The Mandel School recently spoke with Heidi M. Weiker, MSSA '92, co-owner, master instructor, coach and author of Spherica LLC. Read on to learn more about one of our amazing alums!
Why did you choose to go into the social work field?
The unofficial answer: the calling "to serve" was deep in my heart and soul from as far back as I can remember. My mom loves to tell stories about me as a three-year-old sitting for hours on our apartment stairs greeting the neighbors, asking them about their days, trying to connect them to one another, and working to comfort each of them in some small way.
The official answer: I studied both psychology and sociology in undergrad, and loved the idea of the integration of the two fields. The more I explored what that might look like, the more I was led to social work. It matched my worldly view and the more I tried it on, the more I liked it. Social work embodies my belief that people cannot just be plugged into a paradigm. We need to be approached, heard and understood from our experiences, our genetics and epigenetics, and our complex interconnectedness instead. Each of us uniquely exists within the whole of a beautiful world. Social work honors this—the human within humankind.
Why did you select the Mandel School to earn your degree?
I actually stumbled upon the Mandel School and I’m beyond grateful that I did! I was pursuing a clinical psych degree and it just wasn’t resonating. My intuition told me to further explore and expand. As I did, I discovered social work and Mandel, and was thrilled to learn that such a prestigious school and renowned program was right here in my hometown. The first time I walked into the building, I knew it was right for me. And by that I mean the energy, the vibe, the people, the mission, the spirit of—not the actual building!
I was in the class of 1992—the last class to start grad school in the old place that was knocked down. We sure did celebrate the forward momentum of social work as we then became the first class to graduate from the beautiful new building.
What concepts did you learn at the Mandel School that you use in your career today?
I think the better question for me is, “what concepts didn’t you learn during your time at Mandel?” Words don’t do justice to all that I learned, experienced and gained.
That said, several things immediately come to mind: I seek to understand human beings from a non-judgmental place of acceptance—to meet them where they are in the moment with loving-kindness and empathy. I strive to see the big picture and to know people in both their inner beings and the context of their outer worlds. I examine research from a critical-thinking perspective and apply it to community and systems. I value a strengths-based approach that honors and empowers individuals. I work to create belonging as I believe it is a basic need that is a right for each and every one of us.
Today, my sister—my best friend—and I own a small business that serves vastly diverse populations across North America. I research, design, develop and teach curriculums on stress and anxiety resilience, breathwork, positive-mindedness, connectedness and communication, and self-care. I’m especially passionate about reaching and teaching today’s youth. I love what I do and use my social work foundation every single day!
What would you tell someone who is on the fence about attending the Mandel School or going into the social work field?
This is so fun, as I just had a conversation around this with a dear friend of mine who, as a mother of two and an MBA-prepared international sales executive, shifted gears, entered and just graduated from Mandel!
Anyway, two of the best years of my life were the two years I spent at the Mandel School. I passionately believe that the Mandel experience is a life-changing one. It is a time of deep learning, internal contemplation, personal growth, professional exploration, community building, special collegial bonding, fellowship and so much more. I imagine that my comments represent many Mandel graduates. There is not a career I can think of—both inside the field and outside of it—that is not supported, shaped, helped and enhanced by an education in social services. Where else can your studies shape you into a better human being to help the world become a better place?
How are you handling the craziness of 2020?
I just found myself exhaling, slowly... What an unprecedented time of deep struggle this is. My answer is one in the same here, as I work ridiculously hard to practice what I teach.
Empathy. Acceptance of what is and hope for what is to come. Peace-making. Grieving for what was. Mourning for what is lost. Celebration of all that is good. Contemplative action. Connecting with my loving family and beautiful friends. Sharing ideas in fellowship with my peers. Compassion. Gratefulness. Divine grace. Savoring moments of joy, beauty, comfort, ease and peace.
And, lots of other self-care—centering prayer, hot baths, writing my parable-in-process, drinking yummy coffee, playing games, journaling by the fireplace, snuggling with my guy and loving on our furry baby, laughing every day, binging on psychological suspense series, dark chocolate almonds and dancing—yes, lots of dancing!