“Rally in the Valley” Gives Social Work Students a First Step in Professional Development

MBU students met with their counterparts from across the commonwealth to share ideas and build community.

For senior Connie Ralston, the mission of social work is a personal one.

“What drew me to social work was my life experience. I was homeless for a year and a half, so I really got to see different programs and resources and what’s out there and not out there,” she said. “I realized I wanted to work with teenagers and young adults to give them a better toolbox to work with than I had, so they don’t struggle the way I had to struggle.”

Ralston, a social work major, and fellow Mary Baldwin social work students recently met with their contemporaries from across Virginia at the Social Work Education Consortium’s 2023 “Rally in the Valley” event.

Rally in the Valley, which started at James Madison University four decades ago, aims to connect the social work students of Virginia colleges and universities with each other to share ideas and resources, network, and gain professional experience. 

Originally, only universities local to the Shenandoah Valley attended, explained Assistant Professor Lora Cantwell, who led MBU’s group. In recent years, the event has outgrown the valley and migrated across the state to serve as a meeting place for students across the Commonwealth. 

Ralston, an online student who traveled from Michigan to Richmond to attend the conference, and her MBU classmates participated with their peers in workshops on homeless instability, trauma-informed care, and even yoga for wellness.

While attending the Rally in the Valley is mandatory for MBU’s social work seniors, Ralston said she would encourage anyone interested in social work to attend as early and often as possible. 

“I’ll always have that team wherever I am”.

-Connie Ralston, Senior in Social Work

“It’s a huge opportunity for networking – students should be doing this every year they can if they’re going to be a social worker. It offers different opportunities, different workshops, and of course you’re meeting new people since students are always joining,” she explained.

The conference means more to young social workers in Virginia than a meeting of the minds. For Ralston, who overcame a lot to attend Mary Baldwin and has dedicated herself to the aid of others, it means security and hope. 

“No matter where you are, you can take experience with you and the knowledge that there are so many people out there that have the same goal and the same mission to help people around us,” she said. “So the main thing I take from Rally in the Valley is that we are all a team. Across the state and across the country, social workers are everywhere, and I’ll always have that team wherever I am.”