Valpo Social Work Students Make History While Making a Difference

Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter) – we’re all plugged into this digital age some way, somehow. Whether we click and swipe for connectivity, inspiration, a quick laugh, or a routine doomscroll, the appeals of social media and the internet don’t exist without the possibility of detrimental effects. It’s a truth that social work students Julie Vick ’25 and Lydia Stumme-Berg ’24 advocated for in front of the Indiana state legislature.

As a project for their senior-level policy class, the pair co-authored a bill based on their collective goal to impact education: to introduce a mandatory social media literacy course into the curriculum of Indiana schools. Inspired by the state legislature’s decision to add financial literacy to high school education, Julie and Lydia’s bill for a digital citizenship course was designed to be streamlined, cost-effective, and grounded in research.

Julie and Lydia’s bill highlights that 51% of teens spend an average of 4.8 hours per day on social media – during which they’re constantly exposed to a wide variety of content ranging from harmless to harmful. Greater social media use is associated with poor sleep, online harassment, poor body image, low self-esteem, and higher depressive symptoms. Hoosier adolescents in particular are already an at-risk population, with Indiana ranking second nationwide in high schoolers who have made a suicide plan.

Aside from statistics and figures, Julie and Lydia compared their bill to others that had been proposed in the last year about social media and internet safety. They also observed the impact of such legislation in other states, like Texas, Ohio, and Florida, while Indiana has yet to take action. Their first-hand experience was also key when drafting their bill: Julie as a parent and a professional who has worked in education for over a decade, and Lydia as a Gen Z student at the height of social media and an intern at a local school.

“You can create passwords, set screen time limits, put parental controls in place, but the minute a child has looked at something, they’ve triggered an algorithm that’s going to keep putting that stuff in front of them,” Julie says. “Our bill not only talked about cyberbullying and health disorders that can stem from social media, but also about how it’s designed to draw you in and get you addicted so that you’re on it constantly. The more we can educate kids on that, the more aware they’ll be of those motives behind the screen.”

“I feel like my generation is the guinea pig for these social media companies. I really wish people knew how these platforms can determine the mental wellbeing of teenagers everywhere. Sure, everyone talks about it being ‘toxic,’ but it’s more serious than that,” Lydia explains. “Social media can be a great resource of inspiration, creativity, and connection – like we saw during the COVID-19 lockdowns. But having the tools to protect yourself from any harmful effects is essential in this digital age.”

Lydia, who is currently putting her social work skills to use at Valpo’s own Benjamin Franklin Middle School, also drew on her experience working with the town’s teenage population. “Since I’ve been working at a middle school for my internship, I’ve seen a lot of how social media has started drama and cyberbullying,” she says. “The school has a bullying seminar every year, where the students get training on how to handle bullying and body safety. We thought that social media and internet safety training could go hand-in-hand with that.”

Once the bill was drafted – complete with a fact sheet and detailed white paper – Julie and Lydia set out to find a legislator to sponsor it. The duo ended up pitching this need to two state representatives, Representative Victoria Garcia Wilburn and Representative Mike Andrade, with Andrade ultimately putting aside one of his own bills to sponsor theirs. Their bill was presented, chosen, assigned to the Indiana Department of Education, and then moved to the floor to be voted on. Though Indiana has yet to step up on social media literacy, Julie and Lydia were the first in our social work program’s history to have their bill introduced into the legislature – making Valpo history.

What makes this monumental moment even more amazing is that both Julie and Lydia originally started in different fields of study.

Julie, who’s been an administrative assistant in Valpo Athletics for eight and a half years and is a dedicated member of the Staff Employee Advocacy Council (SEAC), originally attended Purdue University for psychology. “I pursued that for a few years, going back and forth between full-time and part-time. Then, I got married, was working full-time, and started building a house. So, my degree was put on the back burner,” she says. It wasn’t until she started working at Valpo that she began thinking about going back for her degree – this time for a bachelor in social work – inspired by two Beacons of her own: her sons Cole Vick ’23 and Joe Vick ’26.

So, with a year until graduation, what’s next for Julie? “Our director of athletics, Charles Small, Ed.D., has a background in social work, and I’ve seen how he values the importance of mental health and wellbeing for student-athletes, especially because there are growing rates of suicide among that population. So, his goal since he started has been to build a social work component for student-athletes in the athletics department,” Julie explains. Charles opened the door for Julie to complete her social work internship requirement through Valpo Athletics – with an invitation to shift her role into social work within the department upon graduation. “It’s very exciting to have that opportunity available to me, because I love what I do here and love working with the students and coaches. So, I’ll get to stay here and do this helping profession that I love,” Julie says.

Lydia began her college journey pursuing a different major of study, too. “I was originally accepted into Valpo through the nursing program, but when I had to take an anatomy class my senior year of high school…It was not for me,” she says. “But, my mom has her master of social work. I still wanted to help people, but in a different way – and still want to work in a hospital – so, I decided to do that through social work.” And over the years since, Lydia has fully embraced her new program with several internships, as a member of the social work student organization, and within her Phi Beta Phi sorority. Now, only months away from graduating with a bachelor in social work and a minor in psychology under her belt, Lydia plans on enrolling in graduate school in pursuit of her master of social work (MSW). From there, she wants to go into the healthcare field and become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), where she could then start her own practice.

In other words, both of these bill-writing wonder women have bright futures ahead of them – and we know they will shine their light wherever they may go. If you have a similar drive for a helping profession, learn more about Valpo social work to get started today.

Julie Vick ’25