Remark-a-Bull Podcast: Stories from USF Social Work

Vivian Mills

Episode Summary

Meet Vivian Mills, PhD. In this episode you will have an opportunity to learn about balancing home and school. Vivian takes us through getting her recent Ph.D. with all its twists and turns.

Episode Notes

In this episode, Mills describes her moment of deciding to go back and get her MSW while parenting nine children (one birth child, four adopted children, and four kids in care). Her story is an intense tale that shows what moms can be capable of once they decide on a goal. 

Learn more about the USF School of Social Work's PhD program here

Learn more about the USF School of Social Work here.


Episode Transcription

Chris Groeber: Hi, my name is Chris Groeber, and I am an associate in research in the University of South Florida’s College of Behavioral and Community Sciences School of Social Work. Welcome to the Remark-a-bull podcast, where we will explore powerful stories of social workers, students, and social work scholars who have made an outstanding impact on our communities far and wide.  I hope that through these conversations you see yourself in the people we talk to and recognize the common humanity that will inspire you to believe “I could get that degree. I could get that BSW, MSW or PhD.” Go on this journey with us. Enjoy!

[Instrumental music]

Chris Groeber: Hello and welcome to our very first podcast, Vivian, our Remark-a-bull podcast. This is the inaugural one, and let me give the listeners a little bit of perspective about how we got here. In the interest of full disclosure, Vivian and I have known each other for quite a while, and I consider her to be a friend and a colleague for a long, long time, and she is going to tell you more about her journey. But then we were in an interview, and I heard her story, and I felt like students, prospective students, people who are perspective social workers need to hear this person’s story because it’s so powerful, Vivian. And, you know, our internal voices are such bad narrators, and sometimes it takes somebody hearing it from the outside to say, “Oh my God, that’s a powerful story.” But it is. And so we come to you guys, letting you listen, and I really hope my goal for all of these remarkable podcasts are for you to see yourself in the people were talking to. To see your story, to share the common humanity pieces and parts that make you think, “You know I can get that BSW, I can get that MSW, heck I can get that PhD.” So, and at times, we’re just going to chat and people may feel like, “Oh my gosh, it feels really intimate,” but I want this to be that kind of space. So Vivian, with that said, with that introduction, tell us about who you are and then talk a little bit about how in the heck you got to where you are right now. 

Vivian Mills: That was quite an introduction. I’m hoping I fill those shoes well. I’m excited to participate in this, and I’m humbled that you thought of me for this, so I’m very excited. You know when you asked me this question a few weeks ago, to define who I am, I just, the biggest part of me I feel like who I am is Mom. I’m Mom first and foremost, that’s hard to really get out of my head to think I’m, a human first or you know a woman first. But I really feel like Mom first. That is a role that I chose, and I take that quite seriously, and I really feel like my journey starts there. When I was a junior or senior in high school, I saw some sort of, either a commercial or a video or a show about foster children aging out. And it was a holiday season, and how they were going to be out of the system and although they had certain funding, they didn’t have family, and I kept thinking at that point, here I am about to go on that same journey, but I always knew that, God forbid something happen, I always had a home to come home to.

Chris: Yeah, you had a safety net. Yeah.

Vivian Mills: Yes right! Like if I had a flat tire, I have someone to call. You know my laundry had to be done, I had someone. And so in that moment, I thought to myself, you know what, I’m going to one day foster and adopt teens and help them through this process. And even if they don’t call me Mom, that's what I want to do. And that’s kind of where it started. And I just sparked and you know I detoured a little bit, I kind of did my own thing, but it was always in the back of my mind. And so after my first child was born, my then husband went through the foster parent process and we started fostering. And it went from, we would just take one kid at a time to we went to four kids. And it’s definitely been a rocky journey, you know. At the beginning, it was stuff because we just didn’t know as much as we thought we did. And then as I worked more with families, the more I heard about the stories of birth families and what they were going through.

Chris : The trauma, yeah.

Vivian: Right. It was just a cycle right. We know it, it's a cycle many of them have been in the system themselves. Many of them are, you know, they just didn’t have the things they needed. And I was like, “I need to do something more.” You know I loved working with the families one-on-one. I mean at one point I had nine kids in the home.

