Huntsville world traveler pivots to social worker after returning to college at 49


Desiree Gebler social work UNA
Desiree Gebler has landed in Huntsville + set off on a new career journey. (Erin Elise / @e_elisephotography)

What’s the path from flight attendant to social worker? That’s what Huntsville resident and University of North Alabama (UNA) graduate student Desiree Gebler is navigating now, as she returns to school at 49 to chase a new career goal.

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Meet Desiree Gebler

desiree gebler UNA social work
Who knew one degree could lead to so many possibilities? (Erin Elise / @e_elisephotography)

Desiree spent her early adulthood traveling the world. Though she initially started her undergraduate program with the goal of becoming a teacher, Desiree became a flight attendant after graduation and spent 15 years seeing the world, eventually landing in Australia for eight years.

Last year, Desiree moved back to Huntsville and began reconsidering her career options, browsing online to find out more about master’s degrees in the education space. It wasn’t until she had a conversation with a friend who’s a social worker that Desiree’s eyes were opened to the opportunities that a Master of Social Work (MSW) offers.

In January of this year, she started the 2-year MSW program at UNA. Read on to find out what she loves about the UNA social work program 

1. Educational options for all backgrounds

Desiree Gebler social work una
The best time to follow a new career dream? Now. (Erin Elise / @e_elisephotography)

Social work wasn’t even on Desiree’s radar when she attended her undergraduate program in the mid-90s. Thankfully, UNA’s social work program made it easy for her to get a well-rounded understanding of the field  even without a former social work degree. 

At UNA, potential MSW students have the option to choose between a 12-month program and a 24-month program. The 12-month program is designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in social work, while the 24-month program is appropriate for students with any educational background. 

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2. Varied career opportunities

desiree in chicago
Desiree + her daughter in Chicago. (Desiree Gebler)

The conversation that ultimately led Desiree to enroll in UNA’s MSW program also opened her eyes to the many career opportunities that a social work degree can lead to. These include jobs in the following fields: 

  • Children + families 
  • Education (Desiree’s goal)
  • Gerontology
  • Healthcare
  • Mental health 
  • Substance abuse 

“(My friend) really explained all the options there were in social work. Had I known that, I probably would have gone into social work 30 years ago. I think it’s a very misrepresented field and a lot of people don’t know all the options that are available as a social worker.”

Desiree Gebler, UNA MSW student

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3. Supportive environment, even at a distance

una social work
Emulate the on-campus feel from miles away. (UNA)

It’s normal to have reservations before beginning a new graduate program, especially for people like Desiree who haven’t been in formal education for several years. 

UNA’s MSW program is 100% online, which means that it’s accessible no matter what your day-to-day life looks like. To address some of the common pitfalls of online learning, Desiree’s professors have made their students’ success a priority, from hosting optional Zoom meetings to encouraging students to take care of themselves during this busy time. 

Plus, in-person internships give distance students the hands-on experience they need as they work to apply what they’re learning in class. So far, Desiree has done stints in private practice and at a mental health clinic in Decatur.

​​Nuts + bolts

Here are a few more details about UNA’s MSW program: 

  • Cost: At $12,000 for the one-year program or $24,000 for the two-year, UNA’s MSW is competitively priced. Plus, scholarships are available for prospective grad students.
  • Quality: UNA’s program is a candidate for accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.
  • Flexibility: Both MSW programs at UNA are fully online, which means you can learn on your own schedule. 

What doors could a Master of Social Work open for you? Find out more now.

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Emily Phillips
Emily Phillips
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