How I Chose My Career in Social Work #MyCareerStoryMonday

Name: Sheila Hartley

Class Year: 2003

Major: Corporate Finance & Accounting

Position: Adoption Social Worker

Company: Massachusetts Department of Children & Families


  1. Can you describe your career path for me? (This may include HS jobs, internships, etc.)

After my junior year of high school I got a job at my dad’s company (DuPont Pharmaceuticals), and worked there during summer and winter breaks through my sophomore year of college.  After I started college I got an internship in their accounting department.  While I was a student at Bentley I worked in the VP of Academic Affairs office.  After I graduated, I was hired by Harvard Business School Publishing as an accountant, and was eventually trained to handle all of the royalty accounting and reporting for their publications.  I left that job in 2006 because I was recruited by Reebok when they were looking for a royalty accountant.  For 5+ years I did all the royalty reporting for Reebok, as well as the accounting for their athlete endorsement contracts.  Because Reebok is owned by adidas, I also did some of the accounting for adidas royalties and endorsements as well.  Through all of that time, though, I had an interest in social work.  I enjoyed taking psychology/sociology classes in high school and at Bentley, but I thought accounting was the safer career path for me.  Social work also runs through my DNA, as I have several family members who are social workers.  By 2011 I found that although I loved my job and everything about it (the people, the environment, the work itself) I found very little personal fulfillment and thought I could be doing more to better the world around me.  There were several situations that I found myself in that led me to realize that it was time to make a career change.  I quit my job at Reebok in July 2011, and in September 2011 started grad school at Wheelock College.  I wanted to get my Master’s degree is Social Work (MSW) and work in adoption, as that was where my heart was calling me.  While in grad school, I had two internships.  My first year internship was with Children’s Services of Roxbury, as a case manager for their Intensive Foster Care division.  My second year internship was with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC), in their adoption program.  After graduating from Wheelock in May 2013, I was hired by the Department of Children & Families as an ongoing social worker.  My job was to work with families where children were at risk of being abused or neglected, and to implement services so children could be free of those risks.  Since October 2014 I have been an adoption social worker.  I now work with children who may not be able to return home due to their parents’ lack of progress towards reunification.  My role is to establish permanency for children if their parents’ rights are terminated.  At least once a year I also teach a 30-hour training course to adults who want to become foster parents; this isn’t required as part of my job but I’ve found that I enjoy teaching.

  1. How did you become interested in this career?

As an accountant, I love numbers.  I appreciate the order and black-and-white nature of accounting.  Math had always been my favorite subject in school growing up, and for a long time I thought I wanted to be a math teacher.  When I took an accounting class in high school, something clicked in my brain and I knew I could see that as my career.

I’ve always been a good listener and a keen observer.  As an introvert, I am much more content lurking in the background, watching the world around me.  These skills, along with my personal life experience, guided me towards my career as a social worker.  In 2004 I placed my son for adoption after he was born.  At the time, despite support from my family and a solid career trajectory, I wasn’t ready to be a single mom and I knew my son deserved more than I could provide for him.  I had a wonderful experience with the adoption agency that I worked with, and I knew that I could provide that same type of support in the future to others when they needed it.  But I needed time to heal from the emotional pain of making such a monumental decision.  It hadn’t been my plan to change careers, but in 2010/2011 several events unfolded and I could no longer deny what I really feel is my true calling.

  1. What aspects of your position do you find most rewarding?

As much as I hated writing papers in college, I very much enjoy all the writing I do now.  I spend a lot of time in court, and reports are required whenever I go before a judge.  I enjoy telling a child’s story.  I take my job very seriously, and I hope that is reflected in what I present in my writing.  My absolute favorite part of my job is when a child is adopted; going to court for that is the only time it’s a good time to be in front of a judge.  The joy that adoption brings to families is well worth the long wait it can sometimes take to get there.

  1. What aspects do you find most challenging?

There is NEVER enough time to do all the work.  And it’s somewhat daunting to know that I am – in part – responsible for a child’s future.  All of the kids I work with have been abused or neglected in some way, and they have experienced an extraordinary amount of trauma.  The heaviness of that, along with the paperwork and the looming deadlines, can be overwhelming at times.

  1. What advice do you have for someone preparing to enter this career?

Although I can’t imagine there will be many students at Bentley thinking of going into social work, my biggest piece of advice is to not feel constrained by your major or by your degree.  If you want to make a change, make it.  Don’t let fear hold you back.  Also, make sure you find people who will support you no matter what career path you choose.  Having my friends encouraging me through grad school, and not thinking I was totally crazy when I quit my job, was what got me through my fears of changing my life in such a drastic way.

  1. Are there any Bentley specific courses or resources you would recommend to help someone pursue this career?

It’s been 20 years since I was a freshman at Bentley, so my memory of specific courses is very fuzzy!  I do remember appreciating the General Business courses that gave us a well-rounded view of all the different aspects of business.  I also appreciated all of the psychology and sociology classes, as well as the law classes that I took.

  1. Who is one person at Bentley that helped you get where you are today?

Sociology professor Gary David – I think I took every class taught by him that would fit into my schedule.  Even though at the time I had absolutely no idea that I would end up a social worker, he helped shape my ideas about human development.  I also remember that he genuinely seemed excited to teach, and he made learning fun.

By Yasmeen Alwani
Yasmeen Alwani CareerEdge Content Creator Yasmeen Alwani