Chris: Oh my gosh!

Vivian: Four or five families at a time.

Chris: Were you working at the time too?

Vivian: Uh, no. So I actually, when I first started fostering, I was teaching. So I was teaching middle school…

Chris: Yeah, I knew you were a teacher. Yeah.

Vivian: But it got to the point where we were like, you know there are so many kids in the system, and it was really hard to manage working and being at the system. I really felt disconnected when I couldn’t attend court, or I couldn’t attend, you know, a team meeting, so we made the decision that I would stay home and be with the kids. And we just started taking in more, more kids. Granted, we didn’t have a big home. We only had a 1,200 square foot home…

Chris: Wow. 

Vivian: Three bedrooms, two and half baths. So one bedroom had two bunks with four girls. The other one had two bedrooms….

Chris: Four girls and two bathrooms! That math – that math is horrendous math.

Vivian: And four boys in the other room.

Chris: Yeah, yeah. They bathe. Yeah

Vivian: Oh yes. That room. There were times where you walked in that room and you could see the smell. It was so thick, you could see it, it was so thick. You were just like, “There's no way. We live in the same home. I know we wash your clothes. How does this happen?” But…

Chris: The body is an amazing thing.

Vivian: No. Many of these birth families were trying very hard to unify with their children, get back on their feet. And it would just seem like the system was so against them. So I thought, “Maybe if I go back to school, this much later in life.”

Chris: How old were you at the time?

Vivian: I was thirty-eight.

Chris: Wow, okay.

Vivian: Yes, maybe thirty-nine.

Chris: It was just to get your MSW then?

Vivian: Yes, correct. So I got my bachelors in my early, late teens/twenties and taught for some time. And then, you know we had kids, and so yeah, I was thirty-eight when I made the decision to go back to school.

Chris: Wow. So let me ask you this question. So you had watched social workers in action, right or not? Within the system.

Vivian: Yes.

Chris: So what prompted you to think, “Ok, MSW, social work is the thing”?

Vivian: I knew I wanted to do something within the child welfare system. I was working, you know, we had great case managers that were balancing tons of caseloads, and we had brand new case managers who literally I was teaching them the ropes as they were going to homes.

Chris: Right, right. 

Vivian: And I knew that it had to be something systematic. So to be honest, just like probably most people think, social work equals child welfare. And that’s the direction I went. I was just like, know I need to do something where I could work within the system, change some policies, do something, impact more families at the same time, simultaneously. Like I said, I loved working with the families one-on-one, but it just felt like the same stories over and over again, and I felt stuck. You know, I would attend courts and sometimes depending if the judge knew who I was, would allow me to speak. And a lot of times those speaking were on behalf of the birth families. Right. 

Chris: Right, right, wow.

Vivian: I supervised the visits, so I knew what mom and dad were doing at the visits. I knew how much contact they had. And, but then when the judge didn’t know who I was or, you know, it was a different type of case, I didn’t get to speak. And it just felt very restrictive, like I’m with these kids 24/7, right. I’m the one at two o'clock in the morning when they have a bad dream or they’re sick. And it's like you’re not letting me tell you what I’m seeing.

Chris: Yeah, your lived expertise. You’re really sharing your lived expertise, yeah.

Vivian: Right. It just felt, you know, the sentiments were just the same with more multiple foster families. We’re the one with kids, but yet we almost feel like we have no power to say anything. We couldn’t even go to the doctor or change the doctor without consulting the case manager, who had to contact the healthcare provider to change the primary care provider. So it was like, how do I get this kid to the doctor as soon as possible, if I can’t even call the insurance company and say, “Hey, I need to change the PCP.” We were doing our best to keep kids in their same school, so there was transportation issues. And so it was just like…

Chris: And multiply, by, you said, you had up to nine at one point.

Vivian: I had up to nine at one point, yes. So I actually made the decision to go back when we had nine. I applied for school…

Chris: Wow. Can we– let’s just stop at that little nugget right there. So what, what was going on in your head that made you think, “Oh I’ve got nine kids in my home, all with varying levels of functionality, and I’m going to go get my MSW”?

