Bree Alexander began asking herself how schools manage trauma or collective crises when she worked as a school-based therapist at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. A student had died, and as the only mental health therapist on the staff, she quickly realized that the school did not have a crisis intervention plan to address incidents of collective trauma.
That incident fueled her interest in trauma intervention after an event of mass trauma. She realized that listening to people's most traumatic experiences was a heavy load. She decided to shift gears and transition to teaching while conducting research. Now, she's the interim bachelor of social work program coordinator and a clinical assistant professor at the University of South Carolina.
"It's a very rewarding and healing process to be able to walk with a person through their trauma recovery, but it can be really taxing for the individual helping them," says Alexander, who is the first African American and youngest person to receive a Ph.D. in social work from Baylor University. "My main motivation for my research is trying to understand how people go through this journey but from the perspective of someone who has helped others."
Before coming to the USC, Alexander taught at Simons University, Texas A&M University-Texarkana and Baylor University. She also served as a clinical social worker at Prisma Health.
Alexander completed her master's in social work at USC and recalls her cohort being one of her first experiences getting to engage with faculty more personally. She is now eager to bring that experience to future students.
“That was one of the first experiences that I had where we got to engage with faculty on more of a personal level because the classes were so long,” says Alexander. "At the time, that was not something that I realized that I would want to come back to, but being here now and looking back on it, that was the start of this desire to be a part of something like that."
In her time here, she has noticed that undergraduate and graduate students are interested in the research faculty are doing and even have an interest in doing their own. She would like to give students more opportunities to get involved with research.
"Maybe students have their own hands-on experience doing their own research project, but they can also collaborate and walk alongside faculty members," says Alexander.
She would also like to collaborate with school social workers in Columbia and a Lexington County school district on training for trauma or crisis events. She hopes these crisis trainings can be implemented not just in the Midlands but statewide.
"South Carolina is like a second home for me," says Alexander. "It felt like a full circle moment to be able to return to the program that trained me as a social worker to now train new social workers."