Alaina Dehnke ’19
Majors: Social Work and Spanish

Where did you intern and what was your role?

I worked with Lake Agassiz Special Education Cooperative (LASEC) at Hawley High School and Hawley Elementary School. I was the intern for Kelly Johnson, the school social worker who is in charge of facilitating the Intensive Interagency Program, the school-based mental health program of LASEC. I spent the semester observing and working with Kelly as she engaged with students, taught social skills, supported their mental health, communicated with families, and deescalated in times of crisis.

What does mentorship mean to you and what did you take away from that experience?

A mentor fosters an environment for their interns that allows them not only to learn more about the work but also to learn more about themselves, about their strengths, and their hidden gifts – qualities that carry so much weight into the overall experience. In addition, I believe mentorship is all about finding a happy balance between teaching through guidance and teaching through hands-on experience.

Kelly taught me valuable lessons, exemplifying what to do and what to say. She gave me chances to apply what I saw and learned when I engaged with the students one to one. While working with Kelly and the kids, I learned that there are some things only experience can teach you and that being a beginner is hard, but it’s probably the most important stage in one’s career in any profession.

During the time you spent with LASEC, are there any specific experiences or situations that are especially memorable?

I found that I noticed and held onto the little successes and moments of joy I came across each day. Whether it was when I discussed the challenges that a student was facing over a card game, or when students accepted responsibility for their behavior, or when I learned how to make an origami paper crane with a student during art journal time, or countless other moments like these, looking back on the little successes reminds me of my passion for engaging with individuals and emphasizing their strengths.

What made this internship so personally transformative for you?

My supervisor, Kelly Johnson, was someone I could learn from by observing as well as someone to whom I could bring my questions and thoughts. She and I were able to form a companionship over the four months that offered both of us a space to process situations and brainstorm strategies. Kelly has a gift of working with these kids with such grace, wisdom, and joy that I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from her.

What lessons did you learn from your senior capstone?

My senior capstone project was centered around teaching positive coping skills to students when they’re presented with stressors and triggers in the classroom setting. I worked with a student for a week and observed how effective our activities were when he faced big emotions. I learned about his specific anger triggers and current coping strategies, but I also learned how incredibly caring, funny, artistic, and empathetic he was as a person. This experience showed me how important it is to focus on an individual’s strengths when working through their challenges.

How do you feel your Concordia education prepared you for the internship?

I really have to give credit to the social work professors, Laurie Dahley and Kristi Loberg, for preparing me for this experience. Their guidance and mentorship in my four years at Concordia means the world to me, not just as a social work major, but as a young adult trying to navigate life. From the first Intro to Social Work class with Kristi, to Laurie being the field instructor for Senior Seminar in combination with our internships, both were with me and my classmates through every stage of learning and developing our own unique passions.

My classmates and fellow senior interns were also so important leading up to and throughout the entire internship. I really appreciate this amazing group of humans and I take pride when I look back and think about how far we all have come from our first year as social work majors. We’ve shared our journeys with each other, supported one another, and reconnected when we can. The support from my professors and classmates made my four years so meaningful and my internship so rewarding.

What has your life been like since you graduated?

Following graduation, I took time to gain more real-life experiences, make meaningful connections with agencies, and find my niche. There is a lot of freedom to change directions within the field of social work, so I know that my specific path will be guided by my passions and by what I’ve gathered through the lifelong process of learning.

What are you up to now?

I am heading into my second year as a school social worker for the Fridley Community Center in Fridley, Minn. The community center as a whole has so much variety in the types of services it provides its members. Preschool, childcare, community education, and even a senior center are all the different programs that are housed in the community center. I contribute to each of these programs in different capacities. My role as a school social worker is to support the preschool and early childcare programs. I work with teachers, administrators, and families to help the preschool experience be joyful and rewarding for everyone, especially our youngest learners.