Vivian: Maybe a bit of insanity. I don’t know, maybe that. 

Chris: I mean people are listening thinking, “Holy crap, you know I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy.”

Vivian: No, you know, it isn’t that you know. It’s funny because what I hear, what I’ve heard a lot is, you know, I’ve always wanted to be a foster parent but. And layout x, y, and z circumstances. But I always say, you know, there's never a good time. There's never a good time to care with children who are in the system. There's never a good time to have a family who is in this type of dire need. You either do it or you don’t do it. But I just felt like that’s what I– It’s just my piece of what I give to the world. People, there are firefighters that run into burning buildings. I could never do that. There are other military personnel that go fight for our country and protect our freedom. I don’t do that. This is my piece that I feel like I am meant to do. And so when I was with those nine children, like you said, they were all varying, four of them were adopted. I had a biological child, I had a teen, I had an autistic boy who should have been in therapeutic care, I had two in the process of reunifying. It was just like all these things were occurring, and I’m thinking, “This is not fast enough, this is not, this is not working in the way that needs to be done.” And so I thought, “Okay, maybe I’ll look into school.” Yeah, we had nine when I started researching. What do I do now? 

Chris: Wow.

Vivian: Yeah. And in between, in those few couple hours when everybody but the youngest was at school, so I had, we had a baby in the home. And so she and I would hang out at home, while everybody was at school, and those few hours, you know what, let me just look, let me see what’s out there because it just didn’t seem like a fair system.

Chris: So alright, then why USF?

Vivian: I was adamant about doing an in-person program. So where I could be with the professors and professionals face to face. I feel like as a social worker, we work with other humans, and I needed to make sure that those who were experts or at least had the experience in this area felt I was able to do this. Right, like I feel like any sort of therapeutic profession, you should be in front of another professional to kind of get that kind of critique…

Chris: Right.

Vivian: To ensure that you’re doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Chris: The feedback loop kind of thing. Yeah.

Vivian: Correct. Right. And to really say you know what, you are definitely meant to do this or to really get that critique of maybe it’s not the path for you. Because again, we’re working with humans. Right? You’re impacting humans, and so that was my big thing was that I wanted something where I was going to be able to go face to face, meet other people, talk to other social workers, the directions they were going. And so, since I live in the area, that made the most sense. You know, I looked at a couple of other programs, and I was like, “I really don’t want to do an online program, I really want to do something face to face.” 

Chris: So let me ask you this then. Was there anything that you can think of in your journey then once you started that affirmed for you... Can you think of a story that really affirmed for you that, man, this is or was the right decision?

Vivian: So it’s funny because when you're a stay at home mom sometimes you just don’t feel like you have the qualifications. 

Chris: Right. 

Vivian: And for me, I always felt like I’m not good at speaking in front of people or talking to other people. And so in the first semester of the program, we take Diversity and Social Justice and there's a project called The Cultural Immersion Project, where you immerse in another culture and you learn about their culture. And after that presentation, I- I received so much positive feedback about how I articulated well and how I was speaking well. I– within that first semester I got a lot of feedback from people telling me how I speak so well on behalf of the families in child welfare, and I didn’t know that. Right, that’s something that I did not realize that I was doing. I was just…

Chris: But it was just your heart. Yes. You were just acting on your, on your heart. Yeah.

Vivian: Yeah, it was just me talking from like, this is what I’m seeing...

Chris: Right.

Vivian: This is what I need to do. And I guess it came out in a way that people understood me, so that was great. 

Chris: Yeah.

Vivian: It didn’t sound like that in my head to be honest, right. Even now when I present or when I talk, and it doesn’t always sound like it's coming out clearly or articulately but apparently it does so I’m glad, you know…

Chris: Well, you and I – you and I have talked about this. You know our internal voices are terrible narrators when it narrates our life. It doesn’t give us the right feedback, it only gives us feedback from all of what we bring with it as a, as a human being. You know all of our traumas and all of our experiences, all our inadequacies, it all filters through that, so a lot of times I think our internal voice is really not an accurate narrator of the way things really are.

