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Student following in footsteps of social worker who once helped her

Assistance given 27 years ago inspired a then-teen mother to enter the same field

Michelle Shangin, social work, MSW, December 2021, young mother

Michelle Shangin, who lives in Alaska, will receive her master's degree in social work from ASU in December. Photo courtesy of Michelle Shangin

August 17, 2021

More than a quarter century ago, a social worker helped a teenage mother cope with some of the struggles that come from being a parent at an early age. That teenager was Michelle Shangin, who today says the experience motivated her to enter the field herself many years later.

“I knew I always wanted to work in the social work field. It was all about timing,” said Shangin, an online student who will receive her master's degree in social work from Arizona State University's School of Social Work this December. “The social worker who helped me obtain housing, public assistance and day care when I was homeless and pregnant with my son inspired me to want to eventually work in the social work field.” 

Recently, Shangin came upon the name of that social worker from 27 years ago.

“I messaged her to see if it was her, and to my surprise it was her! Talk about full circle! I told her that I have raved about her during my undergraduate and graduate program,” Shangin said. “She thanked me and wished me the best of luck with my new chapter.”

Read on to learn more about Shangin and her post-graduation plans, as well as some interesting things about her.

Question: Tell us a little about yourself today and your early years.

Answer: Today I am busy applying for clinician positions and going on interviews. The past two weeks have been a transition because I am done with school. I have so much time on my hands and no deadlines to meet with submitting assignments. I always stay busy, though; it’s just in my nature.

I am an only child, and growing up it was just me and my mom. I have been taking care of my mom since I was a kid. The past couple of years while in graduate school have been challenging due to her having the onset of dementia.

Q: What do you hope to do with your degree after college?

A: My goal is to work in the Indian Health Services Behavioral Department in Anchorage, Alaska, working with individuals who experience persistent chronic mental illnesses.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Michelle Beyers, Kathy Crowley and Anthony Johnson gave me positive feedback that helped me tremendously in enhancing my research skills, improving my critical thinking skills and being precise in articulating my work on all the papers. They were very encouraging and supportive when I needed extra time on assignments.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those students following behind you?

A: Be kind to yourself with sleep and self-care. Also, work hard to get your assignments in early if possible and not wait until the last day. Turning in your assignments early reduces stress on the weekend when those assignments are due at 11:59 p.m. Arizona time.

Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at ASU — about yourself, about what you’re studying, anything that came to you as a complete surprise?

A: During the spring 2021 term, I signed up for a Zoom meeting with the American Indian Social Work Student Association (AISWSA). The session was called “PhD, Now or Later,” with guest speakers professors Felicia Mitchell, James Herbert Williams, Matt Ignacio and Shanondora Billiot

Attending the Zoom meetings, and hearing and seeing the wonderful people who are from an American Indian and African American culture was powerful, as was listening to the other MSW graduate students and their questions. It was a beautiful platform seeing Indigenous people who have earned their PhD and future American Indian MSW students interested in obtaining their PhDs. I was the only Alaskan Native in the Zoom session, and the meeting had about 10 students.

I am planning to apply for my doctorate in possibly five years. I know for a fact one of the schools where I will apply for the PhD social work program will be Arizona State University.

Q: What’s your proudest academic or professional accomplishment to date?

A: My proudest academic accomplishment was being accepted into Arizona State University in 2019.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would contribute to funding the creation of little home communities for people experiencing homelessness. There would be wraparound services for the community residents to help them gain the skills and resources needed in becoming self-sufficient.

Q: What are your top three favorite music artists right now?

A: The xx, Matisyahu and Anuhea.

Q: What is something you think would surprise people to learn about you?

A: I was chased by a brown grizzly bear near my family’s village in Alaska when I was a kid in the 1980s. My cousin and I were picking salmon berries in the hills, and the bear walked out of the bushes. So my cousin and I jumped on our three-wheeler Honda, and the bear chased us. It finally stopped when we got to the commercial fishing vessel dock! The bear was right on our tail while we were going full throttle on the Honda. Then we all came to an abrupt stop when we got to the loud, busy fishing dock. 

I am a member of a Facebook group about lost and found animals, because for some reason, lost animals tend to find me and I return them to their owners.

Q: What’s your life motto in one sentence?

A: My story is not your story, nor is your story my story, so moving forward, let us tell our story to one another, to honor our ancestors and provide healing and growth for today, tomorrow and our future generations.

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