Social Work alumna Stacey Wiggins said Judith Sevel had a major impact on her life. Sevel was her professor in the first class social work students take to learn about counseling and working with clients. While Sevel did not always reward Wiggins with high marks, when Wiggins started bringing her grades up, she received a congratulatory call at her residence hall from Sevel telling her how proud she was of Wiggins, who said she never forgot that call.
Wiggins is a family service coordinator at the City of Bloomington Housing Authority, where she writes and manages grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that provide self sufficiency programs for the Housing Authority residents.
Wiggins said she decided to become a social worker as a young child from a single parent home who watched her family overcome many obstacles. She chose Illinois State for her education because of the outstanding reputation of the School of Social Work. Sevel was her first “tough teacher,” one who “saw something in me and took the time to talk to me and offer constructive criticism, which I was hungry for because I really wanted to become a social worker.” Wiggins said Sevel encouraged her to discipline herself while working with clients, helped her to balance her personality with staying professional.
Sevel said she does consider herself a teacher who holds students to high standards because of her belief that students must be able to do the professional work in a competent way. She said the risks are high, and if a social worker is not adequately prepared “the consequences are far reaching.”
Sevel definitely knows the field of social work, which she said “chose her.” Prior to becoming an educator, she worked as a residential social worker at a domestic violence center in Maryland, a respite care caseworker for the National Children’s Center and as an intern and then a community residence social worker in the Public Defender’s Services, both in Washington, D.C., director of the Countering Domestic and Sexual Violence Program at the McLean County YWCA, a child/adolescent therapist for the Center for Human Services in Bloomington and as a staff counselor at the Illinois State Student Counseling Center.
“I have been in the social work field for my entire career and can’t imagine doing anything else,” Sevel said. “I love the opportunity to pass along my passion, knowledge and commitment to the field.”
Wiggins returns the favor by participating in panels or classroom visits at Sevel’s request and serving as a supervisor of interns for the past seven years. “The students she sends me always comment on how highly she speaks of me, and the feeling is completely mutual,” Wiggins said.
Sevel said she tries to reach out to students who need a bit of encouragement as the rigor of the program is high and learning the skills to engage and sustain a helping relationship with clients is complicated and rewarding work.
“Our students are doing wonderful things, including supporting a cancer patient or helping an adolescent in need of a substance abuse program,” Sevel said. “I have seen clients move from the desperation of nowhere to live to the stability of renting an apartment through the Housing Authority. Success may be something as simple as finding a pair of work boots so a homeless client may start looking for a job.”
Sevel is currently the director of Field Education, who often taps former students now in the social work field to become field instructors for her current students. She said she loves hearing from former students and attributes their continued interest to the collegial and interactive relationships she built with them during their time at Illinois State. As director, Sevel is able to continue passing her passion for her field along to current students and is encouraged to see her former students succeeding in the field she loves.