When Zahria Thomas M.S.W. ’24 was growing up in Texas, she often accompanied her mother to nursing school classes. She remembers the psychology course most vividly: the teacher would encourage her to take notes on the curriculum and hand her copies of class exams to take “since you’re here.”
Both her mom’s determination for continuing education and her own early exposure to the inner workings of the human mind left an impact – she matriculated at the Smith College School for Social Work just two weeks after graduating from Hampshire College with a degree in reproductive rights and health injustice and an ultimate goal of becoming a sex educator for high school students.
“I felt like social work is a good degree that has a lot of options for where you can go after your masters,” Thomas said.
Her placements at SSW illustrate the array of options available. Last year, her first internship was near home in Houston, at Jewish Family Services. There, Thomas worked at a day program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping teach them life skills, such as how to count and how to navigate social dynamics. It wasn’t a traditional therapy placement, but Thomas found that she gained more from spending long stretches with her clients.
“It’s helpful and nice to see people be their whole selves,” she said. “I think when people come to therapy, they usually come with an agenda – with a goal – and I think people can’t have an agenda when you just see them at lunch.”
This year, Thomas is interning at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, CO, a residential high school that serves students up to age 21. She was drawn to the site’s similarities to Hampshire – both are small learning environments without traditional grades.
“I have about six or seven students that I see in a therapeutic relationship-type setting,” she said. “We do check-ins once a week or sessions once a week.” Additionally, Thomas works with Eagle Rock’s Black Student Union and serves as the school's health and wellness intern, which involves everything from delivering meals to sick students to teaching sex ed classes, giving her real-world experience in the topic she plans to pursue professionally. The classes offer her the opportunity to speak on topics ranging from consent and contraceptives to reproductive justice and antiracism, she said.
Her placement also gives her the chance to pass along what Thomas learns during summers at SSW, where she is on the Council for Students of Color and appreciates the School’s “good resources and conversations.”
“I just want to shout out all of the Black women that work at Smith,” Thomas said. “They do their job and then some. They're there to help and support, and I don’t know if they understand how amazing they are at their jobs.”