Nycole Brundidge was set on pursuing a career as an educator before her first real-world experience got a little too real.
"All throughout my childhood, I thought I was going to be a teacher," she said. "My mom bought me a chalkboard for Christmas. I got school supplies to be able to teach my teddy bears. In high school, I went for an internship and a kid vomited on me. That changed my mind."
So, Brundidge instead followed in the footsteps of her mother, Deborah, and her late father, Eddie, to become a social worker. She graduated from the bachelor's and master's degree of social work programs at Northern Kentucky University.
"After I got my bachelor's degree in 2005, I worked for the state of Kentucky's child protective services program," she said. "I am from Cincinnati, but I always thought it was better to work in Kentucky — especially because I was in child protective services.
"If I happened to run across someone I knew from high school, I didn't want to have to remove their kids. I also wanted to make sure social work was what I wanted to do."
Fortunately, Brundidge loved her job and thrived in her role. After gaining seven years of experience at the Cabinet of Health and Family Services in Covington, she returned to NKU and graduated from the on-campus Master of Social Work (MSW) program in 2016.
"My job also paid for me to return to school, so that was an incentive to get my graduate degree," she said. "I already had experience with NKU. I was familiar with the school, and I knew the campus and the instructors and liked them. NKU was the obvious choice."
Answering the Bell
Two years after Brundidge graduated from the master's degree program, her career came full circle when she became an adjunct professor at NKU.
"They asked me if I would teach the field experience class, which is the internship where students have to complete 600 hours of service," she said. "I was in charge of that program, and I absolutely loved it."
Brundidge began the next phase of her social work career in January 2020, when she landed a job as a targeted mental health assessment specialist at the University of Kentucky. As an added bonus, she still works in the same office building where her previous job was in Covington. She also serves on the board of Transitions, Inc., a behavioral health service organization for substance use disorders.
"I thought I would work for child protective services until I retired, but once I got my master's degree and understood there were so many different ways to be a social worker, it opened me up to more options," she said. "That led me to look for another job because I didn't only want to know about child protective services — I want to be able to know more and do more."
Although earning Trauma-Focused Care certification was Brundidge's favorite element of the MSW program, she said all of the curriculum was applicable to her career.
"That certificate changed my understanding of child development," she said. "It tells the story of what someone has gone through. It explains how we are as adults because of what happened to us as children and any way it traumatized us. It helped me with the child development piece for children I was working with at the time."
Brundidge, who enjoys arts and crafts and reading spiritual books, loves the way her career back-up plan has worked out. Her parents were also excited that she opted for social work when she changed her mind about a career in the classroom.
"Education is very big within my family," she said. "My parents both have master's degrees in social work, so it was like, 'This is what you're supposed to do.'"
Now that Brundidge has seen the social work program at NKU as an undergraduate student, a graduate student and a faculty member, she knows its immense value.
"I have often recommended the program to others," she said. "It's one on one and hands on. I felt like I had a personal relationship with a lot of the instructors. They were also very supportive and encouraging.
"They would give you the option of, 'Try this and see if you like it. If you don't like it, you have other options.' What I like most about social work is, there are different ways to be a social worker in almost any field."
Thanks to Brundidge's experience as an adjunct faculty member at NKU, she isn't ruling out a return to her original career plan sometime down the road.
"I have always thought my dream was to teach full time," she said. "I love having conversations with young people about ways they can improve social work and help others. I believe that's what I want to do at some point."
Learn more about the NKU online Master of Social Work program.
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