Social Work Management Week: An Interview with Agnes Nzomene

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What attracted you to the Social Work Profession?

A: My name is Agnes Nzomene and I was born in Cameroon, Central Africa. I am the 7th sibling out of 11 children. I came to the US in 2008 to be with my husband who was working in the U.S. Up until I moved to the States, I worked in my country as a graphic designer for 10 years. When I first moved to the U.S., I spent a lot of my time at the International Institute of New Jersey (IINJ), an organization that was helping refugee asylum seekers in their resettlement in the U.S. I found comfort there because I was able to find people I could speak French with, since it is my first language, and I was not speaking English at the time. My experience at the IINJ was what introduced me to the world of social services. It inspired me to go back to school and study what I believe is really my call: “Social Work”. I earned three degrees in a little over three years. In May 2013, I earned my Associates degree in Human Services, followed by my Bachelors degree in Social Work with a Minor in Non-profit and Public Administration in May 2015, and my Master’s degree in Social Work (Management and Policy), and my area of emphasis in International Social Work, May 2016.  

Q: Where are you at on your career path? Are you in school? Do you have a job?

A:  I am currently working at Catholic Charities in New York as an education and employment trainer. I am also volunteering with the Jersey City Immigration Commission Affairs where I read and review policy to ensure that the policies being implemented are benefiting the population they were designed for, educate the immigrant population, and also advocate for the vulgarization of these policies to immigrants.

Q: How many years of management experience did you have before you began the International Mentoring program?

A: I was a manager for 10 years when I was working in graphic design.  Now, as a Human Services professional, when I was in my MSW program, I was responsible for recruiting and coordinating volunteers for the NSWM New Jersey Chapter. Also, I founded a nonprofit, No Child in Tears and currently serve as it’s President.  That particular journey has helped provide me with key managerial experience.

Q: What attracted you to the NSWM International Mentoring Program?

A: Well, I was first attracted to the Network because it was the only organization that really gave meaning to the part of the profession I was studying in school. It was the only organization that I could find dedicated to the professional development of social work managers. Many people think social work is only about direct services (or clinical social work), but I feel strongly that macro practice needs to be highlighted. When I found out about the International Mentoring Program, I thought it would be a great platform and experience for me, now that I had just graduated my MSW.  I also really liked the idea of being able to meet with someone who really cares about my growth and development as a social worker manager. I’ve really enjoyed my experience with my mentor (Lorraine Marais) up until this point. I feel so comfortable reaching out to her with any questions and not only that, but our relationship is really a reciprocal one where we are both able to reach out and share our knowledge along the way. She encourages me in doing more research, and I feel that I am at the right place. Before being a part of the NSWM Mentoring Program, I can sincerely say I had doubts about my path of studying social work management. There were moments where I really thought maybe I didn’t know what I was doing, or maybe it was just a name and fantasy. Even my coming to the 2016 NSWM Annual Management Conference in California was out of curiosity. Despite having graduated with my Masters, the challenges I went through during my internships were always present in my mind.

Q: What topics would you say you’ve discussed with your mentor?

A: Wow. We’ve discuss so many! We meet and discuss different topics every 2 weeks! In the beginning, we discussed how to create a personal mission and vision. We have reviewed and discussed the Network’s Human Service Management Competencies. We have spoken together about the profession itself and the values associated with it. We have discussed empowerment models and how I implement them where I work. We have also talked about some of the spiritual aspects of social work and the importance of exercising emotional intelligence and this is just to name the least! I’m sure there are many more topics to come!

Q: What has been the most beneficial aspect of the program, so far?

A: Honestly, the entire experience. I feel like I always have a takeaway at the end of our conversations. Either I gain a new perspective on something I already know much about, or I learn something completely new. I feel really lucky to be in this program and I am very thankful to be paired with the mentor I have.  

Q: What would you tell those who are thinking about applying for the International Mentoring Program?

A:  The schedule is flexible. My mentor has been of great support for me. She really understands me. She treats me like a professional and really believes in me. Just knowing how much other mentor programs cost, I feel like this program is a gift that does not come around too often.  I think it’s a program more social worker managers should benefit from.

Q: What are your next steps? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

A: Well, In November 2012 before I earned my associate’s degree in May 2013, I started a nonprofit called No Child in Tears Inc. No Child in Tears’ mission is to promote literacy, uplift the spirit of the youths, empower women, and help reduce maternal mortality. It is a 501(c)(3) incorporated in the United States with operations abroad (but right now we only working in rural areas in Cameroon). I hope to continue working to grow this non-profit by expanding our activities to other developing countries in 5 years. I would also like to go back to school (hopefully and will be accepted at the University of Southern California) to write my dissertation on a very particular topic that I am passionate about, and earn my PhD. I would also like to be a mentor one day.  Who knows, maybe I will come back to the Network and serve as a mentor for others passionate about the macro aspect of social work like me in 5 years!