Vivian: That's true, that’s true. And it's funny because I didn’t necessarily want to be a therapist, right. And I knew that the program was clinical, but I knew that I didn’t necessarily want to be licensed. I wanted to go more the macro level, and the more I took the policy courses, the social justice courses, the macro level courses, that really affirmed okay this is my direction, right, this is where I can see myself making change at policy and learning about historical aspects of policy and where we’re at. And it makes so much sense, right? The more I learned about why we’re at where we’re at, the more it made sense. Okay, this is why we're where we’re at. So now how do you work towards changing that. So those two pieces really affirmed okay.

Chris: I have students all the time that want to be macro-practitioners, and they question being in a clinical program, and I say to them, “Consider this a season, this is something that you really need to learn so that you’ll be a better macro social worker.” So talk about how you desired the macro but you were in a clinical program and how you kind of justified the two.

Vivian: So, you know, when I talked to clinicians I always say, “The clinical piece and the policy piece go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other, without the other.” And I felt like having the clinical experience – and I even worked as a clinician for a year after my MSW. It helped me realize what it feels like in the system. Right?

Chris: Right.

Vivian: And I think that's part of the issue between the disconnect between policy and the actual follow through that people that get affected. Because at policy level we look at it on paper, it looks, it probably looks great right. Like our goal, I think, at policy is never intentional for the most part, to harm people with the policy. 

Chris: Bad policy, yeah. It’s not the intention.

Vivian: We look at numbers, we want to make sure its balanced, we want to make sure it's helpful. We’re looking at the bigger picture. But once that policy goes into effect and it actually does what it's supposed to do when it gets to the micro level, and you’re looking at the families, sometimes it does not turn out the way you think it is. Right? And I think I needed to sit there to say, “Okay this is what it feels like on the side…”

Chris: Yeah, this is how I’m experiencing it.

Vivian: And so that way I get the perspective of okay I see this on paper at the policy level. What – let me play this out – what is this actually going to look like for my families, for the individuals I’m really intending to help? And I think that’s, that’s an advantage I have. I feel like I can see both of those perspectives.

Chris: You know it really is an important question because you know, you know this, I’m a macro guy as well, I’m a policy wonk and love all that stuff, but having been a clinician, the other thing that I think is helpful, I think about being, having been a clinician is you do kind of have a bead on reading the room…

Vivian: Mmm, yes. 

Chris: And you know, you, you can kind of see, oh okay, this is where that is going, that’s where that’s going. So I try and use my clinical skills for good, but there's a lot of times when they help me preempt bad policies or bad decision making or even knowing what turn to take even with a legislator to get them to hear what we're trying to say.

Vivian: True, true, that is true. Absolutely, yes. So it's just an important piece right. They just work together. 

Chris: They do.

Vivian: And I don’t think you can have one without the other, right. As a clinician you are – you kind of are – I don’t want to say trapped. But you’re – The ability for you to help your client is bounded by the policy that is there. And so if you’re not familiar with it or you don’t know how it works, then you’re kind of stuck. Whereas if you understand the policy and how the processes work you can help your clients…

Chris: So true.

Vivian: You know, navigate it and then the other way around. You know as a policy maker, we say, “)kay we want to help families but how come when it gets down there what’s happening?” Right and that connection, you know it's that top down, bottom up.

Chris: So you were then, you were a non-advanced standing student. So you had to do the full, what the three years, in all of its glory?

Vivian: Yes, two years.

Chris: Two – is it two years? Here I am in the program and I don’t. Mine was three, mine was three when I did it, but maybe just because I drug it out. But…

Vivian: There was a summer session, so I don’t know if that counts.

Chris: Yeah, okay. Yeah, okay, so how did you do that, how did you navigate all of that? Cause you still got the kids in the house. You know, how did you keep yourself in it to win it?

Vivian: So by the time I was accepted and the program started, we were down, I was down to five kids at that point.

Chris: Yeah, okay, just five, just five children.

Vivian: Some were reunified, some went to where they needed to be. It was definitely a learning process in the beginning because being a face to face program, I had to be on campus so many hours a week which meant you know that I had to have child care for the kids in the home, and you know I never take for granted the fact that I have some privilege right. I have family local, I have some resources to be able to put my kids in daycare so that I could go to school.

