Alisha Ditaranto ’24 is a nontraditional student who was originally going to become a nurse. Then life circumstances brought her to Anna Maria College’s Bachelors in Social Work where she discovered a new way of helping others. Now Alisha is combining her love of horses with her passion for social work to create an equine therapy career that is all her own! 

As a nontraditional student, what inspired you to obtain your degree? 

I have had a passion for horses since I was a little girl. Being around these animals gave me a sense of comfort and peace, especially when my life growing up wasn’t always peaceful.  

In 2009, I enrolled at another college, intending to become a nurse. However, I later changed my major to business administration and then switched again to human services. 

In 2013, my daughter fell seriously ill, and I had to leave school to take care of her. I stepped away from my education for several years, always thinking I would return the following year. However, time passed by quickly, and when my daughter applied to college, I realized that I needed to complete what I had started. That’s when I applied to Anna Maria. Though life has not always been easy for me, my personal and professional experiences can be used to help those who are struggling. I wanted to become a social worker to give back to the community and aid others in need. My journey in social work has been motivated by the desire to help others, which is why social work is such a perfect fit for me. 

At the age of 25, I volunteered at a local farm that specialized in Equine Therapy. I was amazed to see how children and adults benefited from it. Since then, I have been thinking about starting my own equine therapy program, and now the time has come to make that dream a reality. I’m currently 38 and achieving my dreams! 

Why do you want to be a social worker?  

When I was younger, I enjoyed being someone my friends and family could turn to for advice and to share their feelings with. As I got older, I discovered my true passion for social work. In my late twenties, I switched from healthcare to human services, giving me a sense of fulfillment that I had been missing. I started working as a residential counselor, then moved on to case management, and eventually became a program manager for an outreach program. However, despite my love for my work, I was being held back from exploring more in the field and achieving my full potential because I needed a degree in social work.   

Where is your internship and what are you doing there?   

During my junior year, I had the opportunity to intern at Turn Back Time (TBT), where I experienced the transformative and enriching nature of the education provided to individuals of all ages and abilities. The dedication of the staff and the immersive outdoor learning environment left a lasting impression on me. My time at TBT equipped me with the knowledge and skills necessary to make a meaningful impact in nature education.   

While there, I educated children and students from WPI about equine therapy. I held a clinic on “Why horses are therapeutic”, including a safety course for children. My passion for equine is proximate, so I am pursuing a degree in social work. I aim to implement therapy using the Equine approach in the future.  

Although I loved my time at TBT, I wanted to expand my horizons and work with other populations. Currently, I am placed at Tri-Valley, Inc. which is an organization that provides in-home support to the aging population, helping them stay independent and out of long-term care facilities. As an assessor, I collaborate with protective services and nursing to ensure that older people are safe in their homes.   

What is the most important lesson you have learned during your time in the BSW program?  

Don’t let your age hold you back from pursuing your dreams! Remember that age is just a number, and with hard work and determination, anything is possible. When I made the decision to return to school, I knew it would be challenging, especially since I would be the oldest student in the program. However, the BSW program has been an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience for me. Despite my initial worries, both the staff and students were extremely welcoming and made me feel comfortable. They have also challenged me in ways I never thought possible. I have grown so much in the past two years and will always be grateful for this experience. 

What are your goals for the future?  

 My goal is to make therapeutic riding accessible to all ages. Unfortunately, this type of therapy is scarce, particularly in our area. To make this a reality, I plan to further my education in social work and open a therapeutic riding program. I am committed to advocating for equine-based therapy to be covered by insurance companies so that no one is denied access to this life-changing treatment. Growing up, I found my safe place in a barn and wanted to create the same safe place for others. With hard work and dedication, I know I can make therapeutic riding a reality for everyone who needs it.  

As a senior, what advice would you give to future BSW students?  

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of social work. The field is vast and there are many areas that need to be covered. It can be challenging at times, but I urge you to be patient and kind to yourself. Remember, we constantly evolve, and sometimes it takes time to find our true calling. Personally, I have gained a lot of confidence and self-awareness through the BSW program. I encourage you to be vulnerable and open, even if it feels uncomfortable. This is where growth happens. As someone once wisely said, “If it’s uncomfortable, you are growing.” So, keep pushing yourself, keep learning, and know that your work in social work is positively impacting the world