Carolina People

Carolina People: Sherry Mergner

Mergner's work creates a more inclusive environment by recognizing the needs of those who are neurodivergent.

Sherry Mergner
Sherry Mergner

Sherry Mergner

Clinical Assistant Professor and AHEC Liaison at UNC School of Social Work
LEND Clinical Faculty at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities

23 years working at Carolina

What are your roles at the UNC School of Social Work and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, and how have your responsibilities changed since University employees began working remotely?

I wear many different hats in my job and am used to multitasking. I coordinate UNC School of Social Work faculty, field instructors and doctoral students who travel across the state offering continuing professional development training to the nine Area Health Education Centers. That has not changed much in terms of daily communication. However, I have had to do all my meetings with students and clients via Zoom. I supervise graduate students who are part of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities training program at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities. I also supervise master’s students who are doing their field placements at CIDD. These students will see clients with me in clinical practice via online or telephone sessions once a week. I work part-time at CIDD and have eight clients with intellectual/developmental disabilities and/or autism on my caseload.

How are you working from home? How have you set up your workspace, where are you working from, did you bring anything from your office home?

I am used to working from home. Before the pandemic, I worked from home about three days a week if I did not have a meeting with someone. I have a large desk, my laptop and two additional computer screens. One thing I brought home from CIDD was my collection of visuals that I use to explain concepts and coping strategies when I am working online with clients.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced when transitioning to remote work?

I am used to working independently and, as an introvert, I find working at home enjoyable. I have two adult children, one with autism, so this has been the ideal job for making my own schedule around them. However, social distancing measures added an extra layer to my work life because my clients suddenly needed more support during the transition. Being faced with an influx of work, while learning various remote systems and helping my children transition to a “new normal” definitely had its challenges. I had to learn to make time for self-care.

How have you had to adjust the School of Social Work AHEC Training Partnership’s continuing education lectures due to the pandemic?

Our continuing professional development training classes were originally scheduled as in-person training sessions, but all the programs from March to June were either cancelled, postponed or turned into livestream programs. I have been working with the AHECs to schedule additional livestream programming because there is an increased demand from mental health professionals across the state to renew their licenses or certifications by June 30. These licenses and certifications are required for clinicians who are working with clients in a therapeutic setting.

How are NC AHEC, the School of Social Work and the CIDD maintaining a sense of community?

We have been holding faculty meetings and other types of meetings on Zoom. Our dean, Gary Bowen, also sends out emails which have been very supportive and caring for the SSW faculty and staff. I have also been meeting with CIDD administrators and clinicians regularly via Zoom and when questions arise about clients or student matters, we either email one another or talk by phone. Also, the NC AHEC program office and the regional AHEC behavioral health directors have worked extra hard to stay on top of the training needs for our state. I communicate with them frequently. I have felt as if NC AHEC, the SSW and CIDD have been extremely responsive and supportive during this time.

How are you continuing to support Carolina’s mission?

I embrace the unwavering commitment to excellence in all the work that I do — in my work with the NC AHEC program, the students I supervise and the clients I serve. During this time, I have not only been supervising students with their clinical work, but also helping them through the grief and loss that has come with this pandemic as all of them are graduating this May.

What do you like most about your work?

I love everything about my work. I love serving. I love learning. I love training. I love my students, my colleagues and my clients. I enjoy the diversity of the work I do. Most of all, I am passionate about what I do and care deeply about individuals who are neurodivergent and their families. I want to help make not only the School of Social Work a more inclusive environment but help make Carolina an inclusive campus by recognizing the needs of those who are neurodivergent.

Carolina People is a regular feature that asks one of your fascinating colleagues questions about the work they do for the University. Do you know someone with an interesting or unique job at Carolina? Please email your suggestions to thewell@unc.edu and put Carolina People in the subject line.