2015 Human Services & Social Justice Newsletter

Human Services & Social Justice Spring 2015 NewsletterBelow is a sampling of updates from the Spring 2015 Human Services & Social Justice Program Newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click on the thumbnail to the right.

Greetings from the Director: Emily Morrison
Program Spotlight: Peter Konwerski and Learning By Giving
Faculty Spotlight: Michelle Kelso Awarded 2014 EU Social Fund Grant
Other Faculty News
Mentor Spotlight: Karyn Cassella
Course Spotlight: Organizing for Social Justice
Research Spotlight: Program Planning & Evaluation
Alumni/Student Spring Mixer
Kite Day
The Power of Reconciliation: Learning About the Rwandan Genocide and Beyond
Honors Thesis in Human Services: The Role Religious Leaders Play in Mental Health Care Access in African American Communities
Founding a Non-Profit to Work Across Generations
Raising Awareness about Sexual Assault
2014 Honey W. Nashman Award: Jacob Lindenbaum
Alumni Spotlights: Rochelee Shing
Alumni Spotlights: Laura Wood
Other Alumni News

Greetings from the Director: Emily Morrison

Emily MorrisonDear Alumni and Friends of GW’s Human Services & Social Justice Program:

Spring is arriving in Washington! With warmer weather and hints of green emerging, new energy and possibilities arise. This academic year has been full of growth for the Human Services & Social Justice Program (HSSJ). We officially launched our new curriculum, receiving positive responses from students, faculty, and community partners. In the fall semester alone, our course enrollments included 121 students who provided 5,542 hours of service-learning at over 60 different organizations in D.C. The Independent Sector values these metro-area contributions at $214,000! To learn more about our program and activities, I invite you to explore this newsletter for stories about how HSSJ students, alumni and faculty are growing and contributing to our local and global communities.  

I am also happy to report that alumni are getting involved in the program in new ways—assisting in the classroom, reviewing graduate applications, guest speaking, serving as site supervisors, attending campus events, making financial contributions and answering students’ questions about careers, organizations and communities around the world. All of these efforts strengthen our human services community, which fosters new opportunities for individual and collective growth. If you would like to help, or just stay in touch, please e-mail me at [email protected] or join our private LinkedIn Group: GW Human Services and Social Justice Program. I look forward to hearing from you!

Proud to be GW,
Emily Morrison, Director

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Program Spotlight: Peter Konwerski and Learning By Giving

Peter Konwerski

Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski, BA ’91, MA ’94, EdD ’97, describes his work in the Human Services & Social Justice Program, the Capstone Project and the myriad service relationships between students, faculty, GW and our local communities.

You are a graduate of our Human Services program and a professor. How has the program changed from then to now?

At its core, what has not changed about GW’s Human Services program is the commitment of students to the community—this is what attracted me from the start. As faculty, we are inspired by students dedicating their time to service work in neighborhoods and organizations. That is the heart of the program. Now, what is different? D.C. and our HSSJ students have certainly changed over the years. I would say I was a good student, but those attending GW today are great students! They are bright, inquisitive, passionate, committed—and adaptive. Social issues have become increasingly complex, and, of course, society is ever changing. So I am particularly impressed by our students as I watch them become even more engaged and creative as they face these challenges.

How does your work as a dean of students affairs interesect with your experiences with the Human Services program?

My various roles allow me to engage with students both in and out of the classroom. Teaching HSSJ courses gives me a chance to get to know students with whom I share a natural inclination toward service. As a professor, I can also witness our students’ academic challenges and successes. As dean of student affairs, I can support their personal goals and career aspirations. I also get to hear more about students’ life experiences, such as study abroad, internships and volunteerism. In D.C., in particular, our “city classroom” expands the potential scope of student-professor-community interactions. For example, one of your classes might be taught by a faculty member who also works on Capitol Hill or for a D.C.-based NGO. These are the exceptional aspects of the seamless GW-D.C. community that energize and create opportunities for our students, faculty and staff alike.

Speaking of the GW-D.C. community, what are you currently working on in terms of research or other Human Services projects?

One of my major projects has been to address hunger and homelessness in D.C. As we continue to face these issues in Washington, I have worked closely with former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, BA ’64, and newly elected Mayor Muriel Bowser. Students have been conducting research and providing service in the areas of healthy food provisions and shelter support. I am particularly excited about a new local vegetable restaurant to be opened soon by world renowned chef and restaurateur José Andrés. GW has granted money in support of his project, and students have visited D.C. city farms. We have also worked with Miriam’s Kitchen, an organization which provides vegetables supplied by the White House garden to homeless people. These opportunities for our students, local communities and homeless populations to intersect, and to know that their food is locally grown—whether from GW’s “Grow it” garden or the White House—are just of few examples of what makes the GW experience so special.

