Faculty Friday: Shelly-Ann Dewsbury, MSW, Values Growth In and Out of the Classroom

by Megan Wilhelm

When professor Shelly-Ann Dewsbury, MSW applied to teach at Azusa Pacific University, she took the job through a leap of faith, leaving the familiarity of her residence in Boston. “When I took the job at APU, I was literally moving to California sight unseen,” she said.

Born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Dewsbury has taught in APU’s Department of Social Work since August 2019. She earned her BSW at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica and received her MSW from Boston College. Dewsbury credits her Christian upbringing as a preacher’s kid and the emphasis on service it gave her, noting how she always wanted to go into public service but didn’t discover social work until she was in college. For Dewsbury, social work blends both career and service and allows her to live out what she believes is Christ’s mission to serve others, as can be seen in Micah 6:8, which reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (ESV). “This verse is the bedrock of the work that I do,” Dewsbury said. “It really gives a perfect caption to the intersectionality of social work and the Christian faith.”

While working as a social worker at a program that provided childcare and other services for families experiencing homelessness, Dewsbury had the opportunity to supervise BSW and MSW students while they were doing their field internships. Through that experience, Dewsbury discovered she enjoyed the hands-on work of training and preparing students for readiness in the field. After some career evaluation, she began job hunting and landed a position at a local university in Boston as a field director before applying at APU to teach full-time.

After nearly four years, Dewsbury has made a home both in California and at APU. Dewsbury loves each of the four classes she teaches: Introduction to Social Work, Social Policy, Social Justice Foundations for Human Rights, Social Work Practice with Communities and Organizations. “With each class, there is a different lens of excitement that comes with it,” she said.

Dewsbury also finds much fulfillment in teaching her macro-practice class. Through this course, she teaches junior social work students in their last semester before they go into the field for their year-long internships. Dewsbury finds joy in teaching these junior-level students because she taught many of them in intro level social work courses. After two and a half years, she gets to see how far they’ve come. Dewsbury loves engaging with these students in more deep and meaningful ways compared to their interactions in lower-level classes. “The growth they’ve experienced is really exciting for me,” Dewsbury said. Witnessing this growth is rooted in Dewsbury’s passion for mentoring students, both academically and spiritually. While she enjoys teaching, watching her students transform over the course of their education is most meaningful for her. “The teaching part is fun. I love to see when students are engaging and doing activities in class, but then seeing the growth that happens outside of the classroom, that’s just as exciting for me,” she said.

In both teaching and in life, growth is paramount to Dewsbury: “Never stop learning. Never stop growing,” she said. In the midst of both success and failure, she encourages students to continue moving forward. “The key is that when we have successes and failures in life, recognize that that does not totally define who we are because there’s always going to be a next step after. Even after every success, there’s going to be a ‘what next?’” As they continue on their academic journeys, Dewsbury encourages students to be bold enough to take risks and grow from those experiences.

Megan Wilhelm '23 is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement.