Alumni Accomplishments

Excelling Through Elevated Empathy

OU alumnus and mother of two Michelle Davidson discovered her career calling in social work

A woman with her arms around two children.

Photo Credit: Adam Sparks

A woman smiling.

Photo Credit: Adam Sparks

icon of a calendarAugust 25, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn and Patti Georgevich

Share this story

Michelle Davidson had been working as a medical assistant for three years and realized the field just wasn’t the right fit for her. As she was looking for another job, she decided to become a volunteer at Henry Ford Hospice (HFH). While attending an HFH training orientation led by a social worker, she plied the woman for information on her career. Davidson felt like she was “staring in the mirror.”

“I was like, ‘That’s me. That’s everything I want to do,’” she says.

Davidson decided to pursue her degree in social work, enrolling in Macomb Community College’s pre-social work program and planning to transfer to Oakland University for her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).

After transferring from Macomb to OU in 2015, she had a rough start due to a low GPA from classes she’d taken at OU many years earlier.

She was ineligible for financial aid and considered transferring somewhere else. But one of her former professors from Macomb discouraged her.

Davidson says she “stopped crying” about her situation, found financial aid through Michigan Works! and took a few summer classes in 2016 that successfully restored her GPA so she’d qualify for financial aid. She’s glad she listened to her former professor’s advice.

Davidson has special praise for her BSW Program Adviser Heather El-Khoury whom she describes as “empowering.” And, she says all her OU professors were “very, very compassionate” to her as a non-traditional student juggling a full-time course load with a full-time job and raising two children.

“There were times when I’d come to class a little bit late because I had to bring my kids from school to home and then get to class in time,” says Davidson, whose children are now 11 and 12. “I was never shunned for being a mother and still trying to obtain my education.”

The Eastpointe resident says it was extremely convenient taking her BSW classes at the OU Anton/Frankel Center because of the short commute to and from her home, and it’s located right across the street from the Macomb County Executive’s office, where she worked at the time.

Davidson says the study of social work came “innately” to her — particularly for the way it helped her “name and frame” thoughts she’d already had about the larger social and political issues that influence people’s lives. She recalls BSW classmates gently ribbing her for her tendency to start discussions that sometimes ran past the class’s scheduled end time.

“It was sort of a running joke, like, ‘You’re the only one who likes this class,’” she laughs. “But it was really so easy to me.”

In 2017, Davidson started working in her new field as a volunteer coordinator at Macomb Community Action (MCA) before graduating in 2018 with her BSW. At MCA, she recruits new volunteers and works with existing volunteers for Macomb County’s Meals on Wheels program.

Davidson’s supervisor, Rhonda Powell, praises Davidson’s “phenomenal” work in “modernizing” Meals on Wheels’ volunteer system by organizing volunteer information on Google Drive. Powell says Davidson goes “above and beyond” in all her work.

“Michelle is the ideal social worker,” Powell says. “When you think of the profession, it’s someone who has life experiences, can put herself in others’ shoes and is just really committed.”

Davidson, 39, says her life experiences have made her a better social worker. She expects them to continue serving her well as she pursues her long-term career goals of starting a nursing home and getting into politics. As someone who once used social programs like food stamps, Medicaid and WIC, she says she has an elevated sense of empathy for the people she serves.

“They’re not a number,” she says. “They’re not people you dread to work with. We’re humans and we should all look out for each other.”

Learn more about OU’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs offered at our locations in Clinton Township and Mount Clemens at OU Macomb.

Share this story