Shivani Chudasama discovered her passion for social work in a high school biology class in Charlotte, N.C., about five years ago. Then employed with Teach for America, Chudasama quickly realized she could better serve young people from outside of the classroom than from within.
Chudasama, a final-year M.S.W. student at UNC’s School of Social Work, said she learned the most from her conversations with her students. “I think I really just started to get to know them as human beings and not just as a student who needed this score so they could pass the class and move on.”
That learning process also opened her eyes, she said, to the personal challenges that some children face and how family complications at home can often impede academic success. Her students taught her the importance of empathy and understanding, she said.
“For example, when a student doesn’t have their homework and then you find out that they were kicked out of their house,” she explained. “Well of course, biology class is the least of their worries. I loved teaching, but being able to support students through those kinds of challenges just felt a lot more natural to me.”
A 2010 graduate from UNC with a double major in studio art and philosophy, Chudasama said she knew she would likely pursue a different path. Her parents, who emigrated from India in their 20s, prepared their three daughters in caring for others from the moment they were old enough to volunteer. Chudasama, who is interested in psychotherapy, plans to pursue direct practice work with adolescents and young adults after graduation.
Even her parents’ own chosen professions—her mother is a public school teacher and her father is a doctor—further illustrated to their children the value of giving back, Chudasama added.
“[Coach Smith] created this inclusive environment and ultimately, that’s the kind of social justice work that I want to pursue or at least help to spread a few more seeds for growth.”-Shivani Chudasama
We were always caring for others because we knew this is just what we were supposed to do,” she said.
Chudasama’s commitment to such ethics is why she was among the first students in the School of Social Work to be awarded a scholarship from the newly created Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund. The fund honors the life and legacy of the late UNC men’s basketball coach. The scholarship financially supports outstanding undergraduates from lower-income families and enables professionals in education and social work to pursue advanced degrees.
Scholarship recipients, known as Dean E. Smith Scholars, must demonstrate Coach Smith’s qualities of leadership, service and excellence.
“I loved that they named it Opening Doors because that’s exactly what it’s done for me,” Chudasama said. “It’s opening up the opportunity this semester to really focus on my studies and not stress about finances.
“It’s also humbling to think about how in many ways, the way I grew up and the way that my family supported all of us is very similar to what Dean Smith did for his basketball team and the community at large. He created this inclusive environment and ultimately, that’s the kind of social justice work that I want to pursue or at least help to spread a few more sees for growth.”
Help open doors
Carolina, in consultation with the family of Dean E. Smith, has launched a fund- raising campaign for student assistance to honor the life and legacy of the legendary men’s basketball coach.
The campaign is raising donations for the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund, which makes college a reality for outstanding undergraduates from lower- income families and enables professionals in education and social work to pursue advanced degrees.
The University is matching all gifts dollar for dollar with discretionary non-state funds, further leveraging the impact of donor contributions. The matching dollars support Dean E. Smith Scholars at the undergraduate level because of this population’s broad presence on campus