Alumni Highlight: Cynthia Turner, Finding Your Path Through Social Work Education
Throughout her time in social work education and the profession, Dr. Cynthia Turner knew the value of a support network and mentors. At each bend in the road, it was the relationships and support she found along the way that helped her harness her own abilities and to shape her career.
While working toward her bachelor’s degree at Florida A&M University (FAMU), Turner was torn between majoring in criminal justice and social work. It was an insightful political science professor who shared the many opportunities available in the field of social work that helped her to decide to major in social work with minors in criminal justice and sociology. Her FAMU professors encouraged her to delve further into social work by pursuing a master’s degree.
Starting at the FSU College of Social Work marked a major shift for Turner as she navigated the increased demands and rigor of graduate-level work. Turner thrived with the challenging, yet supportive, instruction of her social work professors. She recalls, in particular, being assigned by [then] Dean Dr. D Ray Bardill in one of her first graduate-level courses to read, “The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth” by Dr. M. Scott Peck. “It helped to chart the path for my life,” explained Turner about the book’s impact.
She also recollected with fondness other professors including Dr. Nick Mazza and Dr. C. Aaron McNeece that made her courses exciting and engaging. She remembers Dr. Joanna Gorman as being the most influential professor for her.
“She was able to identify my areas of weakness and guide me to enroll in additional courses to strengthen those areas,” recalled Turned about Gorman. “She provided me with an opportunity to apply for a scholarship that was named in her honor.”
But the two most important things she got out of her time at FSU was the importance of support from other students and the ability to write critically. After interning with the Florida Baptist’s Children’s Home, Turner secured her first job with the Department of Children and Families in Lakeland, Florida. She later transferred to Fernandina Beach, Florida and enrolled in courses at the University of North Florida for her school social work certification.
Turner worked with the Duval County School System until she moved to Georgia to work with Clayton County Public Schools. Joining the School Social Workers Association of Georgia, Turner networked and was hired by the DeKalb County School District in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Although Turner enjoyed a successful career in school social work, it remained a dream of hers to pursue a doctoral degree. Her sister, Sarah Simmons, another FSU alumnus, encouraged her to not give up on this dream. Turner enrolled at Kennesaw State University’s education specialist program that would allow her to matriculate into their doctoral program in education, but the focus of the program changed to special education. She decided to pursue her doctoral degree at the Whitney M. Young, Jr. School of Social Work at Clark Atlanta University. Turner’s almost thirty years in school social work came in handy as she worked on her dissertation. She was also president of the School Social Work Association of Georgia at the time.
“Originally, my area of focus was the impact of stuttering among educators in the education system,” said Turner. “The population was found to be a challenge to reach, so my committee chair and I decided to focus on the field of school social work.”
Turner noted the most rewarding part of her doctoral program was passing her comprehensive exams and completing the defense of her dissertation, where she was able to showcase her dedication and hard work. Her dissertation’s focus was on ascertaining the perception of school social worker’s level of satisfaction and ways it is impacted by one or more factors including the level of decision making, workload management, professional development, collaboration and advocacy.
Basking in the glow of this accomplishment, Turner graduated in 2019. She plans to retire from school social work in the next five years so that she can teach at the collegiate level and pursue her licensure as a clinical therapist.