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Student story

Olivia LaMontagne

20 July 2023

"Social Work gave me a way to translate my passion for social change into action..."


Master of Social Work (Applied)

Community Relations Advisor, Presbyterian Support Upper South Island

"I want to live in a society where everyone can access the support they need, and I want to be a part of that social change," Olivia says of her ultimate goals in making a difference.

Having completed a master's degree in Social Work through UC, Olivia has already taken steps toward her ideal career in social policy and advocacy.

"I have a passion for social justice and I also love working with people from all walks of life. Social Work was appealing to me because I wanted to be able to support people while taking into account the social issues that affect them.

"Social Work gave me a way to translate my passion for social change into action. It's an active profession that relies on not only recognising the problems in society, but actually going out and advocating for change."

Originally from Tennessee, USA, Olivia had completed undergraduate studies in Psychology before venturing to New Zealand and UC.

"I hold a keen interest in politics both in my native country and in Aotearoa New Zealand," she says.

"I loved the atmosphere at UC. I found it so laid back, yet still with a high standard. Some universities can be too competitive, but at UC, everybody was willing to help and take care of each other. It was nice to see that there can still be high standards in a collaborative environment, instead of a competitive one."

The Social Work department, meanwhile, gave her exactly the expertise and support she wanted from her postgraduate studies.

"The Social Work faculty are leaders in the field. Many of our textbooks were written by our lecturers which present great opportunities to learn beyond what's in the textbook. Also, the applied master's programme was great because I already had a bachelor"s degree and it was a good challenge."

She also made a lot of use of the  Academic Skills Centre, as an effective way to meet the challenge of postgraduate study.

"They were amazing! I would highly recommend their service, really lovely people with a lot of knowledge and helpful advice. I also took the New Zealand Sign Language course provided through the Equity & Disability Service. It was an incredibly useful and enjoyable course that I would also recommend for all students."

As a keen outdoor enthusiast, Olivia especially enjoyed using the Rec Centre and being a part of the UC Climbing Club outside of study.

"It is so nice to be able to go to the gym without having to worry about the financial side of it. It was great to have a way to stay healthy and active, especially in the winter. UC has some really wonderful clubs and I think university is a great place to try new things and explore your interests."

The skills Olivia has gained from her studies have led to her role as a Community Relations Advisor, involving community engagement strategies and fundraising, social services research, and social worker support for families.

"To me, the most interesting thing about my job is the flexibility. I've been lucky enough to get a job that respects my interests and passions," she says. "Although I am doing a lot of different kinds of tasks, I am also supported to maintain my professional identity as a social worker. It is a really fulfilling job because I know that I am supporting people in my community improve their lives and advocating for voices that aren't always heard."

With her master's covering such a broad range of areas supporting others, Olivia recommends Social Work as an invaluable degree for anyone looking for a career creating positive change.

"My study has definitely prepared me for what I'm doing. I think that social work is a values-based profession. You can do so many things with a Social Work degree, from working directly with clients, to management, to writing policy, to research, the list goes on and on. But the ethics and values that are essential to the social work profession (social justice, advocacy, strong relationships) will be key to my work no matter what I do.

"Be ready to take a personal journey. You will find your study challenging but very rewarding and life-changing."

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