Also, the HSSJ Capstone Seminar that I teach every spring helps students realize that they have an impact on philanthropy, no matter how big or small. In this course, students prioritize the distribution of $10,000 worth of grant money to various local education nonprofits. The objective is to help close the academic achievement gap. So, if we can help D.C. high school students receive a college education, or if we can help more middle school students stay in school and earn a high school diploma, our own GW students become more aware of these issues. In turn, they are making a huge difference in the lives of less advantaged young people.

Can you tell us more about the skills students develop in the HSSJ Capstone course?

As the capstone of the HSSJ degree, this course helps students synthesize what they have learned over the years; including basic principles of nonprofit management, grant writing and creating a mission statement. Hands-on experience helps students understand the principles of philanthropy. Recently, the Learning By Giving Foundation has provided the funding I mentioned earlier to be distributed to local education nonprofits. At the start of the semester, the class generates an idea for a foundation, along with a mission statement and a request for proposals, which they publish right before spring break. Once the proposals are received, students evaluate the grants, rank them, interview the applicants and then distribute the money. So, by the end of the semester, they have experienced the entire process, from the creation of a foundation to the distribution of funds. And, of course, time both in the classroom and in real world settings helps students develop excellent communication and leadership skills.

The Learning By Giving project is going to start reducing the amount of money that they provide. What can we do to maintain this important initiative? And how can alumni help support the project and the HSSJ program?

Students who have experienced the Learning By Giving capstone project can testify to its enormous value. If we want to maintain this work, we have to support it long term through increased funding. So many of our alumni recognize the necessity of these hands-on experiences for students to learn how nonprofits work and survive. I think we have incredible alumni. In the D.C. area alone, they are working on policy at the state and local government levels and in NGOs. They are conducting vital research that helps inform decisions that impact all aspects of society. We have a very diverse and talented network, and when we call on them, they respond, they are willing to come speak or mentor. It is an incredible feeling to know that when you ask for help there are thousands of people reaching out to support our work. So, my comment to alumni would just be to thank them for their continuing engagement and inspiration.

In closing—as we are nearing our 2015 commencement events—how would you describe the experience of working with new students and those who are about to graduate?

In addition to teaching our senior capstone class, I also teach the first-year HSSJ course on Organizing for Social Justice. It’s inspiring to observe new students, and think about where they are headed. Then I get to see where they go over those four years. They often arrive with a strong motivation for service, but they don’t really know what that means. After three or four years in the program, they have found their place, they have found their vision. And now they have a focus area. Some want to work with senior citizens, others with children; some hope to work abroad, others aim to stay in the D.C. area. Our job at GW and in the HSSJ program is to support all of these diverse interests.

Our job is also to support the transition from campus-to-career by connecting students to resources, and especially to alumni. Our job is to prepare students for the question, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” and to give them the tools to answer that question confidently and enthusiastically. Ours is not a four year relationship; students are alumni for life. Of course, these same students will then reach out to the next generation of students, and that ripple effect impacts GW, the HSSJ program and the fields of human services and social justice for years to come.

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Faculty Spotlight: Michelle Kelso Awarded 2014 EU Social Fund Grant

Professor Michelle Kelso (second from left) working with Roma in a Romanian village in 2005. In 2015, she will return to Romania to begin an elder care project.Congratulations to Professor Michelle Kelso who co-led a team that won a 2014 European Union Social Fund Grant for Romania. In 2015, Michelle will coordinate a $214,000 project to start an eldercare social business in Romania as part of an EU initiative to reach out to vulnerable communities. Currently Romania is experiencing rapid growth in its population over the age of 65, many of whom lack adequate social and medical services. Joining a consortium of nonprofit organizations, which together won $2 million, Michelle will work on her grant alongside Romanian and Portuguese mentors to develop a pilot home health care program in rural areas for potential state-wide expansion.

Professor Kelso, who teaches in Human Services & Social Justice and Sociology, has a long-standing interest in health and aging. As a former nonprofit director, she has coordinated projects with elderly Roma communities in Romania, and now brings her extensive management experience to this new endeavor. Additionally, she will integrate research on social entrepreneurship and small to medium business development, as well as on elder care initiatives.

