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Social work student to speak at winter commencement

Dec. 13, 2023

Roland Knight
Roland Knight will be one of 198 students to receive their degrees from the College of Health Sciences during winter commencement on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. Photo courtesy of Roland Knight

Story by Ryan Gauthier

When Roland Knight started his undergraduate journey at the University of Missouri, he was passionate about politics but relatively uninvolved on campus.

Finding his way to the Midwest from the summer resort town of York, Maine, he ended up at Mizzou. He was looking for a state school that felt like the right fit, so he visited several universities.

After touring the campus and exploring Columbia on a gorgeous fall day, he said he knew Mizzou was where he wanted to study.

“I could just really picture myself being here,” Knight said. “On top of that, it was an affordable option that I knew would get me where I wanted to go.”

A few years later, Knight is preparing to receive his bachelor’s degree from the School of Social Work. Knight will also proudly represent the College of Health Sciences as the featured speaker during winter commencement at 2 pm. on Friday, Dec. 15, in Jesse Auditorium.

Finding his footing

As with most 2023 graduates, Knight spent his formative years swirling in a sea of information. Thanks to the internet, he actively witnessed everything taking place in the world around him — good and bad. He felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his studies, and he saw an increasingly polarizing political situation playing out on a national scale.

At the outset of his collegiate career, Knight thought he would major in something connected to politics and law. He later realized the legal system wasn’t his true passion, but he discovered along the way that he was more interested in helping people who were disadvantaged by that legal system.

“That’s really what led me to social work,” Knight said. “The idea of helping out and giving back to people.”

After starting in the BSW program in the School of Social Work, Knight said he found himself becoming increasingly involved and finding ways to give back to both his fellow Tigers and the local community.

He was president of the Council of Student Social Workers (CSSW), worked as a program coordinator with City of Refuge, spent two summers assisting with Missouri Scholars Academy, completed a clinical practicum with the Department of Health Psychology and served on the Residence Halls Association. In addition to his BSW, Knight will graduate with a certificate in multicultural studies.

Although people frequently tell him he should pursue more lucrative careers like math or engineering, Knight said he felt pulled to help people through a career in social work.

“There’s incredibly valuable work being done in areas like social work and other helping professions,” he said.

Mastering Mizzou

Knight has already been accepted into the Master of Social Work program at Mizzou. He said he is excited to continue his studies with faculty members who have become close mentors over the years.

Ashley Givens, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and director of the BSW program, said Knight’s leadership through the CSSW has allowed the organization to benefit both Mizzou students and members of the local community.

“He is always willing to step up and step in to help support the mission of the school and the profession,” Dr. Givens said.

Knight has also grown particularly close with Dong Pil Yoon, an associate professor in the School of Social Work. Knight said he’s taken at least one course with Dr. Yoon every semester since starting in the program.

“Dr. Yoon has been with me throughout the entirety of my professional program, which is uncommon for sure,” he said. “He’s one of the kindest and smartest men I’ve ever met. He’s been an incredible resource for me, and he wrote a bunch of my reference letters.”

Yoon echoes those comments, referring to Knight as a wonderful student with a “warm heart and a hard head.”

“He is such an open-minded person, and I will always cherish the memories with him in my classes,” Yoon said.

Knight plans to work with students in underprivileged and underfunded schools throughout graduate school. He hopes to continue that work after completing his master’s degree by becoming a licensed clinical social worker.

“We’re still uncovering ways that the pandemic affected mental health — particularly with the youth and people who are coming to teen and adult age now,” Knight said. “Moving forward, I’m interested in working with young adults and teenagers to look at how the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic affected them.”

Watch a video stream of the College of Health Sciences winter commencement ceremony

Featured in this post

Ashley Givens

Ashley Givens

BSW Program Director and Assistant Professor

Dong Pil Yoon

Dong Pil Yoon

Associate Professor