Nontraditional Social Work Student of the Year finds balance

Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Elizabeth Kipp ’21 outside

As a nontraditional UNH student, Elizabeth Kipp ’21 took 16 credits a semester her sophomore and junior years so she could finish her undergraduate degree in social work in three years. At one point, when her military husband was stationed across the country and she remained in Virginia, Kipp was going to school, working at UNH’s Military and Veterans Services Center (MVS), and serving as a single parent to their three kids, now ages 8, 13 and 22, a role that continued every other week when her husband was away with his command.

Oh, and somewhere during all that, she broke her hand.

“I couldn’t even type! Everyone in the social work department helped me so much. I wanted to learn, and they knew I wanted to learn,” Kipp says. “I can’t credit then enough for helping me.”

It turns out, Kipp also deserves credit, and she recently got it when she was named Student of the Year by the National Association of Social Work, New Hampshire Chapter.

"Everyone in the social work department helped me so much. I wanted to learn, and they knew I wanted to learn."

“I would like to think I was nominated because I care deeply for the students I have had the privilege of studying with,” she says. “Their experience at UNH within the social work department is just as important to me as my own. Receiving this honor is humbling and uncomfortable because I know there are more deserving students, but I have a loud voice and I am not afraid to use it. I try to use that loud voice to champion the needs of students.”

She has already been accepted into UNH’s accelerated master’s program and plans to become a licensed clinical social worker. Her goal is to use that voice counsel military families; it’s what she knows. Her husband recently ended his 24-year career with the Navy. During that time, he served nine tours, three of which she describes as “boots on ground” combat and the remaining six were on Navy ships.

Eventually Kipp hopes to complete trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy training to provide comprehensive care to the many members of the military who have experienced trauma.

“My husband’s service afforded me the opportunity to attend UNH and the Military and Veterans Services Center helped me navigate the use of the military benefits,” Kipp says. “I have been working with MVS for almost three years now as an assistant program coordinator. Helping students who are transitioning from military life to student life has been rewarding, and I am grateful to the students who allowed me to be a part of their UNH experience.”

Working with those veterans-turned-students fostered a deeper connection to the university, Kipp says. It also provided encouragement along the way. “Although balancing a full-time course load, work and a family was challenging, Penny Watson and Karen Gilbert of the Military and Veterans Services Center cheered me on, and my professors granted me permission to be a person first and a student second,” she says. 

Albeit modified because of COVID, Kipp did an internship last year with Community Action Partnership working as a home visitor. Despite the unpredictability the pandemic caused, she is grateful for the hands-on experience.

“Social work offers professional variety and demands involvement at every level of the human experience, whether it be working with individuals, communities or within larger systems like government,” Kipp says. “I knew early on, helping students who came to the Military and Veterans Services Center, that it social work was the right fit for me.”