Chris: Yeah.

Vivian: Um, but what was really helpful was the family piece of it. You know parents coming over to kind of cook a meal here and there so that you know if I was running late. I had a span of age of kids, so my biological child was the oldest and she was fourteen/fifteen at that point, so she could do some babysitting some evenings, so there was the – I did have some help. But definitely being on campus and then coming home and then having all those mom duties right, dinner, bath time, bedtime…

Chris: Their homework and your homework.

Vivian: Yes, my homework didn’t start until everyone went to bed. And so funny enough now, I’m a coffee addict. I didn’t start drinking coffee ‘til I started the program.

Chris: We’re sorry. We apologize. 

Vivian: So it became, you know, it went from coffee in the morning to stay awake in class to a cup at night so I could stay up till 2 o’clock to write a paper or finish an assignment. And then there was just some days where it was like, okay I can’t stay up, and I just went to bed. Between my master’s and my PhD, there's been a lot of late, late nights. That’s probably not the healthiest but you know…

Chris: But it's necessary to do it the way you – and I know you’re, you know this about yourself, you’re an overachiever. So to do it the way you wanted to do it, you wanted to make sure it was exactly right, and if that meant 3:00 a.m., that meant 3:00 a.m. Because you were holding yourself to that standard. Thankfully I don’t hold myself to that standard. My sleep is more important. But alright, you’ve kind of skipped ahead to the, you know, drumroll please, so now I need to call you Dr. Vivian Mills, because guys, Vivian defended her dissertation and was granted full on privileges of a PhD. And so now you’re looking at, listening to Dr. Vivian Mills. That journey and in and of it itself was a whole other add-on experience, right? 

Vivian: Yes. So as I was doing my internship during my MSW, I realized that although I would’ve loved the work, MSW would only bring me to mid-level management for a while because I lacked the experience. And so after spending some time with individuals in the system, you know, I got a chance to work with judges, and I thought, “This is just not where I need to be yet.” I really wanted to, the more I studied policy, the more I was like I want to work at policy, like really make those changes. And with my MSW, I would be working in the system but still within those policies, right. I felt like it would’ve been not enough pull to change some of those policies early on. So I spoke with several people and they’re like, “You know what, you need to get a PhD. That’ll jump you kind of ahead.” That’ll allow me to do research, work with people in policy, and get me to the place where I need to actually make those changes. It wasn’t my initial goal. Right I went in at 38 just to get my masters, so that I could do something to change the system. You know, PhD was not something that I had in mind at all, especially as you're working on your masters and you know you are now seeing everything…

Chris: Yeah, you’re not dreaming of writing a dissertation while you’re doing that.

Vivian: No, absolutely not. And as much as I, as much as I grew as a writer, like it's definitely– I’m a math/science person so let me start off with that. I taught math in middle school. So my mind is very quantitative. I like things in boxes. I like excel sheets all filled out. And so writing was always something that was difficult, hence the reason why I was up till 2-3 o’clock in the morning. Because I could just not spit a paper out. There were students in the cohort that were like, “Oh, I just spent one night and wrote a ten page paper.” I can’t do that. It takes me several– I had to build up to that. So definitely not dreaming of a dissertation at all. Thinking that anything over twenty pages, at that point of my life, would have been just too much. And so, but yeah, that’s just the direction I went. The more I talked to people, the more I was like, you know, and again because I came back to school later. Maybe if I was younger, and I went and got my masters, you know, late twenties-early thirties, I would have felt like, “Okay I would have the capacity to work within the system and work up the ladder.”

Chris: But, you know, can I say something about that real quick though? It’s really– I think what you said it’s really, really important, because I think sometimes– I’ve had several students who got into the MSW and thought, “Oh my gosh because I was successful here, I could do that, it’s possible.” So your success begot success for you in the sense that you were in it and you realized you could actually do it and you challenged yourself to go that next level. And so you wouldn’t have known it unless you did the MSW.

Vivian: True, that’s absolutely true. Yes, I will definitely say I didn’t think I wasn’t gonna get into an MSW program, first of all. Writing those first two…

Chris: Yeah, those essays.

