UNK’s Social Work B.S. program helps drive transfer student Sarah Keller towards her goals

Posted: August 24, 2023 12:00:00 AM CDT

Woman smiling at camera

University of Nebraska at Kearney’s online Social Work student Sarah Keller is an overcomer. 
Hard work and resiliency transitioned Keller from being an inmate at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Blair, Nebraska to working there as a corrections officer. Keller’s dedication to her education allowed her to overcome her fears of attending a university, which in turn landed her a position as a case manager where she helps others overcome their challenges.   
“I had to kind of evaluate that when I went into the social work field,” said Keller about her incarceration history and struggles with alcohol addiction. “But everything is more than seven years old, so it won't affect my placement in the social work program. And it's a big part of my life.” 
Now seven years sober, her past has deepened her passion for helping others. Keller first worked for Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the jail’s kitchen until the captain at the jail offered her a position as a corrections officer.  

Overcoming “Red Tape” 

“That has always been something I've been super interested in because I have spent quite a bit of time in the past incarcerated actually in that jail,” Keller said. “So, it was a really big deal for me to get offered a position to work there full-time.” 
Keller accepted the position eager to help people overcome their own obstacles but found that the position was not all she had hoped. 
“There's a lot of red tape that goes into being a corrections officer,” Keller said. “They don't really want you to form relationships and a lot of the people who came in, I knew them from growing up in Blair. That was really hard for me.” 
Keller knew she could do more to assist those facing hardships, so after graduating from Metropolitan Community College in May of 2022 she enrolled in UNK’s online social work program.  
“It’s slightly cheaper than UNO,” Keller said about her decision on choosing UNK. “I felt like I needed to do all of my work online. I don’t have time to go to class in person, which would have been the main reason for choosing UNO because it’s local.”

Overcoming Fear 

Though the price was right for Keller, she feared transferring from a two-year community college to a university would be too difficult to conquer. 
“I just always had this idea in my head that going to a university would be over the top way more difficult than Metro was. I'm not really 100% sure why that idea was in my head, but it was very firm in my head. I think that I just really didn't know if I was capable of it,” she said. 
Keller overcame her fears and learned after starting the program that she was more than capable of earning a degree from a university. 
“I was really, really terrified that I wouldn't have the time and that I wouldn't be able to stay organized enough. I thought that the course load would be a huge difference from Metro,” Keller continued. “And truly it just isn't.” 
After receiving an A in both spring semester courses, she is ready to kick it into high gear. 
“I started with the two classes and I'm taking two classes over the summer. Then I'm going to ramp up to taking three at a time. After seeing what it's been like, I can definitely handle three, which is good because I'll get done faster,” Keller said. 

Conquering Goals 

One of the courses Keller aced was an ethics course that required a service-learning project, which Keller completed at Together, a homeless shelter in Omaha. 
“I feel like my ethics course kind of pushed me into my current job,” she said. 
After only a week of volunteering, a case manager position opened at the shelter and Keller was encouraged to apply.  
“I'm not sure that without being enrolled in a social work program that I would have been given the opportunity to have this job,” Keller said. “Them knowing that I'm working towards a degree in this area, I think was really helpful to me getting the position.” 
Her new position allows her the ability to utilize her knowledge and talents to best assist her clients.  
“Everyone's just on the same level of compassion and understanding. It's a lot better environment for what my goals are in life and the way that I want to be treating people,” Keller said. 
Keller has overcome so much and hopes to continue her education with a master’s degree in social work to become a therapist. 
“For me, I have kids, a full-time job, I'm in AA and I go to multiple meetings a week, I speak at events, and I'm doing part-time school,” said Keller. “I just really want people to know that it is possible, even if you have a lot of things working against you.”

By: Heidi Knake

Category: UNK Online, Natural and Social Sciences, General

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