Peninah (Penny) Kansiime is a Lecturer of Social Work and has been with Excelsia College for nearly one and a half years. She has a heart for social issues including forced migration, child protection, family and domestic violence, mental health, and HIV/AIDS, having practised in the field for 12 years. Penny has an international and local practice background and has worked both in university and college settings across Sydney, as well as Uganda. She brings her cross-cultural experience to the College. Penny’s approach to teaching is by helping students to become critically reflective practitioners.
In her work as a social worker and lecturer, Penny has learned from God to think outside of the box and consider multiple perspectives. ‘Out–of–the–box thinking involves me getting out of the comfort zone regarding what I know and listening to different opinions and respecting them,even if they are contrary to mine,’ Penny says.
God has also taught Penny the value of kindness and empathy. ‘Our students come from across the world, and I have learned with time that we have to listen, understand and treat them as individuals because each of their circumstance is unique,’ she explains. ‘God has challenged me to judge less and be more empathetic.’
One of Penny’s favourite books in the Bible is Psalm 91. Verses 1–2 say, ‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
One of the things that has surprised Penny the most is the generosity of Excelsia in looking after her emotional wellbeing. Penny would describe the College as a ‘genuinely caring environment’ and it is this care that she brings to her teaching and students as she educates the next generation of social workers. With a down to earth personality and beautiful smile, Penny is a fitting Excellent Personality and Excelsia is lucky to have her.
If you’re interested in helping to care for people and want to learn from compassionate staff like Penny, why not explore our Master of Social Work (Qualifying) course?
Excelsia College students come from all over the world to study social work, counselling, business, creative and performing arts, accounting, and education. Over 80 per cent of our students speak a language other than English, and over 58 nationalities are represented at the College. We love this because Excelsia College aims to be a global, multicultural community where people share the same vision and values. It reminds us of the picture painted in Revelation 7:9, which talks about every nation and tribe coming together, and we aim to create such a community.
Did you know that in 2018, 876,399 international students were enrolled in educational programs across Australia? This is approximately 8.3 per cent more than in 2017, during which 796,130 international students were enrolled according to Australian Government Department of Education and Training (2019). Over three-quarters of these international students entered Australia through agents (ICEF Monitor, 2019). In terms of students studying ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students), China made up the largest source of enrolments at 23.6 per cent, followed by Colombia at 14.6 per cent of enrolments, Brazil at 10 per cent and Thailand at 6 per cent (Australian Government Department of Education Skills and Employment International student data summary, 2020).
Having friends and colleagues from across the globe reflects our increasingly diverse workplace and world. So in a context where Australia, and our College community is so multicultural, how we can learn and appreciate each other’s differences? And why is Excelsia pursuing the goal of being a multicultural college?
Diversity and multiculturalism help students, teaching and support staff gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of their peers as they take the time to understand one another and learn about each other’s upbringings, traditions, and knowledge. Diversity and multiculturalism also foster emotional skills such as understanding, empathy, and compassion. Staff and students gain greater cultural awareness and understanding that reflects the outside world, as well as practising critical thinking on current social issues surrounding cultural diversity.
At Excelsia College, we take pride in loving one another, learning about one another, and removing biases and preconceptions we might have. Harmony Day is prominent in Excelsia’s calendar, where we encourage staff and students to share their cultural heritage, including through food and clothing. Our chaplain also hosts a Nepalese BBQ where we celebrate South Asian culture, food, and music.
Being a multicultural community with smaller class sizes means we can learn to share our strengths, potential, the way we see each other and how we work together. We can gain a more accurate representation and knowledge of cultural groups.
Excelsia helps staff and students to gain global perspectives and practices that go beyond our own world views and we help to prepare students for careers in a variety of global settings. No matter where our students go once they graduate, they can take those valuable skills of empathy, critical thinking, and cultural awareness they learned at Excelsia into their local, national and international communities. Excelsia is building a culturally aware, global community in not only Sydney but also throughout the world.
Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2020). End of year summary of international student data 2020 [PDF]. Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment. internationaleducation.gov.au/research/international-student-data/Documents/MONTHLY%20SUMMARIES/2020/Full%20year%20summary.pdf
Department of Education and Training. (2019). 2018 time series graph: International student enrolments in Australia 1994–2018. [PDF]. Australian Government Department of Education and Training. internationaleducation.gov.au/research/international-student-data/Documents/INTERNATIONAL%20STUDENT%20DATA/2018/2018%20Time%20Series%20Graph.pdf
ICEF Monitor. (2019, October 30). Education agents refer 75% of Australia’s international students. ICEF. monitor.icef.com/2019/10/education-agents-refer-75-of-australias-international-students/
A 2017 article from The Sydney Morning Herald on the future of work revealed that most people will change careers 7 to 11 times during their lifetime (Walsh, 2017). For the human services industry and social work, though you might change the direction of your career 7 to 11 or more times, you’ll always work as a social worker. This is one unique selling point which Professor Peter Camilleri believes makes social work such an interesting profession to be involved in as a graduate. Camilleri was formerly the Head Professor of Social Work at Australian Catholic University and is excited to join the Excelsia College community this year and showcase the brand new Master of Social Work (Qualifying).
Covering a range of material and skill development, the Master of Social Work (Qualifying) course strongly focuses on engaging with people, including learning how to work interpersonally, and developing skills in intervention. Students will also build up knowledge about how community services and healthcare systems operate, as well as working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, and cultural and linguistically diverse groups, through to sexuality and disability. As part of their studies, students are also required to undertake 1000 hours of practical exposure in diverse areas such as the community service sector, with faith-based agencies like Anglicare and Salvation Army, as well as in healthcare and hospitals.
‘Social work allows you to use the experience you’ve had in another practice area and that’s seen as a positive when you’re entering a new role,’ Camilleri explains. For example, someone could work in mental health and then move to community development, then back to aged care and develop transferable skills and knowledge between each area. Social workers can also be involved in a range of critical areas in society like disaster welfare, assessing resources for health, welfare, recreation, housing, employment, and other community services (Job Outlook, 2020), and can help to improve the quality of life for at-risk groups and communities. As the job has the potential to expose a social worker to all walks of life, highly relational skills are desirable. Camilleri believes a strong asset of social workers is their ‘very high level of soft skills, which are attractive for employers who are looking for people who can be empathetic, managing others and work effectively in teams.’
This year, the intake of Master of Social Work (Qualifying) students has been largely international, including students from the Philippines, Nepal, and India. Camilleri believes this melting pot of different cultures and religions can affect individuals’ understanding of working with others. Unlike many larger tertiary institutions, being a small and independent higher education provider allows Excelsia to have a more intimate cohort and class sizes. This, in turn, can foster an environment that is supportive and positive for students to have deeper discussions, including discussions about personal faith. ‘Compared to a more mainstream university, you get to know the students incredibly well,’ says Camilleri. ‘And because social work is very much hands-on and involved with people, it’s important as a student that you don’t get lost. If you’re in a class of 100, then it’s easy to just skate through and no one really notices you. That’s not true at Excelsia; you can’t be an anonymous student number here,’ says Camilleri.
As an industry, social work is continuing to grow significantly. The ABS Labour Force Survey data revealed there were 30,000 social workers in 2020 (Job Outlook, 2020) and National Skills Commission Employment data projects this figure will increase to 34,600 social workers by 2025 (Labour Market Information Portal, 2021). Once a social work student graduates, their career can change quite dramatically over the following five years. They could be working in the non-government community services sector, a private practice, or other faith-based agencies such as Catholic Care, Baptist Care, Wesley Mission. They could work in State government in family and children services, or in the hard edge of social work in child protection. A social worker’s healthcare area could include hospitals or community healthcare centres, the Department of Social Services or policy development roles. According to Camilleri, a career in social work can take you ‘anywhere and everywhere’.
Camilleri predicts that the consequences of COVID-19 on society will continue over the next four to five years and this will drive a greater need for social workers. ‘For many people, it will be an identifying aspect of their lives. One of the things that’s come out of COVID-19 is how important the local community is and how to build that. Social workers will be engaged at the local level, working with individuals and with small communities and groups supporting those self-help initiatives.’
