Interview with Brian Thorbjornsen
Name: Brian Thorbjornsen
Major, minor, and graduation year: Sociology, First Nation Studies, 1998
Job Title: Social Worker
Organization/ Place of work: Fond du Lac Human Services Public Health Nursing Department, Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa
You're a Social Worker, what does that entail? What are your duties or responsibilities?
- First off, about 99% of my clients are Native American because I work for the reservation, but I do have occasional non-Native Americans that I work with too. My duties involve me heavily in child protection, assessment and case planning, and working with each family's hardships in counsel sessions when abuse, neglect, and chemical dependency are involved. Lastly, I also correlate with foster care if children need to be removed from a hostile environment and I co-case manage with local counties.
What are the highlights of your job that you enjoy most?
- The #1 highlight of my day is working with families during their time of need and seeing that they are truly making substantial and positive change. The best feeling for me is knowing that I also played a part in that change.
What are the challenges that you face with your job that are not enjoyable?
- The challenges that I face are very common within my line of work and that is trying to keep the children of the family unit safe, but at the same time, keeping the family together. It is very important to keep families together, but I also have to decide what is best for the child.
How do you spend your work days? Do you spend a lot of time office/lab/meetings/outside/___?
- I spend a lot of time in my office, meeting with other departments, other agencies, and clients. I perform client contact on a regular basis because there are always drop in clients who will come in to ask questions or touch base with me. There are also home visits and transportation to and from appointments that my department provides for clients as well.
How did this type of job/field interest you and how did you get started?
- I spent the last year of college sending out resumes to any job opening that was related to my degree, but without any luck, I went back home and worked in a mill in Park Falls, MN for the summer. Soon after, I got a call to interview for a social work position with the Fond du Lac Human Services Public Health Nursing Department and was offered the position. I didn't plan on being a social worker, but after working fourteen years in this field, I love it. Every day I get to work with issues that I care about.
What qualifications did you need to obtain this job?
- I needed the qualifications of experience and a bachelor's degree. They were looking for a degree that was something related to social work or working with and understanding people like degrees in psychology, sociology, social work, or communications. What also helped me obtain my position was my minor in First Nation Studies because I had an understanding of tribal culture.
What personal qualities or abilities do you believe contribute most to success in this job/field?
- The personal qualities that have contributed to my success in this field are being open minded because everyone forms their own opinions and being a critical thinker. I cannot make any big decision lightly because my decisions affect other lives besides my own.
What organizations were you involved in College that helped you towards your career?
- The organizations that I was involved in that helped me toward my career was my involvement in sociology club, SUFAC, and the American Indian Student organization. In college, I also kept myself heavily involved in politics and issues dealing with the environment and racial justice.
What degree/s is appropriate for this line of work?
-The degrees that I believe are appropriate for this line of work are degrees in social work, sociology, psychology, and communications. I strongly believe that a bachelor's degree is the only level needed for being a social worker because even if you pursue a master's degree, you will not get paid differently in this field.
Where and/or what do you hope to be in 2-5 years? 5-10 years? What are the keys to this career advancement?
- In 2-5 years I hope to be in my same position still helping and working with people. Looking at 5-10 years, depending on if my wife has to transfer to a different state for work because she is an engineer, I would like to use my experience as a social worker to find work with a Human Service non-profit organization.
What was the best piece of advice you received and from who that helped you towards your career?
- The best piece of advice I received was from my Sociology 101 professor Elizabeth Newman when I first attended UW-Baron County before coming to UW-Superior. She said, "Sociologists never stop asking why, we question everything." Elizabeth actually sparked my interest for a degree in sociology too.
Do you have any advice or "words from experience" for a college student interested in this job/field?
- The advice I would like to share with a student interested in this field is to get involved within the community and non-profit organizations. Try and gain insight from this line of work, I know it helped me towards my current position. This will help build your resume and connect you with people who can help you toward your career goals.
If you knew all this back in college, what would you say were the most important classes? Is there anything you would have paid more attention to? Any additional classes you would have taken?
- I would have taken more Spanish classes because I almost double minored in Spanish. I believe that being bilingual is very important because communication is key to working with diverse groups of people.
In college, people claim that a bachelor's degree isn't enough anymore and that you need a master's or doctorate degree to get your foot in the door. What's your opinion?
- I think pursing a master's degree depends on what you want to do because with some professions you need a master's degree to qualify. However, it is a little bit of a risk being too qualified for a position because then you might not get hired because the employer won't want to pay more. Look at gaining experience and involvement to go along with your bachelor's degree and try and find a job that way.