News & Events

New SSW Faculty Member Focuses on Asking Questions, Sharing Stories

September 24, 2012

This fall, the School of Social Work is delighted to welcome Associate Professor Kim Kelly Harriman, M.S.W., to its full-time faculty. Ms. Harriman will be teaching social work practice and field education, and she will be acting as a coordinator of Academic Advising and the new Academic Services Center (ASK). We got the chance to ASK her a few questions about her experience in social work and her new role at Simmons.

How did you get into the field of Social Work?

This is a question I always ask my students.  A former student (and you know who you are) responded with this, "How could anyone not want to be a social worker?" I'm honored to have membership in a profession framed by a value set that concerns the greater good.

As far as an actual entry point, I hovered around the field until it became clear that this was the direction in which I was headed — whether or not I had intended it that way.  I began a seminary education and, when that wasn't quite right, began working in a school setting with adolescents who were deaf or hearing impaired.  In each case, it was the stories that captivated me.  As we know, social work is a place where we collaborate together in our mutual stories.  Ultimately, I guess, social work was the only profession that made sense to me. 

Can you tell us about your social work career?  What are your areas of practice and expertise?

I've had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings - one of the wonderful things about our profession.  As a new graduate, I was fortunate to work in a community mental health center that supported my interest in developing a program that would make services accessible to the Deaf community.  After conducting a needs assessment, it was not surprising to find a gaping hole in the service delivery system.  What followed was the development of a comprehensive program, funded by a Commonwealth grant, that provided the full array of outpatient services to hearing impaired individuals.  Clinicians communicated directly in the native language of their clients — American Sign Language (ASL).  It was an early career experience that illuminated the nature and impact of marginalization.  In time, more and more individuals with deafness became professionally trained as social workers and assumed many clinical and leadership positions — an empowered and appropriate outcome. 

It was at that juncture that I went on to explore other settings: an inpatient psychiatric hospital; the emergency department of a local hospital; and community hospice — perhaps the setting in which I experienced the most natural fit.  In 2008, I was hired as part of a multi-disciplinary team charged with the task of developing a newly certified hospice.  For the past several years, I have also maintained a private practice with special clinical interest in chronic illness, postpartum depression, and bereavement, and women's mental health across the lifespan.

Throughout almost three decades of practice, my work with students — as clinical supervisor, advisor, and now teacher — has been among the most rewarding of my experiences.  It is a privilege to mentor and support my new colleagues. 

As a teacher, what happens in your classroom?

I'm new in the classroom setting, and was "inaugurated" last year by an outstanding first year cohort and generous behind-the-scenes mentors.  I would like to think that my students find themselves immersed in real stories of clinical practice.  I had an instructor while in graduate school who is now at Simmons (and you know who you are, too) who impressed upon me the value of bringing the work to life in the classroom.  The impression left by her instruction has never left me, and I hope I can bring some amount of that experience to my own students.  If, in the process, we share some laughs, all the better. 

What are you looking forward to about your work at Simmons?

I find the Simmons School of Social Work community to be wonderfully supportive and collegial.  In a general sense, I hope to be a positive presence for colleagues and students, and contribute to the caring and professional culture.

What are your hopes for the ASK program?

Graduate programs in social work are known to be "transformative" in so many ways — and transformations are not without their stress.  As coordinator of the Academic Services Center (ASK), I hope to find ways to ease some of the stress along the way.  Whether it be assisting in the navigation of the curriculum (alongside our registration coordinator, Suzanne Mullarkey), or being available to students for other forms of guidance and support, it is my hope that students will "ask" for help when needed.  As the "ASK" program is still new to students at Simmons SSW, it is my plan to continually assess what students need.  To that end, I welcome all dialogue in the collaborative spirit of our profession.