Joy Ernst

What brought you to Hood College?

I’ve lived in Maryland since 1988. When I was a student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, I had a chance to teach a few courses in the MSW program and really loved it. Hood provided me with the opportunity to teach full time.

What do you value most about your relationship with students?

I value their willingness to be open with me. Social workers must be able to work with people who may be experiencing the most difficult challenges of their lives, and learning to be a social worker involves so much more than just academics. Students have to develop self-awareness as well. I also value their interest in working with people that many of us would prefer to ignore – such as persons with severe mental illness or people who are struggling with addiction. They inspire me to do my job well, which is to prepare them to be professionals.

Why is teaching your dream job?

Teaching involves so many skills. It allows me to learn new things every day. I never know what the students will ask! And, while it can get stressful at times, especially at the end of the semester, it is never boring. I love interacting with students and learning about their lives.

If you were to consider another career, what would you consider and why?

If I could turn back the clock, I’d like to be a photojournalist. I’m very curious about people and I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, and photos can have such a powerful impact on the way we think about things.

Describe your approach to teaching.

I combine lectures with small group activities and discussions. I like to connect current events with the themes of the class for the day. Each class I teach has at least one major writing assignment. It’s important for social workers to develop skills in oral and written communication! I like helping students see things in a new or different light. It’s so important to challenge our assumptions. For example, many social work students are reluctant to work with older adults, thinking that it will be boring or depressing. By 2040, over 20% of the population will be over the age of 65, and every social worker will encounter older adults in practice. I use lots of case examples involving older adults in a whole variety of life situations to help students develop and expand their notions of what “getting old” means.

What is/are your most memorable moment/s at Hood?

There are many. Sometimes a student will share a personal story in class that really helps the other students see an issue in a totally new way. Over the past five years, I have brought a number of our graduates back to class to describe what it’s like to practice social work, and I’m so pleased about the work that their doing and to hear how much they appreciated their social work education at Hood.

Describe your academic interests and research.

When I started at Hood, my research focused on the impact of environments on child well-being. After the Hood social work program received a grant in 2001 from the John A. Hartford Foundation to increase content related to older adults in the social work curriculum, I became very interested in how social workers respond in cases of elder abuse and neglect. I’ve done research on the risk factors for caregiver neglect of older adults, on self-neglecting older adults, and on Adult Protective Services (APS) practice. APS is the program that responds to reports of elder abuse, and the cases are very complex. Social workers need to be able to evaluate outcomes of their practice, which is very difficult in APS work.

When you aren’t working, what are you doing in your spare time?

I like spending time with my husband, my family, and my friends. Some of my favorite activities are hiking, going to the movies, watching the sunset, and taking photos.

Name three books that you would recommend everyone read:

It’s hard to make a recommendation for everyone, but there are some books that I found to be very meaningful and thought provoking. One of my favorite books growing up was the novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. More recently, I’ve enjoyed “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo, based on the author’s immersing herself in the lives of people in an undercity in Mumbai, India. I also recommend “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande because it helps us think about what’s important in life, especially as we approach the end of life.