More Than a Profession

Posted: October 8, 2019 8:00:00 AM CDT

Suzanne Exstrom Social Work Department

Suzanne Exstrom has served in a variety of roles at UNK since 1997, but she found a genuine sense of belonging when she joined UNK’s Department of Social Work in 2008. As the department’s online coordinator, Exstrom plays a role in the development of future social workers. It is in this role that she hopes to make a unique difference in the field.

She shares her passion for the social work profession and the opportunity to guide students to the academic path that will meet their needs using the Social Work Online program.  

Please tell us about your position as the social work online coordinator. What led you to this position?

I’ve worked in various UNK departments, but when I joined the Social Work Department I just knew that I had finally landed where I belonged. I really believe in what social work is. The field centers around helping people, particularly those who are vulnerable or oppressed. I’ve always believed in treating others as I would want to be treated and that all people, regardless of their circumstances, have dignity and value and should be treated as such. Another important aspect of social work is social justice, which is a personal passion of mine. Social workers pursue social change.

What is the most gratifying part of this position? Most challenging?

This position gives me the opportunity to work one-on-one with students. They will contact me when they feel lost or in a panic about an issue. It can be difficult for them to navigate everything there is to know as a student, as most never step one foot on campus. I can hear the relief in their voice on the telephone when I help them. One thing that I love about my job is that while I am not actually a social worker, I can play a role in making it easier for students to become social workers and help others. In that sense, I’m helping as well.

What do you tell students interested in the online social work program?

I always highlight the fact that our program is nationally accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. All online social work courses are taught by our department faculty. The instruction that is offered online is the same that our on-campus students receive.

Social work is a profession where you work to make life better for individuals, families and entire communities. People of all ages and from a variety of circumstances need support and assistance, so students can be matched to a specific area based on interest. If a student has the desire to work with babies and children, they could work in adoption, foster care, or be a school social worker. Another student could counsel families and work with victims of assault, individuals with mental health issues, disabilities or those with substance abuse issues. If a student is passionate about the aging population, perhaps a hospital social worker position or a position in hospice is the right fit.

What is your role in the social work program and in a student’s time at UNK?

While I assist and provide information to prospective students, I also support current students as an advisor. I guide them through every step on the path to graduation. This includes being available to assist with any question or problem they might have along the way.

What is your favorite student success story?

Many of our students have suffered from natural disasters recently, specifically the Nebraska flooding and Hurricane Dorian. One student in northern Nebraska lost Internet in addition to being impacted by flooding, but she worked with her professors and found a way to access the Internet elsewhere. She was determined to make it work. I have another student who gets up hours before her kids each day to complete her coursework. She has plans to enter law school after getting her social work degree.

Our online program is relatively new, so while I don’t have any exciting alumni stories to share I am so proud of each of our current students! Our program consists of students from nine different states – we even have a student from another country. The vast majority are non-traditional and they work many hours each week, have families and other responsibilities to manage. I am their biggest cheerleader because I am so impressed by all of them.


Ready to take the first step toward an online education in social work? Learn more about the online B.S. in Social Work or Online Minor in Social Work programs at UNK, or contact us at or 1.800.865.6388.

By: Danielle Kluver

Category: General, eCampus

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