After Hayley Thagard graduated in 2015 from high school in Sabetha, Kansas, a small town near the Nebraska border, she was not ready to choose a career, or even a major. Community college made sense as a lower-cost, lower-risk choice to continue her education while she decided what she wanted to pursue.
But after taking an intro to social work course and attending a visit from faculty members in the Avila University Department of Social Work, she knew the next steps.
“I went to community college because I wasn’t sure what I wanted and they had a lot of programs to choose from,” Thagard said. “Community college also made sense because it was a less expensive way to continue my education while I figured out what it was I wanted to do.
“I’m glad I went to community college, but being at Avila has been a big step up for me in terms of my education. Smaller class sizes has probably been my favorite thing because I’ve been able to get to know people. Having a group of people in the social work program that I have several classes with has been helpful too.”
“I’m glad I went to community college, but being at Avila has been a big step up for me in terms of my education.”Hayley Thagard
Thagard has flourished in the classroom and is currently completing an internship at The Groves, an assisted living facility in Independence, Missouri. After she graduates this May, she said she hopes to achieve her master’s degree in health care administration so as to continue to work with seniors.
“I have a love for the seniors that live in the home I’ve been interning at and I would like to continue working in either a nursing home or hospital,” Thagard said. “After speaking with my professors and some of the social workers that work in assisted living, it became clear that an advanced degree will allow me to follow my passion. And it will probably help me make a little more money too.”
Thagard’s passion for geriatric care has already made a huge impact in the lives of her patients, according to her advisor, Lindee Petersen Wilson, MSW, LSCSW, assistant professor of Social Work and Director of Field Education.
“Hayley’s patience and caring heart make her a natural fit for working with geriatric populations,” Wilson said. “Her field instructor let me know that Hayley is very well-liked by her patients and their families. It isn’t always the easiest environment to work in, but Hayley’s comfort in being a patient listener plus her hard work has made it a bit easier.”
In addition to her coursework, Thagard became very involved with several organizations since she began at Avila in 2018. Stating that she got “super involved when (she) got to Avila because (I) wanted to do something,” she credits that instinct with making her feel at home almost instantly.
“I actually feel like I’ve been here longer than just the three semesters,” she said. “The students that I’ve worked with that were more traditional students were completely welcoming and helpful letting me know things about life on campus that I might not have known otherwise. Now I have friends who are freshmen that I’m helping guide through some of the first steps of being an undergraduate student at Avila.”
With graduation approaching rapidly, Thagard makes time to volunteer with the Avila A-Team to promote student-led social, cultural, recreational and education events and activities and is heavily involved with the development of the Transfer Student Organization (TSO), a new organization on campus designed to welcome and familiarize students transferring into Avila from other institutions.
“People don’t believe it now because I’m more outgoing, but when I started at Avila, not knowing anyone, I was very shy,” she said. “On top of that, not knowing what organizations and resources were available to me was a challenge as well. I knew I wanted to be involved, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was on me to find the people who could answer my questions.
“By introducing TSO-run events during welcome week and throughout the year, we’re hoping to greet new transfers and get them acclimated as quickly as possible. Social events and activities geared to students new to Avila who are looking to meet other like-minded people will help them feel at home and comfortable, like I was when I started here.”