At the heart of social work is service to others, and in that dimension, Keuka College senior Nakita Simons sets the standard.
Praised as a natural-born leader, the Prattsburgh resident and social work major coordinates so many special projects for non-profit agencies and organizations between home and school that it can be hard to keep them all straight. For her multitude of service, Simons was recently named one of six student Social Workers of the Year at a regional chapter event for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The NASW award recognizes social work students in the New York State Chapter’s Genesee Valley Division who have made significant contributions in the field.
According to Stephanie Craig, associate professor of social work and chair of the College Division of Social Work, Simons “is versatile, dedicated and one of the most diligent new social workers to enter this field. She’s got a lot of social work insight that has just really blossomed and developed through her experience here.”
Just how much does Simons serve? Well, she delivers holiday food baskets for the needy and serves at a bake sale fundraiser for the Howard Union Church. She coordinates Christmas gift deliveries through the Angel Tree project and runs twice-monthly volunteer support at Milly’s Pantry in Penn Yan for the College’s Association of Future Social Workers (ASFW) chapter. The ASFW members also host an annual Hunger Banquet to raise awareness of poverty, and assist the Branchport-Keuka Park Fire Department with their annual Halloween party for local children.
As president of Phi Alpha Theta, the College honors society for social work students, Simons coordinates all fundraising and community service work for the group. The newest venture, slated for April, will be conducting service work on behalf of veterans at the Bath VA Medical Center, she said. Back on campus, Phi Theta Alpha has also given a presentation on veterans’ issues, including mental illness, homeless rates, and other needs. In addition, Simons has served three years as a New Student Orientation (NSO) mentor, logging extra hours on her own to take new freshmen under her wing and show them skills for success.
In addition, Simons, who also served as a biology tutor, maintains a 3.9 grade point average, said Craig who attended the NASW awards banquet with Simons last week.
And the NASW award is not the only one. Simons boasts another prestigious accomplishment: earning a BSW Child Welfare Scholarship from New York’s Social Work Education Consortium. The scholarship carries a two-year employment contract as a child welfare caseworker with a county Department of Social Services agency and the possibility of earning additional scholarship money for a master’s degree in social work, provided all goes well in an initial semester-long practicum. But once again, Simons stands apart.Simons has been conducting her practicum this semester at Steuben County DSS and her supervisors “are thrilled, so she’s making her mark there,” Craig added.
According to Simons, the practicum is going so well “they’re setting up my caseworker test for the end of April.”
Part of that is due to the quality of her Keuka College education, Simons said. Scholarship winners across the state participate in a private three-hour child welfare seminar every other week “and when I talk with other students who haven’t gone to Keuka College, I see that I have a better understanding than they do,” Simons said.
Further, her sophomore year Field Period™ experience as the first undergraduate scholar-intern for Steuben County Preventative, helped her get where she is today. Because of that great experience, she was confident applying for the BSW scholarship and job opportunity, she said. The Keuka College Field Period™ is a self-designed experience that allows a student to explore their interests every year, and can be an internship, cultural experience, community service project, creative endeavor, or spiritual-based exploration.
The boost in confidence carries over to her post-graduation plans. Simons hopes to complete her master’s of social work degree online through Fordham University. Ultimately, she’d like to earn a clinical license so she can set up her own private social work practice and offer pet therapy to clients. According to Simons, new research is showing that children, especially those with disabilities, respond very well to pet therapy, and the opportunity to merge her love of pets with her interest in children and families is one she doesn’t want to pass up.
“It’s a resource that we don’t have around the area now, so I’d like to get involved in that, maybe start one,” she said. While a minimum of three years of casework supervision is required, Simons maintains her optimism.
“It’s a long process ahead of me, but I’m confident I’ll be able to get there. I definitely have a really good starting point as an undergraduate,” she said.