Vivian: Those essays. And, you know I hadn’t written a paper. The last– I was reading like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and...

Chris: Yeah, “Give a Moose a Muffin!”

Vivian: Right! Those were the books I was reading, right. I was reading to my kids and those were the books that you know I would read with my teen, who again, teen novel. So, when was the last time I picked up any sort of policy or journal article?

Chris: Right, right, right, yeah.

Vivian: I didn’t even have time to read the newspaper at that point, so when they were like, you have to write this and I’m like, “This is gonna sound like I’m in high school.”

Chris: Well and you know you're a math/science person too, and so we were evoking from you some of that more right brain kind of what a lot of math/science people view as those softer skills which were probably a little bit of a challenge as well.

Vivian: Yes, it was definitely. I was very nervous. I was very hesitant. I definitely, when I read the application and had to write two essays, I almost stopped. I was like, “I don’t know if I could do this, if I could write this many words and write it eloquently for someone to say, oh she can be in a master’s program.” I actually went and talked with the academic advisor prior to applying, to kind of say,  “This is where I’m coming from, this is what I’m looking at, should I even try?” Like I really did not– I really wasn’t sure. Having been out of school for so long, right, our education sometimes is very daunting when you're not…

Chris: Yes, well the system itself, absolutely.

Vivian: Right, the whole process, all that stuff when you're on the outside you're like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t, I can’t imagine that... a master’s degree?” Let alone after that. So I was shocked, you know, and elated when I was accepted into the program, but I really had no idea that you know, if I were to get in or not because it was just like writing those two essays…

Chris: Boy, was that a smart decision on our part. Whoever read your stuff, good for them! Thank God you did. 

Vivian: You know, and the thing about it is that it's funny because, one, it's a personal statement, and you know it's my life. It’s why I went back to school, why I was choosing this program, and then the other one, the other one was the greatest essay but I was like, “I don’t know how to limit this.” I think it was something to the effect of: “If money was not an option, how would I help the system, what change would I make?” If money wasn’t a system, how would I help child welfare? How can I limit that? Say that and wrap that around in an essay to say this is what I would do. So it was very, a very daunting task, I remember that.

Chris: Well you know so much of what we all do in social work really, yeah the money would be great, but we all have just kind of accepted the reality, it is what it is. But so much of it really is about that commitment and call to the work and to the passion and to that, you taking our lived experience and being able to say, “I know this is what I want to do. I know this is what I’m going to do,” and then getting up each day and doing it again and again and again. And for me, that’s why I have done it for thirty-five years. I’m not done, much to some probably people should grin, I ain’t done yet.  And so…

Vivian: You shouldn’t. You should keep going. 

Chris: I love, love, love that I still have passion about the populations that I serve.

Vivian: Right, that’s definitely my drive. Right? There are days, you know, there are days with, you know, you have essays and papers and kids sick, and you're just like, “Am I, why am I doing this?” And that’s what drove me. Right? Why, I just felt like I just needed to make that change.

Chris: I can remember when I was doing mine. I was in my first three years of marriage, I mean I was driving, you know an hour one way to go to class, and I could remember being angry at myself as I was mowing, paying my bills, and doing all that stuff. I’m a grown ass adult worried about what I would write in a five page, five point paper. When I got a four out of five– Well, where's that other point? Why? What happened? Tell me. I can remember feeling almost crazy that that was going all in my brain and existing simultaneously where I was an adult but yet was still in the role of a student. And it was sometimes really uncomfortable.

Vivian: Yeah, it definitely. You know the funny thing is that I remember when I was sitting in a class, and I had this memory that when I was a twenty-something year old in my education program and there were older women who were taking the courses. They went back to school to be a teacher, and how much they struggled. And I remember at that age thinking, “Gosh, are they going to be able to be teachers? Can they do this?” And here I am right now sitting in that position like, holy crap, like I’m here sitting here, struggling. Like am I going to get this paper in? Is this really what, you know, what am I supposed to do? And in the back of my mind thinking all the things I’m supposed to be taking care of and I’m sitting in this classroom…

Chris: Right, managing the risk, managing the risk.