“Social entrepreneurship is a growing field, and one that I am keenly interested in,” Professor Kelso notes. “When done well, economic development and social justice can come together, which makes this project so challenging yet rewarding.” Michelle states that she looks forward to bringing GW students into the project and bringing social entrepreneurship experience back into the classroom.

Photo: Professor Michelle Kelso (second from left) working with Roma in a Romanian village in 2005. In 2015, she will return to Romania to begin an elder care project.

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Other Faculty News

Amy Cohen reports that teaching her first HSSJ course this semester, Organization and Administration in Human Services, has been a wonderful experience. Amy credits Professor Elizabeth Shrader, who has taught this course in the past, for providing a rigorous curriculum and helpful framework for the class to follow. This semester, students have written grants for and with 11 local nonprofits. Professor Cohen reports that she has great confidence in her students’ ability to attract funding to these important organizations. At GW, Amy also serves as the executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. The center works with students and faculty across GW to support service-learning, community-engaged scholarship, and community service. Amy reports, “We have long had a great partnership with HSSJ students and faculty, and love to stay connected with our alums!” She hopes to see many alumni on April 28 at the center’s Academic Service-Learning Symposium (8 a.m. - 3 p.m.) and the Celebration of Service (4:30 p.m.). For more information about the center’s activities, go to serve.gwu.edu

Melanie Fedri is excited to be offering a new special topics course this fall called Social Innovation. Social innovators tune into the needs of the people and places they aim to serve, respond to their feedback and leverage resources to create lasting social benefit. Cross-listed for both HSSJ and sociology students, this course introduces the concept of social innovation via case studies, lectures and community engagement. The culminating project is a proposal for a social innovation project or venture that could be implemented by the student, class team or an existing nonprofit or community organization. Melanie also coordinates the GWupstart Social Innovation Lab, and mentors students to take their passion for change, and turn ideas into action that makes a difference on a social justice topic.

Sara Pula presented at the American Counseling Association 2015 conference in Orlando, Fla., in March. Her talks, entitled “Understanding the Relationship between Culture and Body Image in Asian American Women: New Findings” and “Understanding the Relationship Between Culture and Body Image in Hispanic American Women,” addressed the sociocultural, feminist and cognitive-behavioral perspectives of body image development, and how these multifactorial processes interact to construct one's meaning around body image. This work summarizes the body image ideals for each population studied, presents themes revealed by each population and identifies critical new findings. Dr. Pula’s research elucidates the need to study body image as a cultural construct, and the need to update body image instruments to include these constructs.

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Mentor Spotlight: Karyn Cassella

By Ashley Trick, BA ’15

Karyn Cassella and Ashley TrickWhen I look back on my four years at GW, I attribute much of my happiness and community involvement to the professors in the Human Services & Social Justice Program. In particular, I would like to recognize Adjunct Professor Karyn Cassella for her outstanding mentorship. In addition to teaching at GW, Karyn works as an AmeriCorps program coordinator for the Catholic Volunteer Network, supporting more than 1,000 AmeriCorps members nationally. Under her leadership, I was able to thrive not only as a student, but also as a teaching assistant and research award recipient.

During my junior year, I had the privilege of taking Karyn’s course on Issues in Human Services, for which students also do internships. This gave me the opportunity to tailor rigorous coursework to my specific area of interest: the social issues impacting LGBT homeless youth. Karyn led meaningful, engaging discussions and always drew links between our class assignments and service sites. As I interned with Street Sense and wrote my research paper, I felt immersed in my academic career as never before. It soon became clear that, with this course, I wasn’t merely earning credits or making a grade; I was fulfilling a civic duty.

I also had the honor of serving as Karyn’s teaching assistant for Supervised Experience in HSSJ credit. In her course, Organizing for Social Change, I worked with Karyn to generate group dialogue and thought-provoking assignments that urged students to “dig deep” in order to question easy answers and challenge the status quo. Of course, I too continued to learn as I watched Karyn “teach by example” every week.

As I began to develop my own research plans, Karyn was a sage faculty advisor. She helped me find a topic that paired my love for human services with my desire for organizational efficiency, and resulted in my winning a 2014 GW Undergraduate Research Award. The project allowed us to create an audit for Catholic Volunteer Network partner programs and analyze base-line data. Although I faced much frustration along the way, Karyn served as a reliable guide and role model. Her vast knowledge of volunteer management capacity helped me clarify preliminary data analysis and refine the audit, which was ultimately distributed to over 600 organizations. I was then able to use this data as part of my senior year honor's thesis, "Understanding the Impact of Volunteer Management Practices on Volunteer Retention within the Nonprofit Sector.”

