By Valerie Fields Hill
School of Social Work
SSW BSW Graduate - Kristina Sims
As a teenager, Kristina Sims never considered becoming a Social Worker. She had never heard of the profession.
In fact, she thought of becoming a nurse: Maybe, she might work in pediatrics – or, maybe, in trauma care.
A series of events, however, led Sims to select Social Work as her college major: She had watched three young cousins enter and exit the state’s foster care system, repeatedly. She experienced a teenage brother’s death by suicide. Finally, a chance encounter with a stranger confirmed for Sims that Social Work was her calling.
“Initially, I wanted to become a pediatric nurse; but I took a quick look at the science classes, and I changed my mind really quick,” said Sims, who is now 24.
This week, Sims will earn her bachelor’s degree in Social Work, with honors.
“It came so much quicker than I thought it would,” Sims said of commencement.
“I knew that I was doing the right thing (by changing my major),” she said. “I was so devoted when I started my Social Work classes.”
Sims is among 51 Social Work students who will earn bachelor’s degrees Friday. Another 175 will earn a Master of Social Work and three will earn doctoral diplomas, Social Work staff members said.
Commencement begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
Trey Yelverton, Arlington city manager and a 1988 UTA alumnus, will be commencement speaker, said Jeff Carlton, the university’s spokesperson.
Yelverton became Arlington city manager in March 2012. He has worked 35 years in public service, according to his biography on the city’s website.
Friday’s evening’s commencement will be the second in recent years that Yelverton has spoken to graduates. He was speaker during last fall’s virtual commencement as well.
Hundreds of other UTA graduates will also receive their diplomas Friday evening. Coeds in the colleges of Liberal Arts; Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs; Engineering; the Division of Student Success (University Studies); and the Honors College (Interdisciplinary Studies) will receive diplomas Friday evening.
The University will host two other commencement ceremonies – one for graduates in the College of Nursing and Health Innovations and the another for graduates in the colleges of Business, Education, and Science – earlier Friday, at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. respectively, at the same location.
Social Work will award diplomas to three doctoral candidates Zhirui Chen, Sarah Herrera and Zachary Tarbet. The PhD graduates plan to enter different areas of Social Work research:
- Chen plans to research aging, end-of-life care, bereavement, and Alzheimer's Disease upon graduation. Chen earned a Bachelor of Social Work at East China University of Science and Technology and a Master of Social Work with a concentration in mental health at the University of Hong Kong.
- Tarbet will research mental health, substance abuse, veterans’ issues and program analysis. Tarbet, also a licensed clinical Social Worker, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy here at UTA. He earned a Master of Social Work in 2018.
Sims, who lives in Benbrook, plans to pursue a Social Work master’s degree, but not immediately.
In January, she will begin work full time as a case manager at Our Community, Our Kids in Fort Worth, where she interned this fall. The social service agency offers support to children in foster care.
Under a contractual obligation with the Title IV-E child welfare training program, Sims must continue working at Our Community, Our Kids for another eight months. The training program paid her fall tuition and school-related expenses in exchange for a commitment to remain with the agency after graduation.
Sims does not mind going to work for the agency, she said. In fact, advocating for the reunification of families impacted by the foster care system brings purpose to her own life, she said.
Earlier in her life, Sims became distressed after seeing her young cousins go in and out of foster care. She felt unable to help them.
Later, her own immediate family experienced troubling circumstances: Sims’ brother Clay suffered mental challenges. He experienced bullying as an elementary student. Her parents changed his school. They placed him in counseling. Nothing seemed to work.
Sadly, Clay took his own life. He was 23.
Sims was 19 – and devastated. She quit school for a year. She reentered college, majoring in nursing, but she drifted. She felt unfocused.
One day, during a visit to a local park, Sims met a mother sitting on a bench. She struck up a conversation, sharing her life story. The woman, whose name Sims does not recall, suggested that, after experiencing so much trauma, Sims should forego her nursing plans and study Social Work.
Sims researched the profession. She liked its focus on helping children. Sims transferred from Tarrant County College to UTA to study Social Work.
She’s never looked back.
Suddenly, Sims said, her college coursework had meaning. Her classroom discussions became exciting, and her advisors were the kind of people she admired.
This fall, her work at Our Community, Our Kids to reunify foster children with their birth families also had significance: It deepened her commitment to the Social Work profession.
Sims now believes that events in her childhood led her to her life’s calling.
“It means that what I’m doing has a purpose,” she said last week.
Sims graduates magna cum laude on Friday.
For more information about Fall Commencement: