Mashara Miller won the University’s social work public service award for leadership
by Shawn Ryan
MMashara Miller has an internship in the geriatric psychology division at CHI Memorial Hospital. While pursuing a degree in social work, she has taken 20 course hours in spring semester at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Miller also is president of the Black Student Alliance and vice president of the UTC NAACP chapter. Off campus, she’s involved in Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Circle K International, among other community service organizations.
Oh, and she was the 2020 Homecoming Queen at UTC.
Miller doesn’t consider herself much of a get-out-there-and-meet-the-people type of person. “I’m not very social like speaking in front of crowds and stuff,” she says. “In group projects, I’m, ‘Oh, I’d rather do it by myself.’”
Being in social work means dealing with people all day every day, however, and her classes and professors at UTC have given her the confidence to overcome her former fears. “Social work has definitely helped me prepare me for the leadership roles I have undertaken on campus because they taught me about responsibility, making sure I followed through with things, making sure I stay consistent because it only takes one time to show any type of unprofessionalism,” says Miller, set to graduate in May.
“Mashara will be an amazing advocate, because she is empathetic and solution-focused.”
That’s especially true in her current internship, which she describes as medical social work. “I work with nurses and doctors and health coaches. So they say to me, ‘Hey, this person has high blood pressure, but they can’t afford their medicine.’ Then it gets sent to me, so I can find the resources or how to afford their medicine. I’m filling out a prescription application so they can renew their medicine. It means being able to connect people that can’t afford resources,” Miller says.
Her ultimate goal is to be a neonatal nurse practitioner, but working with geriatric patients would be just fine, too, she says. In one profession she would be dealing with newborn patients or in the other she would work with older patients with special problems. Social work is critical to both, she says.
Bethany Womack, assistant professor in the social work program, says Miller’s empathy will be a major factor in her success. “Mashara will be an amazing advocate, because she is empathetic and solution-focused,” Womack says. “The empathy helps her ask insightful questions about what is contributing to someone’s distress, and being solution focused will help her find creative ways to foster change.”
“ You know the phrase ‘It is what it is?'” Mashara adds, “I believe we can make it into it is what it ought to be.”
Social work faculty nominated Miller for the program’s public service award based on her leadership roles in the Black Student Alliance and the UTC Chapter of the NAACP, Womack says. “I love being involved. I love helping people,” Miller says. “I think being in these organizations helps me be more social. Like when we have a dance, I’m making sure I talk, so I don’t get so nervous doing it. But I definitely want to say it was probably more about getting involved, just wanting to do things.”
Immediately after graduating from high school in Memphis, Miller spent a year at Murray State University in Kentucky after her mother convinced her that Chattanooga was too far. Murray State wasn’t a good fit, either as a college or a place to live. “I just felt like there weren’t enough organizations. There wasn’t even a Black Student Alliance or NAACP,” she says.
A weekend trip to Chattanooga and UTC changed her mind about where to attend college. “I saw how everyone was together, the diversity that was here, people reaching out to you, saying, ‘Hey, come to our dance. Hey, get involved.’ I really loved this.”