I recognize that Karyn Cassella has gone above and beyond to bring out my best as a student, teaching assistant and researcher. As a passionate teacher and mentor, her impact is manifold—for what she has done for me, and what she has done and continues to do for countless students of Human Service and Social Justice.

Note: We would like to congratulate Ashley Trick for earning First Place in the Socio-Cultural Studies section of GW's 2015 Research Day. Ashley has also earned a Resident Advisor of the Year Excellence Award.

Photo: Professor Karyn Cassella (left) with Ashley Trick, BA 15.

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Course Spotlight: Organizing for Social Justice

GW students Jenna Bernick (left) and Devi Gonzalez (right)Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski led his students in organizing and executing GW'S 2014 Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which was the culminating project for his course, Organizing for Social Change. Designed to guide students toward becoming effective agents of social justice, the fall 2014 class focused on advocacy by bringing awareness to the issues of homelessness and hunger during a series of on-campus events held in November. These included a food drive, performances, a conference and a banquet. Students placed drop-off boxes around campus for food donations, and spread the word with the social media hashtag #beCANtastic. The GW arts community showed their activism through fringe events featuring displays and performances from the GW Pitches, DC Through a Lens, GW Spoken Word Collective and GW Sons of Pitch. And a conference and debate was co-hosted by GW'S College Democrats and Republicans that discussed national solutions regarding hunger and homelessness.

A particularly interactive means of raising awareness was accomplished via the Snap Challenge. Students and faculty participants were allowed to spend only $30 on food for the week (or $4.30 a day) to simulate the experience of subsisting on food stamps, just as many or our fellow Americans do every day. Participants were encouraged to share their progress through Instagram, hashtags and blog posts.

The highlight of the week was the Hunger Banquet—which raised awareness of food availability issues by randomly assigning guests to income brackets that simulated hunger disparities in the D.C. metro area. During the banquet, the Face of Homelessness Panel led a reflective dialogue on stereotypes and views of the homeless. Three speakers shared compelling stories of their own experiences living on the street. Leaders of local nonprofits working to end hunger and homelessness also spoke, discussing how members of the GW community can get involved. By the end, GW showed its support for the continued struggle to promote advocacy, activism and social change in hunger and homelessness in Washington, D.C, and more broadly, in America.

Photo: GW students Jenna Bernick (left) and Devi Gonzalez (right) spread awareness on campus as part of GW's Spoken Word Collective during the 2014 Hunger and Homelessness Week.

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Research Spotlight: Program Planning & Evaluation

Students in Gelman Library

Students Evaluate Gelman Library Renovations

by Morgan Kaufman, BA ’15; Peter Sacco, BA ’15 and Sam Brooks, BA ’15

The HSSJ course on Program Planning and Evaluation, taught by Michelle Kelso, offers students a practical application of evaluation theory through hands-on program assessments, typically for nonprofits. Working in small groups, students partner with clients seeking evaluations. They then develop and apply appropriate research methods, and provide analysis of the research findings and recommendations in a final report. The following research project summary offers an excellent example of the impactful work produced by our HSSJ students each semester.

In fall 2014, Joscelyn Leventhal, the online education and off-campus services librarian at GW’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, approached our professor Michelle Kelso, and we were tasked with evaluating the library’s recently renovated entrance floor. Subsequently, we developed a strategy to find out what GW students thought of the changes and to gather suggestions for improving the space.

Costing $16 million, Gelman’s renovations transformed the library’s main entrance floor into a modern, state-of-the-art space catering to various types of study preferences. Changes included moving the entrance from H Street to Kogan Plaza, and relocating the help desk, check-out desk, group study rooms and Writing Center to this floor. Many technology-friendly learning spaces were added as well.

After making our own observations of the entrance floor, we created a 28-question online survey that included demographic questions, multiple-choice questions related to personal usage rates for different aspects of the entrance floor and open-ended questions regarding the space and possible improvements. We then distributed the survey—which used convenience sampling—via the library’s website, social media accounts and in-person recruiting. In total, we collected 96 responses from undergraduate and graduate students.

The survey findings, although not representative, indicate that students made good use of the variety of spaces on the entrance floor, with the printing, copying and computer areas receiving the highest use. The responses also suggest the need for more Colonial Printing Kiosks, more group collaboration and meeting spaces and brighter colors throughout the space. Our project deliverable was a written report for Gelman Library staff. We were pleased to assist the library with its continued improvement efforts for the entire GW community.

Photo: Students utilize the renovated space at GW's Gelman Library. (Photo courtesy of Gelman Library)

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Alumni/Student Spring Mixer

Students at the spring mixerThis February, the HSSJ program organized its third-annual happy hour, which was held at local Foggy Bottom pub Tonic. Some 30 students, faculty and alumni of the program attended.

“It is great to be a part of the HSSJ community,” said Amy Cohen, executive director of the Center for Engagement and Public Service. Amy joined the program this spring as an adjunct faculty, teaching NonProfit and Organizational Management. She noted, “Bringing our alumni, students and faculty together builds a strong community. I really enjoyed talking with everyone in a different and more relaxed setting.”

Amanda Smith, Ashley Trick, Caroline Knights, and Leigh Wynne

Co-organized with the Human Services Student Organization (HSSO), the event was also sponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Columbian College Alumni Office.

“As many of our alumni stay in the district, we wanted to strengthen networks with current students so alumni could share their first-hand experiences in the field of human services,” said senior Ashley Trick, president of HSSO.

To further strengthen ties among students, HSSO launched a new buddy program at the mixer that matches more advanced students in the major with those just entering the program. Trick explained, “We wanted to create an informal space for buddies to get to know one another better. The event was a great success and I'm so thankful to all those who joined us.”

Top Photo: Back row: Michelle Kelso, Mandy Smith, Ashley Trick, Austin Frizzell (BA ’13); Middle row: Izzy Parilis (BA ’13), Charleene Smith, Jacqueline Hackett (BA ’08, MPP ’10), Emily Morrison; Front row: Andrew Snow (BA ’05)

Bottom Photo: Left to Right: Amanda Smith, Ashley Trick, Caroline Knights and Leigh Wynne.

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Kite Day

Students at Kite DayIn March, students in Michelle Kelso’s Organizing for Social Change course worked on an action project with Jump Start, an early education nonprofit organization. Partnering with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Jump Start brings literacy and education awareness to the annual kite event on the National Mall, where children and families assemble kites during workshops and hold kite battles.

Photo: GW Students Brian Wasik, Jinhee Cho, Henry Rosh, Naomi Handal and Zoe Esposito participate in Kite Day activities organized for Jump Start as part of a class project in Organizing for Social Change (2015).

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The Power of Reconciliation: Learning About the Rwandan Genocide and Beyond

Kara Campbell, BA ’16

In fall 2014, I studied abroad in Rwanda through the School of International Training (SIT) Peace and Reconciliation program. I chose this program because I wanted to learn more about Rwanda, which in 1994 experienced a Hutu-led genocide that killed approximately 800,000 people. For one of our many impactful excursions, my fellow students and I visited a service camp for genocide perpetrators. Having confessed their crimes and expressed remorse, these perpetrators commit to years of community service at the camps, which maintain their basic rights, including 10 days off every month. To enter the facility, perpetrators have to be convicted as second-degree offenders, which often means they have killed others, but did not orchestrate the genocide.

To reach the camp, we drove into a range of mountains that seemed to engulf us whole, overwhelming in their beauty. The camp was nestled at the bottom of a valley, where men worked making bricks, wearing charcoal-blue tee shirts and shorts, many without shoes. Their hands and feet were crusted with clay. Our guide led us to a group of men, where we had an uncomfortable moment of just staring at them like they were rare birds in a zoo. We offered some weak greetings in Kinyarwanda: muraho (hello) and amakuru (how are you?). Finally, I suggested that our guide ask them if they had any questions for us. We formed a circle and the discussion began.

Standing there, I was thinking about what I knew about this genocide, especially its brutality. I thought of the bones and half-preserved bodies I’d seen at the memorials. I thought of the nightmares about machetes I’d had since arriving in Rwanda. In front of me were the people who had done it. Their hands weren’t dripping with blood, but with wet clay. They wore shy smiles. They were just people. Just like me. Just like the victims.

We asked questions and they answered. They asked us questions as well. They told us how they met their living victims and reconciled, and how they have been reaccepted into their communities. They asked us to dispel ignorance and share truth. Under the hot, beating sun it all felt extremely normal.

I raised my hand, and our teacher translated my question to the men: “What do you think is more powerful: justice or forgiveness?”

They all came to a consensus: forgiveness. “Without forgiveness, they cannot live. They must also forgive themselves,” my teacher translated. I began to wonder if justice and forgiveness are interwoven. Can you have one without the other? Without forgiveness, Rwanda would be a failed state. There would have been revenge killings, bringing utter chaos. Rwanda’s progress is a result of Tutsis and Hutus working side-by-side in reconciliation. In a closing remark of appreciation, a classmate told the men, “America can learn a lot from Rwanda.” Silently, I realized how much every one of us can learn from Rwanda.

We took a group picture, which was an odd experience. Here I was, posed in a photo with a group of murderers. But I learned that perpetration is complex, and genocide has many victims. For me, what occurred in Rwanda, as in other genocides, remains incomprehensible. Afterwards, we shook hands with each of the men. We had broken an initial barrier between the observer and the observed. One man took my hand. Smiling and looking profoundly grateful, he said in English, “Thank you.”

Photo: Kara Campbell, BA ’16 (second row, fourth from right) took part in SIT's Peace and Reconciliation program in Rwanda, where she visited a camp for genocide perpetrators.

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Honors Thesis in Human Services: The Role Religious Leaders Play in Mental Health Care Access in African American Communities

Maura Molish, BA 15

In September 2014, I attended a volunteer meeting for DC’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where I met a woman who spoke with me about her experience with bipolar disorder and, in particular, how it was for her as an African American woman. She disclosed that NAMI had really helped her because the previous counseling she received did not validate her illness. She sought help from her pastor, only to be told multiple times, “How could you be depressed when you have the love of God?”

For my HSSJ 4193 Research course, I was determined to find a thesis topic that incorporated my two majors and passions: psychology and human services. After speaking with this woman, I wondered what role religious leaders play in mental health. Pastoral counseling exists in most church communities. How effective is this counseling for church members with mental illness, and how comfortable do pastors feel offering this service? Does religious advice given by pastors validate members’ mental illnesses, and is this informal mental health care sufficient?

After researching mental health care use and access disparities in African American communities, I decided to center my thesis on the role of religious leaders within these issues. Specifically, I have focused on the mental health care training religious leaders receive, their comfort levels in offering counseling to mentally-ill church members, the likelihood of these leaders to refer members to mental health professionals and religious leaders’ personal attitudes towards mental health. In early January, I began conducting qualitative interviews with 15 African American Christian pastors in the D.C. metro area. After transcribing the interviews, coding them, and drawing conclusions, I presented my work in March at GW Research Days 2015. So far this process has been extremely interesting and gratifying, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store!

Photo: Maura Molish, BA ’15 presents at GW Research Days. Her project is titled: "The Role Religious Leaders Play in Mental Health Care Access in African American Communities."

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Founding a Non-Profit to Work Across Generations

Andrew Siegel, BA 15

Andrew Seigel, BA ‘15 (left) and his business partner Spencer Balkin (right)

At age 14, I started volunteering at a nearby nursing home. I was eager to interact with residents who had so much knowledge of life to share—especially in light of their experiences as veterans, Holocaust survivors, immigrants and more. I knew that it would be a lost opportunity not to learn from them and hear about their life stories. Inspired by the work of Joshua Stanton and Hedy Peyser, I began encouraging residents to write ethical wills. While not a legal document, an ethical will encompasses one’s values, beliefs, life lessons, regrets and other personal anecdotes that one would like to share with loved ones.

In recent years, ethical will programs have been utilized by different health care and educational institutions and have impacted the community at large. After graduating high school, my business partner Spencer Balkin and I foresaw the great potential for ethical wills, but noticed a void in the way people write, edit and share these documents. To streamline the process, we founded eGenShare, a nonprofit organization. While we work primarily in the Washington, D.C., area, our work has expanded to organizations in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Frequently thought of as a document written in the later years of someone’s life, an ethical will helps people of all ages gain perspective on life as it focuses on issues that truly matter. We believe that our program will revolutionize the way people think about these documents by making them available for selective distribution. With the ability to customize the privacy of an ethical will, people can easily save and share them without compromising document integrity. We created a website for just that purpose, and its interface allows clients to choose between a guided process of creating their own ethical will or answering our 11 pre-written ethical will questions.

In 2009, there were some 40 million people over the age of 65 living in the United States. By 2030, the number is expected to exceed 72 million. There is a clear demand to change the way people age and to enhance the quality of care for our aging population. When people write an ethical will, they are reminded of their life’s purpose. Already our NGO works with health care facilities to implement ethical will programming. We at eGenShare are eager to broadly implement ethical will programming so that interested individuals can write about their lives, reflecting on the impact they have made on their community and society as a whole.

For more information about our non-profit, please visit our website www.egenshare.org.

Photo: Andrew Seigel, BA ’15 (left) and his business partner Spencer Balkin (right) founded eGenShare Corporation, which encourages elderly to write and selectively share their ethical wills.

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Raising Awareness about Sexual Assault

Laura Zillman, BA 16

The Statistic Campaign 2014 poster, organized by GW Students Against Sexual Assault.

While activism may not be a typical college assignment, it has become a very important part of how my human services background is manifest in the real world. In my current role as vice president of GW Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA), I am proud to report that we have just completed one of our most successful programming events in our five-year history: the Statistic Campaign.

Each fall, SASA picks one statistic related to sexual violence to spotlight for an entire week on social media and around campus. In light of recent media coverage of domestic violence, this year’s statistic was: “21% of college students report having experienced dating violence by a current partner” (NCADV, 2007). In choosing that figure, we wanted to debunk the notion that domestic and dating violence are beyond the college experience, or irrelevant to a young adult.

The campaign itself was simple: We reached out to every student organization at GW and asked if they would like to co-sponsor our campaign. Co-sponsors helped us circulate information and resources among their members by posting on social media and changing their profile pictures to the poster (see photo) that featured all the co-sponsors’ logos. These partnerships allow SASA to reach many different segments of the GW community, and to spread as much information as possible.

In 2013, the Statistic Campaign had 35 co-sponsors. This was before Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s controversial victim-blaming statement, before 101 post-secondary institutions underwent investigation for Title IX violations and before the White House launched the It’s On Us campaign designed to fundamentally shift views of rape on college campuses.

This year? A staggering 89 student organizations joined us! That represents hundreds—even thousands—of students who are have heard our message. The success of this year’s campaign was both amazing and humbling. We didn’t need flashy techniques or huge time commitments or major energy reserves. All we needed was a mission and the support of our peers to make a difference in the GW community. At its core, I believe that’s what human services is all about.

Photo: The Statistic Campaign 2014 poster, organized by GW Students Against Sexual Assault.

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2014 Honey W. Nashman Award: Jacob Lindenbaum

Honey W. Nashman Award for Outstanding Senior in Human Services recipient Jacob Lindenbaum, BA ’14, pictured with Honey in 2014.Congratulations to Jacob Lindenbaum, BA ’14, who has received the 2014 Honey W. Nashman Award for Outstanding Senior in Human Services. Jacob’s time at GW centered around service through a multitude of nonprofit organizations and working as a Neighbors Project Coordinator and CBC Coordinator. He wrote his senior thesis on low-income housing, answering the question, “How do individuals living in poverty close the housing affordability gap and what are their experiences in the process?”

After graduating, Jacob had the opportunity to retrace his family’s path through Europe during the Holocaust with his grandfather, a survivor. For one month, Jacob, his grandfather and over 20 others, including family, friends and a documentary crew, visited the final places where his great aunt and great grandparents lived before they were murdered. Jacob then retraced his grandfather’s path, a 200-mile journey, by bike!

Jacob reports that he has spent the past seven months flipping a townhouse in South Philadelphia—a low-income neighborhood undergoing positive changes, similar to the locations he researched for his senior thesis. This fall, Jacob will be joining Teach for America in Philadelphia where he will be teaching high school mathematics. We are extremely proud of Jacob and congratulate him on all of his outstanding accomplishments. He is just one of so many human services graduates who make a significant difference in our communities and service organizations.

Top Photo: Honey W. Nashman Award for Outstanding Senior in Human Services recipient Jacob Lindenbaum, BA ’14, pictured with Honey in 2014.
Bottom Photo: 2014 Graduation Special Honors recipients, left to right: Jacob Lindenbaum, Michael Wasserman,
Program Director Emily Morrison, Matt Kalish, and Charis Redmond. Congratulations to all!

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Alumni Spotlights: Rochelee Shing, BA ’13

Following graduation in May 2013, I relocated from Washington, D.C.. to Miami, Fla., to serve as an AmeriCorps volunteer with City Year, at Miami Carol City Senior High School. City Year is an education nonprofit that works to increase graduation rates across the country by assigning young adults between the ages of 17-24 as mentors and tutors to serve full time in schools, offering individualized attention to at-risk students. Corp members are expected to provide students with additional academic and social support that can help them succeed at school, work and life. My experience with GW’s Human Services program instilled the self-confidence and leadership skills required for my year of full-time service with AmeriCorps. The courses that emphasized cultural competency, social awareness and critical thinking specific to nonprofit settings were especially relevant.

In the fall of 2013, I was tasked with coordinating City Year’s support of after-school clubs at Miami Carol City Senior High School. Working with colleagues, I developed an ongoing partnership to implement weekly after-school sessions for students, led by Corps members, which focused on promoting students’ socio-emotional learning. I found this work to be extremely rewarding and subsequently signed up for a second year, which has brought me back to Washington, D.C. Now I coach and mentor first-year Corps members at Cardozo Education Campus. I look forward to continuing my commitment to service thanks to the solid foundation built during my time in the Human Services program at GW.

Photo: Rochelee Shing, BA ’13 (front row, third from left) is applying her skills by working as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Miami, Fla. and Washington, D.C.

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Alumni Spotlights: Laura Wood, BA ’13

When I chose to major in human services, I had no idea how much that decision would shape my career. I considered my service work as being completely separate from my zeal for theater. The summer before senior year, I did an internship at Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT) where my two passions melded in the perfect combination of art and social justice. YPT is an arts education nonprofit that inspires students to realize the power of their own voices. We partner with D.C. public schools in all eight wards and teach semester-long playwriting workshops to students, integrating creative writing and theater into English classes. We then engage professional actors to visit classrooms and perform student work. The best student-written plays are professionally produced in community performances offered for free throughout the city.

Through my senior year, I continued interning at YPT, applying all of my human services projects to the site: my program evaluation group worked with YPT; it was my internship site for Issues in HMSR; and my senior thesis focused on arts integration in D.C. schools and was directly inspired by YPT’s work. Studying human services enriched my internship experience, allowing me to draw connections between the skills we learned in the classroom and the impact it could have in a small, grassroots nonprofit. Hands-on learning helped me identify what I liked and didn’t like in nonprofit administration, while the projects and reflection papers helped me understand why I care so passionately about YPT’s work.

After graduating in May of 2013, I was hired by YPT, first as a part-time fellow, and now as the full-time community engagement associate. I represent YPT at community events, write several grants each month, solicit in-kind donations and manage our new volunteer program. I love applying my human services skills to bring theater education to underserved students. When I started our formal volunteer program last year, I was also thrilled to bring in current human services students to contribute their skills to YPT. Last year, one group wrote a grant for us, and identified potential new funding sources for our work. This year, another group from the Program Planning & Evaluation course conducted a survey of volunteers who have worked with YPT, and gave valuable feedback to this program, identifying both successes and areas for growth. Working at YPT is a constantly inspiring process, and I wouldn’t be here today without the skills and experiences that I gained through the Human Services program.

Photo: Laura Wood, BA ’13 belnds service work with community arts and education initiatives at D.C.'s Young Playwright's Theater.

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Other Alumni News

Andrew Breza, BA ’08, was recently promoted to manager of partner development at Bulletin Media, where he fosters partnerships between his company and nonprofit organizations across the country.

Deirdre Demers, BA ’07, just completed her first year as program manager with Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIHAN). Her article, “Promoting Ethical Research With American Indian and Alaska Native People Living in Urban Areas,” was published in American Journal of Public Health, November 2014.

Melissa Dishart, BA ’13, has been in Guatemala serving as a Peace Corps volunteer since June 2013. She is working on her project –Youth in Development—in a village of the Western Highlands in Northern Quiché. Her service concludes in July 2015.

Emily Fields, BA ’13, is the executive director of a rare disease patient organization, Parents and Researchers Interested in Smith-Magenis Syndrome (PRISMS). Emily writes, “I couldn't be more excited to serve this community. Thanks to GW Human Services program!”

Priyanka Gogia, BA ’14, recently joined Project Place—a community-based, nonprofit organization located in the South End of Boston which assists homeless and low-income individuals secure housing and employment through classroom-based job training and individual case management. As an instructor/case manager, Priyanka coordinates services for individual students that lead to classroom-based training and credentialing in an effort to assist clients with securing employment. Priyanka also provides case management services to her clients.

Meredith (Weinberg) Levy, BA ’04, lives in Denver with her husband, Benjamin Levy, BA ’04, and two beautiful daughters, Zahava and Dahlia.

Megan Mansfield, BA ’13, works at the DC Children's Law Center as an investigator with the Healthy Together medical-legal partnership. Meg’s assignments are focused on advocating for underprivileged children and families by holding agencies and schools accountable for their programs and services. This fall, Meg will be attending Emory University to pursue her Master's in Public Health in the Health Policy and Management track.

Tess Martsaller, BA ’09, reports that she is pursuing a career that allows her to fully engage her passion for direct service: She will be starting nursing school in California in May 2015. She was a health education Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon from 2010-2012 and lives in San Francisco.

Cristina Roman, BA ’11, is currently working with a business partner to build a membership community—One Woman Shop—for women support and resources related to solopreneurship.

Danielle Rubin, BA ’09, teaches 3rd grade special education in the Boston area.

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