University of South Florida

Innovative Education


online msw student spotlight justin tash smiles in army fatigues

From serving in the Air Force to serving his community - Justin Tash's journey to a career in social work

Serving in the United States Air Force for seven years, Justin Tash witnessed the mental health struggles among colleagues and experienced his own emotional health battles while growing up in a military family and serving on active duty. 

In the Air Force, most of his days consisted of flying planes, but Tash discovered a knack for helping people through some of the most challenging times of their lives as a volunteer victim advocate in the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. As a survivor of sexual assault himself, he had been in their shoes. 

“I understood what it was like and what people felt when they went through those traumas,” he said. 

Transitioning to Civilian Life

When Tash’s time in the military was cut short when he was unexpectedly medically discharged, he decided to dedicate his post-military civilian career to helping people in need. Since he had been connected to the military for his entire life, the adjustment to civilian life took some time. 

His father was on active duty for most of his childhood, and his college years were spent in the Corps of Cadets program at Texas A&M University, a Tier 1 Senior Military College. He had never fully experienced life outside of the military. 

Tash took a year off to figure out what he wanted to do next and eventually landed on social work. “After some research, it became clear that you can do everything under the sun with social work as long as it has some kind of mental health moniker, even behavioral health or public health in general, social work can apply,” he said. 

He said that finding an online program was important because he wanted to work remotely and had already spent so much time away from his wife and family while in the Air Force. 

Choosing USF

When he discovered USF’s Online Master of Social Work, everything clicked into place, he said.

“What was different about USF is that it was designed to be online from the ground up, and I really appreciated that,” Tash said. “Another big selling point was Dr. David Kilmnick, the Online MSW program chair, due to his robust background in social work and his work in macro-level problems. His work inspired me to focus on some of these same issues in the future.”

Tash also found that the USF Office of Veteran Success was very supportive in guiding him on using his GI Bill to help pay for tuition. 

Since starting the program, all his expectations have been met, and many have been exceeded. 

Building Connections Online

“A lot of the issues that people have with online classes are not accurate to my lived experience as an Online MSW student,” he said. “Because of the cohort model, there’s a certain element of support among your classmates that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Tash emphasized that students in the program want to make connections and discuss what they’re learning.

“The online structure makes building relationships with peers much more deliberate,” Tash said. “We get on Zoom, make study groups, and chat. It’s honestly more accessible than approaching somebody in person.”

He said another benefit is that instructors are proficient with using the technology required for online classes, which allows them to easily take advantage of tools like breakout rooms, polls, and other features of virtual meeting platforms. 

Preparing for the Future

Now in year two of the program, Tash is finishing the rest of his classes while completing his clinical internship at a charter high school in the Orlando area. Since he wants to work with children and adolescents, this is the perfect opportunity for him to get real-world experience. 

“I’ve been very privileged to form meaningful bonds with a lot of these kids at my internship, and I’ve heard a lot from my peers about really positive experiences they’ve had,” he said. 

Once he earns his master’s degree, Tash would like to land a position involving macro-level policy, focusing on policies that impact children and families. 

To learn more about the Online Master of Social Work, visit the website or contact Tiffany Young at  

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About Department News

USF Innovative Education is a powerhouse of creativity and collaboration, offering a range of faculty-related services including learning design, multimedia development, technology integration, and support for teaching and learning. We help faculty transform courses into dynamic learning experiences, providing training and support for various programs. We work with both experienced and new faculty, assisting them in integrating technology and staying up to date with educational trends.