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MSU Profiles

Leading by example to encourage positive social change

A love of social work spurred on by working in the field, grew into much more than Dionne Spooner, Minot State University assistant professor, ever imagined. Starting a new mission in western North Dakota and ultimately impacting lives turned an interest into a passion. That experience brought her full circle back to where she started in the Magic City.

"I graduated from Bishop Ryan and decided to study social work at Moorhead State," said Spooner, "but the big city flare was not for me, so I came back to MSU and completed a degree in social work."

Upon both graduating from MSU, Spooner and her husband, Nolan, headed to Williston. While employment in social work was scarce, she was in the right place at the right time and became the director of the Family Crisis Center. It was there that her fervor for working in the domestic violence field was triggered.

"This was my first job, I had no experience," exclaimed Spooner, "and honestly, it's when I fell in love with the field. It is still my passion today, which was just ironic because it's not something I ever had experience in before."

Starting her career in a small community was beneficial, as it allowed Spooner the chance to understand the inner workings of collaboration with other entities such as the police and sheriff's departments, the court system and social services.

"I loved it. I started a women's group there, and as director, I did a little bit of everything," said Spooner. "We were blessed because we secured long-term funding, and this just helped the mission of the program, which was something I always believed in."

From Williston, Spooner and her husband moved to Grand Forks, where she worked in child welfare, and in 2001 they returned to Minot. She worked as a social worker for Ward County Social Services, and then as a case manager at the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch. Wanting to specialize in therapy and counseling, she went on to earn her master's degree in social work in 2008. It was during that time that her field liaison was teaching at MSU and asked Spooner if she'd ever considered teaching.

"I never in a million years thought I'd be teaching, and never in a million years thought I'd get a PhD. It was honestly never on my radar," said Spooner. "But I thought, ‘Sure, I can teach a class,' so I taught as an adjunct. Then things started changing at the Boys Ranch, so I applied for a teaching position at MSU and have been there since."

While she enjoys teaching, Spooner continues to pursue her love of the field through private practice on the side.

"What I love about teaching social work is I get to teach the future social workers of the world," said Spooner. "I was raised as a strict Catholic, and as a freshman at Bishop Ryan, I watched a movie on social work and it mirrored to me basic Christian values, helping the oppressed and those in need, and demonstrated integrity. That's what I've always wanted to do. Looking back, it was really my religion that led me to social work. From that point on, I never imagined doing anything besides social work."

Spooner teaches by emphasizing research through life experience, in the hopes that those entering the profession are sound, moral, ethical beings. She also emphasizes the importance of community service.

"The philosophy of community service resonates with me," said Spooner. "I see it with MSU faculty, staff and students, such as helping with Move-in-Day. I always felt like I mattered at Minot State, and I want all students to know that they matter too, and each one of them is a person who brings a lot to MSU and the community."

With so much in the world changing, Spooner explains that a social worker never stops learning, and so she decided to pursue a doctorate degree.

"I didn't really believe getting my PhD would make me a better teacher, but it did," said Spooner. "Education makes you think more critically and analytically. I really feel like genuine, authentic work habits and personality and leadership are what we need, and I try to model that inside and outside of the classroom."

Spooner's goals for the future include finishing her doctorate and encouraging positive social change. She and her husband have three young children and understand the importance of a family-friendly community.

"I see so many possibilities for social change in our community. We have great, giving people and collectively if we combine our resources, we can make it an even more friendly place for young families to stay, specifically those with families with disabilities."