Social Service Alumni Reunion

Teksti | Riikka Kanervo , Satu Bethell , Lloyd Bethell , Maria Normann

For a long time, we teachers have contemplated organizing a reunion for the alumni of Laurea’s English-language social services degree program. This initiative has gained particular significance recently, as the alumni graduates from the pandemic era departed without the opportunity for personal farewells and congratulations and they had to leave Laurea almost unnoticed. Given the programme’s small size, it fosters close relationships between teachers and students throughout their studies, making such a reunion even more meaningful.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Kuusijärvi’s Metsätupa in Vantaa was chosen as the venue for the meeting as it provided a peaceful setting in the midst of the woods. The invitation to the reunion was sent to all the students who had expressed their interest in alumni activities upon their graduation. Unfortunately, the invitation did not reach everyone as some graduates had not chosen to be part of the alumni. Fortunately, the weather was on our side, and the sun added to the jubilant atmosphere.

Studying at Laurea

The strength of the English-language social services degree program has always been – and still is – its diversity and multiculturalism. The program’s strength lies in the broad cultural backgrounds and diverse discussions during classes, which have broadened perspectives and encouraged students to view phenomena from multiple viewpoints. At times the discussions have been so vivid and animated that the final lecture slides have remained unaddressed due to the free flowing but much valued discussions. Unfortunately, some of this was lost during the pandemic years when many of the lectures took place online.

Most of the alumni who were present at the reunion had started their studies before the pandemic and had therefore had a chance to build strong and lasting friendships with each other. This really highlights the difference between intensive face-to-face teaching and remote online-learning. The academic and pedagogical experience is very different for those who were able to meet each other and the teachers in ‘real life’ instead of only meeting online. Many of the alumni expressed their gratitude for having had a chance to study before the pandemic times.

There was a lot of reminiscing about the studies, amusing incidents, and various courses and assignments. Surprisingly, group work was mentioned as one of the most important learning experiences, even though students often express dissatisfaction with the constant group assignments during their studies! One of our alumni also remarked that it was only whilst working that they truly appreciated how important the group work skills were.

A few students stressed the importance of having a firm and comprehensive understanding of legislation, which is the cornerstone of all actions in the social service sector. As resources are reduced in social care, the importance of social care professionals having legal knowledge will increase as they will have to advocate for their clients and exert influence.

Writing assignments and reflection were also seen as valuable, because writing is an essential part of a social services professional’s work. Although the learning tasks and writing sometimes felt excessive during their studies, this skill has proven beneficial later on. Whether working in the public sector or in organizations, the ability to express ideas in writing is a crucial tool in daily work. Sometimes a well-written text can pave the way for a desirable job if one succeeds in crafting a well-justified project proposal and securing funding for their project idea. Other times the power of writing is evident in obtaining the necessary financial support or services for clients.

Life after graduation

The discussions touched on the alumni’s career and life paths. It was wonderful to hear about all the various jobs and positions that our former students have attained. Some already had their career plans crystallized during their studies, while others took a more winding path to their current roles. However, each alumni seemed to be exactly where they were meant to be at this moment.

The scope of education and work for social services professionals is vast: alumni have found positions across a wide range of sectors and various roles, from early childhood education to disability services and work with ex-prisoners. There was even someone who had taken another path and started working on coding in the IT field.
Our extensive Bachelor’s degree programme provides tools for diverse opportunities, however we learned during our discussions that the enthusiasm for continuous development and learning often continues even after obtaining the degree and formal qualifications. Many alumni have pursued further studies, including Master’s degrees and some are even continuing to doctorate level.

Listening to our former students we were amazed about the responsibilities they carry and how tough working life can be. Out there in working life many have to navigate in difficult situations on their own, making fast decisions in pressed situations. The capacity to take responsibility, act independently and know the legal framework for potential solutions has to be in place. Occasionally students think we as educators expect too much independency and self-directiveness during the studies. Hearing what is expected from professionals in the field we were convinced that it is important as the safety, health and access to help in critical situations lies in the hands of the professional group we educate.

Until next time

The afternoon and early evening flew by with lively conversations and catching up. The afternoon and the evening were filled with many hugs and laughter. The joy of hearing each other´s stories and reconnecting with new professionals was seen as extremely valuable. All in all, approximately 30 alumni got together to share their professional stories. Almost everyone expressed their wish for a new reunion. The success of the evening was evident from the fact that none of us remembered to take photos during the event as we were all so engaged.

Many of the alumni expressed their interest and motivation to share their experiences and work with our current students during lectures and other possible encounters.
For us, the tutor teachers, the reunion was a touching experience. During their study years, it was wonderful to evidence the alumni developing from young saplings into strong professional oaks in the social services field. It was so rewarding to see how they have such an important influence and impact in society.

A teacher’s role can be likened to that of a gardener: the seed, which ”already contains everything”, is there, and the teacher’s task is to provide it with the best possible growing conditions. Now we had the chance to see how our alumni have blossomed to their full potential.

Picture 1. Tired, but happy senior lecturers Maria Normann, Riikka Kanervo, Satu Bethell & Lloyd Bethell. (Photo by Maria Normann.)

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