said.

Samantha said through this experience, she was also able to delve deep into her passion for policy-- liquor laws, on the local, state and national level had to be investigated, as well as contacting and working with city council members and representatives.

Because of the deep connection she developed with community members and leaders through her projects and work at Grassroots, Samantha said she didn’t think her time in Waco would be quite over after her internship.

“I feel as my work and my time in Waco is not done. I just have that feeling that God is like, ‘You’re going to be here for a little while.’ I’m not done helping Waco, being in Waco, helping the Waco community empower themselves.”’

One colleague said in their nomination, “Samantha has shown strength in her vulnerability as this semester has present many unforeseeable events, including the death of her friend, peer, and co-intern Alicia. Her ability to be honest with herself and with people around her has aided her in her growth and development through loss and she continues to succeed in her education, her role in BLMSW, her services to the community.”

It is our honor to recognize your hard work, Samantha! Congratulations! #sicemsocialwork
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