We sat down with Baylor MSW graduate, Jaja Chen, to answer the question, “what can you do with a social work degree.” Use Jaja’s journey to reflect on your own aspirations and what jobs you can find with an MSW.
Graduation year: 2016
Hometown: Norman, Oklahoma
Undergraduate degree: Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University
What made you decide to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW)?
I wanted to become a social worker initially because of my experiences overseas when I lived in China and Taiwan from middle through high school. I saw the inspirational work of so many international social workers and leaders that were guiding creative and innovative organizations — from Fair-Trade cafes to non-profit organizations — to help and serve people.
Social work was also intriguing to me because of the many career pathways. I could explore everything from advocacy to opportunities to engage in clinical social work/therapy. I wanted to have the flexibility of international social work, advocacy, and therapy career pathways.
I chose the MSW because I was a Bachelor of Social Work student at Baylor and the Advanced Standing program was only an additional 10-months program. I had a desire to continue internships in the Waco area following my Bachelor’s degree and I wanted to continue the community relationships further.
What needs to be debunked about jobs with an MSW?
I had a preconceived notion that social workers only work one-on-one with people in non-profit settings. Since studying social work and working in my field, I’ve come to realize that social workers belong in many settings.
In fact, many of my colleagues are now organizational leaders in congregations, pursuing political careers, working in the medical field or field of education, and engaging in areas outside of the nonprofit world.
What are you up to now?
I am a co-owner/Chief of Strategic Initiatives & Business Partnerships at Cha Community. Cha Community is a boba tea cafe headquartered in Waco, Texas with a mission of bridging cultures and creating community through premium boba tea, pan-fried dumplings, and Taiwanese and Chinese food.
Outside of Cha Community, I am a solo private practice therapist. I specialize in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, trauma therapy, perinatal mental health, and burnout. I also provide EMDR consultation and trauma training virtually to clinicians throughout the U.S.
What’s a day in the life look like for an business owner and trauma counselor?
My days vary as I am self-employed. That is why I love my career; I have the opportunity to do different things daily! However, a typical day would consist of me working out of my office in Waco, providing trauma therapy and mental health counseling to clients in person or via telehealth. I then work on documentation and answering emails for prospective clients.
In between clients, I create and plan content through social media for our small business, Cha Community, and answer questions guests may have via social media. I work on grant reports or follow-up on grant applications for our small business.
Many work days, I am also engaging with news reporters for interviews or preparing information for media pieces. I also find myself participating in community panels or networking in-person or virtually, representing Cha Community.
To finish my day, I’ll meet with my co-owner to discuss strategic planning for the next season or two. We specifically discuss planning future drink and food releases, retail merchandise, and other opportunities that come our way.
My career involves everything from trauma therapy and clinical social work to strategic planning, brand management, marketing, public relations, community engagement, and customer service.
How does what you learned at Baylor help in your current role?
The MSW program at Baylor taught me a lot about administrative social work and advocacy. This included skills that I use today as a small business owner including networking, building relationships and community partnerships, grant writing and policy development.
I learned these skills in the MSW program and through internship settings, but I did not fully consider the applications these skills have for entrepreneurship and small business ownership.
Now, looking back, I see so many ways that these administrative social work skills apply to entrepreneurs — particularly when seeking to start up and to introduce new products/services to a market.
What makes your job in social work unique?
My role as a therapist in private practice is quite common as a clinical social worker career pathway. However, the main difference for me is that alongside private practice and EMDR consultations, I am also a small business owner and utilizing more macro/administrative social work skills in that setting.
Merging social work with the food and beverage industry is quite uncommon and I have not met many social workers who have pursued this career pathway. However, I believe this is a growing area of need particularly as more businesses are looking to hire leaders with strategic planning skills and abilities to navigate diverse issues to work within multicultural communities.
More than ever, businesses want to hire Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) consultants, managers, and leaders. In addition, businesses and corporations have an increasing desire to merge social impact with their business’ mission. I believe social workers are some of the most trained and equipped leaders to lead in these arenas and more social workers need to be in these roles.
Advice to future MSW students?
There are a plethora of career opportunities for MSWs. I encourage future MSWs to find social workers in your industry/career pathway that inspire you and reach out to them.
Get to know them over coffee (or boba tea!) and learn more about how they reached their current role. There is so much to learn from those who have come before you. Don’t be afraid to learn from their mistakes and experiences so that you, too, may one day pursue a similar career pathway.
What will you do with an MSW? Find your own path with a Baylor MSW with our quiz or explore all that a Baylor MSW can offer.