Vivian: Yes, and you know trying to make sure that I was contributing in class to sound like I knew what was being talked about.

Chris: Right. Fake it ‘til you make it.

Vivian: Yes, it's definitely a surreal process to come back to school later in life, right. I feel like there's an advantage for sure.

Chris: And it's also humbling, don’t you think?

Vivian: Yes.

Chris: It's very humbling, but with that being humble, you get a lot of practice wisdom.

Vivian: Yes, yes. Right, like I feel like the advantage of coming back later in life is that I came back for a purpose. 

Chris: Right, yeah. You were very driven. 

Vivian:  I knew and my passion is what drove me to continue and to work through it. There wasn’t a question of the population I wanted to work with. There wasn’t a question of what direction. I knew what I knew what I knew. 

Chris: Because it was your experience, Vivian. It was your lived experience, and as I say to people all the time, it’s really difficult to argue with somebody’s experience. It is what it is. 

Vivian Mills: Right. Absolutely, absolutely right. It’s just what I came with, and so I felt like that’s what really, you know, when we think about people coming back to school later in life, I think you have this drive, you have this passion to come back because you have so many other things to be thinking about, right. There's really no logical reason I had to come back. I could’ve just kept going in the direction I was going, and it would have been a fine life, right. But there was just something in me, this fire that was like, “Okay I need to do something more. Let’s– I have to change. There’s something more I have to do.” When I was fostering, I was also teaching the new foster parent classes, and I was mentoring, you know…

Chris: Of course you were.

Vivian: I just needed to do a thing. I really was so passionate about and still am about this work, that’s what kept me going through those tough late nights, you know. And just to self-disclose, during my program I went through a divorce, and you know, a single parent, and trying to manage all that, much wise and balancing all that. But it was just the drive that said, “Okay, we’re going to keep going. You’re just going to keep going.” And luckily I made some great friends in the program that really were my support. So yeah, it definitely was what drove me. Then we all know, right, we just went through a whole pandemic, and to have completed the work – it was just the matter of I just knew this what I was meant to do. 

Chris: Well, let me close this by saying, I’m so glad you weren’t a fire woman. I’m so glad you chose to do this and to run into these proverbial fires rather than others because I know sitting here I’ve been a benefactor of your wisdom and your grace under fire and all of that stuff. And so, I’m so thankful just to count you in my circle and to be able to look at you and say, “You know what, I can do this. I don’t have nine children living in my house.” It writes the ship, it normalizes the ship very, very quickly for me. And so I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for disclosing and sharing this time with our students, our prospective students, alums, whatever. I do think that you are remarkable. I know it's so cute to say. But I do think you’re a remarkable human being, and I’m so glad to share a profession with you, and it really inspires me, just like it did, which inspired all of this podcast stuff was to hear you the first time and tell your story. It really inspires me to keep on going. So I want to thank you for that. I want to wish you luck post PhD. I can’t imagine where you’re going to go next. I mean, I don't know how you top this, and so I’m excited to see what happens. And so those of you listening, dig in, come and take a visit at the university, meet with an academic advisor that Vivian talked about, and frankly you can even reach out to one of us and say, “Do I really want to do this?” Because Vivian is around. Vivian teaches part time, so she’s there. So I just want to encourage people who think, “Maybe I can’t.” That maybe you can. Do you have any parting shots Vivian, anything you want to share for the good of the order with this group before we leave?

Vivian: You know follow your passion, follow your hearts, that’s what's going to make you happy, right. It’s going to be hard work, let me tell you I’m not going to lie it was hard work, it was hard work, but so needed right. If you have a heart and passion for our populations, you are so needed because there's not enough of us out there.

Chris: That’s exactly right. I say you’ll never lack for something interesting to do, if you’re willing to do anything.

Vivian: Absolutely, it really is wide open, and I think that’s what I love about social work. Is that you can really go anywhere with it. And there's just not enough of us out there.

Chris: Well I’m thankful you are out there, and I’m going to stop recording, and you know we’ll see where this takes us. This could be an exciting way for students to really engage with us in a way they haven’t before, so I’m really hoping that's what these kinds of discussions turn into.

Vivian: Sounds great.