If you’ve got a heart for social justice, helping marginalised groups, or want to help make a difference to society, why not consider a Master of Social Work (Qualifying)? The master course complements undergraduate qualifications in counselling or psychology. A minimum of a year of social science units such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, behavioral studies is required. If you don’t have the relevant study background, you may be able to take the Graduate Certificate in Counselling (Bridging Course) before taking the Master of Social Work (Qualifying).
Job Outlook. (2020). Social workers job outlook. National Skills Commission. https://joboutlook.gov.au/occupations/social-workers?occupationCode=2725
Labour Market Information Portal. (2021). 2020 employment projections – for the five years to November 2025. Department of Education, Skills, and Employment Business. https://lmip.gov.au/default.aspx?LMIP/GainInsights/EmploymentProjections
Walsh, L. (2017, July 28). The future of work: 17 jobs and five different careers. Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/the-future-of-work-17-jobs-and-five-different-careers-20170728-gxko39.html
We are all facing challenging times, and it is important to make sure that we do what we can to stay balanced and nurtured as much as we can. Dr Shannon Said, Social Work Lecturer at Excelsia College, has provided some helpful tips for social workers and individuals who care for others in their professional lives.
- Hold yourself and others kindly. We often reassure the people we work with that it’s normal when rapid change leaves us feeling insecure and without clarity about the future. But do we allow ourselves space and time to feel this and process this? Let’s make sure that we offer ourselves kindness as well as others!
- Be flexible in ways you offer to meet clients. Some will prefer being able to make use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other platforms, as this is not as confrontational as meeting face to face, particularly during a pandemic!
- Be prepared. If opting to use video conferencing software, be sure to prepare any soft copy materials ahead of time and use them in a way that offers accessibility and function. Video conferencing software, if done well, might actually enhance your work rather than limit it. One of my favourite sites to use is called Miro (miro.com/app), which allows you to invite people directly via email, is free, and is a virtual whiteboard that allows all sorts of images, word art, mind maps, sticky notes and other tools. This can be a great resource for clients that are creatively inclined or like doing things visually.
- Zoom fatigue is real! If working with video conferencing for hours at time, make sure that you are standing up and moving around as close to once every hour as possible. Get some sun on your face, do some stretching – anything to break the sedentary patterns we get stuck in!
Listen to understand, not to answer. This seems basic but is actually a very hard skill to develop! If we can actively listen, that is, not be thinking while another person is talking and solely focus on what they are saying, they will sense this, and feel listened to. This is so simple but powerful.
- Presence can say more than words. Never doubt the impact your presence can have, even when words are not being used. Especially in difficult times, people might need a sounding board, someone to listen to them, not someone to fix their problem.
- Embrace difference. Social media can be a breeding ground for hostility and misunderstanding. Seek to become more mindful of getting caught up in purely virtual debates that do not have any real-world importance and be open to listening to other perspectives without taking such views personally. The ability to engage with ideas without being offended by them can preserve our sanity!
Healing and self-care
- Recreation is more than a luxury. If you break down the first word of this point, re-creation, we can see why self-care is so important – we need renewal and revitalisation regularly and finding activities that help us reconnect to our values can do just that! If you haven’t already, identify what your core values are, how you express them, and how you can take even small steps towards incorporating recreational activities that align with these values on a regular basis.
- One day’s troubles at a time. It is so easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of things that need to be done on a daily basis, but a good question to ask ourselves is, ‘What can I reasonably do today?’ I find having a notepad with a list of daily tasks is useful. This helps me to declutter my mind, focus on a handful of tasks each day, then cross each item off my list once done. I find this rewarding!
- Prioritise healing activities. What does healing and recovery mean for you? Some might use prayer, meditation, a brisk walk, or other activities to reconnect with themselves and the world around them. Find activities that can be done regularly and prioritise these. Again, these are not a luxury but a necessity in times like these. When done consistently, overall wellbeing will increase, and I believe we can be more productive even in shorter spaces of time because we are more balanced.
If you feel like you could make a difference to society, why not consider a Master of Social Work (Qualifying)? A Graduate Certificate in Counselling (Bridging Course) is also available if you don’t have the relevant study entry requirements for the master.