Social work outstanding grad applies advanced degrees to help him serve his hometown
Native Tucsonan guided by professor’s advice: ‘The obstacle is the way’
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
First-generation graduate student Albert Murrieta grew up as a Latino in southwest Tucson, where wants to serve his community as a social worker. The spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate from the School of Social Work had spent 10 years at a local nonprofit that provides Head Start and Early Head Start services to local children. While working there, he decided to pursue his chosen field.
Murrieta has a master’s degree in early childhood education, and in May 2022 he is earning another in social work, a degree program that he said prepared him well to pursue a second career – and next, a doctorate.
Earning his degrees involved meeting many challenges, but he said a quote from one of his professors, Craig LeCroy, kept him persevering: “The obstacle is the way.”
“While in my concentration year, I had the opportunity to be his student for two semesters in a row,” Murrieta said. “It was in his social work graduate course, SWG 619, where that quote reinforced my most important lesson.”
The course teaches students how to critically examine evidence-based practices, clinical treatment and other social work applications, he said.
Since then, whenever he encounters challenges he’s reminded of those words, which give him a sense of optimism.
“The way I interpret it is that we’ll have obstacles and barriers that come our way, but we shouldn’t be afraid of them, and should know that we’ll develop and grow through these obstacles,” Murrieta said. “Instead of being afraid and sidestepping them, embrace each obstacle for what it is. Sometimes the obstacle is not something to get out of the way, but the whole reason you’re doing what you’re doing.”
While studying for his doctorate, Murrieta will work full time as a staff member with the ASU Office of Community Health, Engagement and Resiliency (OCHER), a research center within the School of Social Work, where he said he will engage in community practice around youth violence and crime prevention.
Read on to learn more about Murrieta’s ASU journey:
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: My “aha” moment came in 2017 when I realized I had a profound interest in studying social work. For several years, I worked as an administrator for Child-Parents Centers Inc., a local grantee for Head Start and Early Head Start services. One year, I had the opportunity to attend the Zero to Three conference in San Diego, California, with colleagues. After attending several sessions over a three-day period, I walked away with a new insight, one I had never considered before. I realized I was intrigued with mental health services, specifically around infant/toddler mental health, child development and family support. The connections within my scope of work, mental health approaches and where I was at the current moment in my profession, led me to further explore the possibility of attaining a second master’s degree, in social work.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: While studying at ASU, I’ve learned so many valuable lessons, central concepts and key terms. Most importantly, I have grown personally and professionally as a graduate student. The most valuable lesson I learned while attending ASU is that life comes with ups and downs, highs and lows. Through my field education experience my perspective as a professional developed exponentially. It allowed me to seek the larger picture and take a step back while searching for meaning and relevance. It was through these experiences where I learned who I want to be as a leader, as a lifelong learner and as a social work professional. These experiences taught me that not everyone will have the same perspective, and seeking to understand an allocentric point of view requires empathy, compassion and grace.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU because I believe in its social work mission, vision, philosophy and values. After discovering where I wanted to go with the next chapter of my career, the School of Social Work at ASU Tucson felt like the best fit. Growing up as a Tucsonan, the Tucson community has offered me lifelong enriching experiences. At the same time, I have been able to give back to my community.
Prior to attending ASU, I worked in the field of human services for nearly a decade. Every morning I’d wake up and go to work fulfilled, content and satisfied with my position. Yet, inside I felt I had a strong desire or lingering urge for more. For years, I reflected on my experience at the Zero to Three conference, and it was in 2020 when I finally decided to enroll as a Master of Social Work student.
The mission of social work is unique in the sense that the profession itself brings a depth of versatility. As social workers, we consistently hold the “person in environment” concept as a driving force while considering various social work applications. This is why I chose ASU. The School of Social Work has fulfilled my appetite in expanding my knowledge, skill and distributed expertise.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Seek every opportunity that comes your way. Attending graduate school is not easy, and it might often feel like juggling several different balls at once. However, when new opportunities come up, do not be afraid. Be as open as possible to anything that comes your way. Take risks, try new things and explore new ideas outside of the box. Along the way, understand making mistakes is OK, and when you do make mistakes, follow up by taking ownership and asking questions around how you can do it differently next time. Lastly, do your best to produce good work! Good work never goes unnoticed, and if it does, lean on your values to recognize your self-worth and determination.
My second year I went full out. I stopped working my full-time job after 10 years to embrace taking risks and doing what I said in my advice: my course work and internships. I also applied myself to be accepted into fellowships. What I wish I’d have known was to be more patient, trust in the process and live in the moment. I was so excited about all these opportunities that my plate got a little full. But I said, it’ll be fine, trust in the process and everything happens for a reason. Don’t overwork yourself, be present, be in the moment. Show up and be yourself.
Here’s something I said to a student a year behind me: Don’t let life pass you by while you’re making other plans. Enjoy your experiences now and everything they have to offer.
Q: What was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?
A: The start of my MSW program was during the global COVID-19 pandemic. For the first year, I attended courses via Zoom and completed assignments on Canvas. My favorite place to study and meet friends has been at local coffee shops around town and in Tucson’s historic Fourth Avenue district.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduating with my master’s degree in social work, I will begin a new journey as a doctoral student at the University of Arizona. This spring, I was accepted into the Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies PhD program with the College of Education. As a doctoral student, I intend to explore diversity and social justice issues in education.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: If I received $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, I would tackle poverty within our communities and help marginalized individuals who are living in unhealthy conditions. I would strive to support communities in poverty live a better life and feel a sense of well-being.