Many people consider earning a degree in law and establishing a career with the United Nations as pinnacle professional achievements.
But for Julia Adetoyese-Oyewusi those were just steps - granted, very big steps -- which led her to earn a Master of Social Work at St. Ambrose University. Now she's formally entered a profession in which she will achieve even more.
"If you can have an effect on one person a day, or just one person in a whole year, and that person goes on to help somebody else by telling them their story and saying, ‘Oh, by the way, I used to do things this way, then I changed just one thing about myself,'" it starts a cycle of introspection and elevating change that spreads from one person to another, she said.
"It takes me out of the equation and now, it just goes on and on. I like that I can be a part of change, I can continually contribute, without anyone knowing my name, which is awesome," she said.
Julia grew up in Nigeria and earned a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Barrister Certificate to practice law, at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. She and her husband, Adetoyese, moved to the U.S. five years ago to further his education at the University of Arkansas. After he graduated, they moved to the Quad Cities and she set her eyes on earning an MSW. It was a natural next step, she said.
After completing her law degree, Julia worked six years as a program assistant with the U.N. Migration Agency- International Organization for Migration in Lagos, Nigera. She helped clients who had been forced to return home in integrating back into Nigerian society.
"I've met people in the worst situations, when they thought they were moving away from their past and life was going to be good, but they didn't know what was required on the other side and found themselves back at square one. Square one is when you sold all of your property before leaving and then you have to come back with practically nothing, mostly just the clothes on your back," Julia said.
"These were people at their lowest point and I had to be able to connect with their situation and help the person realize I am not above you here. I'm just trying to help," she said. "A social work degree just followed something I already had been exposed to and had been doing. But now I have the skills to talk to people and help them process trauma. I can appreciate the vulnerability and look for steps to help people move forward."
Julia Adetoyese-Oyewusi '21 MSW
Julia's former career with the United Nations sparked her decision to earn a Master of Social Work at SAU. Now she's entered into a profession in which she will achieve even more.
At St. Ambrose, she built those skills in the classroom and the community through field experience at two agencies: World Relief, which assists refugees who are establishing new lives in the Quad Cities; and at Family Resources Inc., where, while rotating through the agency's five departments, Julia discovered a real passion for working in prevention and intervention services. She also worked as a graduate assistant: the first year for Professor of Social Work Johnny Augustine, PhD, assisting him with research and voter awareness initiatives; and the second year as the MSW community organizer for the Director of the School of Social Work and Professor Katherine Van Blair, PhD.
She described her MSW education as tough and thought-provoking, and enjoyed the focus on the kind of critical thinking essential in social work. "A new client may come to me and say, ‘This is what it is.' But then I have to question, why is it like that? How is this affecting the client? How can they change it?"
After spending two years as a full-time student, part-time graduate assistant, and at the same time, raising two small children with her husband, she is looking forward to having more free time. She is grateful for the support system that she had to lean on throughout her education: family, friends, community and her deep faith in Christ.
Julia envisions a future that is dynamic and impactful and is interviewing for positions. Eventually, she wants to earn a PhD in human development and family studies.
"I am thankful I have the opportunity to be here, to get this degree, and all of the professors I've learned from, and to experience the world from different places. My part of the world and here do not necessarily compare, but I appreciate what I have. And, I am thankful I have the opportunity to help bring about change. It sounds so cliché to say, ‘Oh, I want to be a force of change in the world' or ‘I want to make a difference.' When it goes beyond the cliché and becomes something you actually do, something you actually seek out and intentionally do for people," she said, "I am thankful I get to be part of it, to be able to listen and let a person figure out the help they need, then help them by walking alongside them," she said.
"It's the kind of help that everyone says makes all the difference. You are actually doing that every day as a social worker."
"Now I have the skills to talk to people and help them process trauma. I can appreciate the vulnerability and look for steps to help people move forward."
Julia Adetoyese-Oyewusi '21 MSW