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From the School to the Reservation: Brian Thorbjornsen ‘98

Posted on Sep 4, 2012
UW-Superior graduate, Brian Thorbjornsen, applied his experiences from college to pursue a career in Native American social work.

Brian Thorbjornsen graduated in 1998 from UW-Superior with a major in Sociology and a minor in First Nation Studies. He now holds a unique job within the Fond du Lac Human Services Public Health Nursing Department, working specifically as a social worker with the Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. As an employee on a reservation, the majority of Thorbjornsen's work is with Native American families, though occasionally he may still work with non-Native Americans as well.

How He Became Involved

After graduating from college, Thorbjornsen applied to multiple jobs related to his major but was not having much luck. He returned home to Park Falls, MN for a short while to work at one of the mills while he continued his job search. Fortunately, Thorbjornsen received a call a short while later and was encouraged to interview for the position of a social worker, a career that he, admittedly, did not originally foresee himself working in. The department was looking for an employee who could work well in a diverse setting and someone who had the ability to understand other people and relate to them. His degree in Sociology certainly qualified him for the position, and his minor in First Nation Studies was the cherry on the cake, since he already had the knowledge of tribal culture.

Thorbjornsen's experiences at UW-Superior also played a hand in contributing to his job success. In college, Thorbjornsen was a member of the Sociology Club, SUFAC, and the American Indian Student Organization. He also challenged himself to stay up to date with political issues relating to topics such as the environment and racial justice. These experiences strengthened his resume and made it stand out among the other applicants.

Work on the Reservation

As a social worker, Thorbjornsen deals with a wide variety of issues. The majority of the cases he works with on a regular basis are those involving abuse, neglect, and chemical dependency. This means he also works frequently with children, providing them with protection or foster care from inimical environments. His job also requires him to work in counseling as well as assessment and case planning.

The Ups and Downs

Thorbjornsen feels that his job as a social worker is a very rewarding career. He loves the fact that he can make a substantial positive impact in the lives of others, and he finds joy in helping families work through difficult situations to get to a better place. Unfortunately, Thorbjornsen also has to see the harder sides of the situations as well. There are times when he is needed to step in and make a judgment regarding the well-being of a family. Sometimes his job forces him to make the hard decision to remove children from their homes in order to keep them safe. Though Thorbjornsen takes no pleasure in breaking up a family, he knows that in some cases it is necessary to do so. These challenging situations are all too common in his line of work, but that does not make it any easier for him to face them.

In order to be successful in his career, Thorbjornsen believes that it is important to be a critical thinker and to have an open mind, and he feels that he possesses both of these qualities. He takes his time to weigh the each of the situations carefully, since he knows that his final decisions are going to have a huge impact on the lives of others. 

Eyes on the Future

Thorbjornsen certainly enjoys working within the job field he is a part of, and he hopes to be working in the same position throughout the next few years. However, his wife is an engineer, and there is the potential for her to have to transfer to another location for her job. If this happens, Thorbjornsen hopes to find a new job working with a non-profit organization within the Human Services field. Wherever he ends up, he wants to continue pursuing his passion of helping others.

Words of Advice

One of the tips that Thorbjornsen would like to give to students who are looking to pursue a similar career is to be active in groups related to the job field. He encourages them to "get involved within the community and non-profit organizations." These experiences will not only help to build a resume, but they will also help students to network with people who may be able to get them into a job that they have their eye on. Thorbjornsen would also recommend that students who are thinking of following a similar career path consider taking a foreign language such as Spanish. "I believe that being bilingual is very important because communication is key to working with diverse groups of people."

Though some people may claim that a master's degree is the only way to acquire a job, Thorbjornsen believes otherwise. He recognizes that some jobs require a higher degree, but he also realizes that there is a risk of becoming overqualified as well. Based on his career experiences, Thorbjornsen feels that it is what a student has done and who they know that will ultimately lead them on their way to success.

Brian Thorbjornsen was interviewed as a part of the Career Services Day in the Life project. His full interview and those of other UW-Superior alumni can be found on the Day in the Life website, http://www.uwsuper.edu/career/students/a-day-in-the-life.cfm.

Interview conducted by Tashina Martinson on February 23, 2012. Article written by Kristen Jasperson.

News Contact: Shannon Gilligan | 715-394-8026 | sgillig1{atuws}
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