University of South Florida

Innovative Education


online student spotlight headshot of shawn fox

Online MSW student finds new calling in counseling after a two-decade-long law enforcement career

After retiring from his 20-year law enforcement career, Shawn Fox decided to take the next phase of his career in a new direction. With an existing master’s degree in psychology, he began teaching as an adjunct but soon realized that his ultimate goal was to be a counselor. 

While completing the last stretch of his law enforcement service, he suffered some on-the-job injuries and found it difficult to manage the stress that comes with that line of work. Fox realized that teaching offered him a healthier work-life balance, and eventually decided to continue his own education. 

“Sometimes the worst of events can end up having a silver lining,” he said. 

Since Fox wasn’t ready to perform clinical work with a master’s in psychology alone, he knew he needed to pursue another degree. Initially, he planned to get his Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology but quickly realized that wasn’t the path he wanted to follow. With concerns about the time commitment required and the costs of the doctoral program, he began looking at other options. 

Since he had earned his bachelor’s degree at USF in health sciences and psychology, he wanted to continue his Bull experience and began researching the Online Master of Social Work program

“I decided on the social work degree because it was the most versatile from what I looked at,” Fox said. “It can apply to many different areas, from macro practice and advocacy to charitable work in organizations, as well as individual practice and group therapy.”

As an instructor living in Pinellas County, Fox said the flexible, online modality of the program strongly appealed to him, as well as the two-year length. With his schedule of teaching USF classes online and at the St. Petersburg campus, commuting an hour or more a day to take courses just didn’t fit his routine. 

“If I had to go to the Tampa campus, it would be a barrier to me ever completing the program,” he said. 

Simply put, the OMSW program checked all his boxes. Now, he’s a little over a year into the program and completing his clinical practicum at Clearwater Free Clinic. 

“I came across the Clearwater Free Clinic through an assignment we had early on to interview a social worker, and fortunately, was offered an internship there,” Fox said. 

The clinic allows people without insurance to see nurse practitioners and get medicine essentially for free, he said. The facility also has its own pharmacy and mental health counseling integrated into its services. 

“The idea is that you can’t cure a person physically if you’re not curing them mentally,” he said. 

Fortunately for Fox, this internship placement is the perfect opportunity to prepare for his future career goals. “I definitely want to do counseling and integrative health care,” he said. “Health psychology is something I’ve always been hugely interested in.”

Fox is also enhancing his career readiness through learning opportunities in other real-world scenarios. He recently presented alongside a fellow OMSW student and Online MSW Program Chair and Assistant Professor of Instruction, David Kilmnick at the Safe Children Coalition Conference, sharing research on LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system. 

Once he completes the Master of Social Work, Fox is interested in taking his education even further and continuing with USF’s doctorate in Social Work. 

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

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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.