2021 HSSJ Program Newsletter

Message from the Program Director
Program Spotlights
Program Kudos
Class Notes

Message from the Program Director

Michelle Kelso

Dear HSSJ Community,

To say that this past year was challenging would be, of course, an understatement. To say that social justice has risen to the forefront on a national level would also be an understatement.

Conversations have sprung up not only among individuals, but also in policy circles about police brutality, health and housing equity, criminal justice reform and food security, to name a few of the most pressing concerns of 2020-21. Advocacy and organizing for social change have also emerged in ways that have galvanized millions across the country to engage with issues that matter most to them while grappling with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many in our HSSJ community have experienced tragedy, illness and upheaval this year. Please allow me to extend our thoughts to you and yours, and wish you all well in body and in spirit. We think of you often and are thankful for all that you are and all that you do.

In these months, our program, university, city and nation have been stretched and pulled in unexpected ways. Despite the myriad of stressors that loom large, here we all are. Learning. Doing. Giving. Growing. Making change. Students, alumni and faculty. Many of you have been at the forefront of social justice initiatives. And your courage, steadfastness and intellect are sources of continual inspiration.

Despite the obstacles, we all continue doing community-engaged work because we know how critical it is. We understand the central role of human services in making sure that people receive essential services. We understand the inequities behind the injustices facing individuals and communities. We understand that learning about issues combined with practice through partnerships with communities makes a difference and creates real social change.

The travails we face nationally highlight more than ever the relevance of and need for the HSSJ Program. The knowledge and skills we offer to our students has prepared you all for leadership roles in organizations and government, in programming and fundraising positions at nonprofits, and for advocacy work within and on behalf of your communities.

It feels trite, but it’s true: We want to hear from you and to have your news. Please stay in touch by email or join our private LinkedIn group. We would love to have you involved with HSSJ by becoming a guest speaker, a site supervisor, or attending virtual or, hopefully in fall, campus events.

Be well,

Michelle Kelso
Director, Human Services and Social Justice Program

Back to top 

Program Spotlights

Catch up with Alumna Karina Lichtman, BA’16

The Human Services and Social Justice Program has had some remarkable graduates who have gone on to do great things in their careers and lives. HSSJ alumna Karina Lichtman, BA ’16, is one of these exemplary examples. Karina shared with us just how much the HSSJ Program has impacted her both personally and professionally:

Karina Lichtman

 The first Human Services class I took in my sophomore year at GW led me to carry out my field placement as an English-as-a-second-language tutor at     the School Without Walls, which served students from pre-K through eighth grade. This opportunity not only revealed my interest and passion for   English language instruction, but also opened opportunities I never could have anticipated. After graduating in 2016, I departed for Cambodia as an   English teacher and teacher trainer with the Peace Corps. I lived with a loving host family in a close-knit community in Kamchay Mear, Prey Veng   province, where I was treated like a daughter, sister, auntie and respected teacher.

Alongside five counterparts, I co-taught English classes at a secondary school. Together, we navigated class sizes of up to 50 students, all at varying English-language abilities, coupled with the challenges outside the classroom that affected both my co-teachers’ and students’ attendance and prioritization of English-language learning. My work in Cambodia was all-encompassing, extending beyond the walls of my secondary school classrooms. Through a secondary community development project at the primary school, this led to co-coaching the girls’ soccer team at the secondary school, and even teaching ballet to children in my neighborhood.

Since returning to the United States in 2018, I have been working as the development associate for the University of Cambridge’s North American alumni relations and fundraising office. I also have been volunteering with Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society as an English language mentor to a recently arrived French-speaking refugee couple, which has persisted in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is carried out over video chat.

Currently, I am applying to graduate schools for a fall 2021 start. I am focused on programs which impart the expertise of working with immigrants and refugees to foster a safe transition and integration into their host communities. Inspired by the service learning courses I took throughout my undergraduate career, I have sought to apply to programs which offer a similar opportunity to carry out a field internship alongside my studies. I’m looking forward to where this next step in my career will take me.

Back to top 

Morrison’s Stories of Leaders in National Service Oral History Project

Guest speakers Amy Cohen and Susan Stroud presenting to HSSJ 3152 about the history of National Service.
Guest speakers Amy Cohen and Susan Stroud presenting to HSSJ 3152 about the history of National Service.

In September 2019, a National Service Archive, housed at IUPUI in Indianapolis, called for leaders and academic institutions to contribute stories, videos, documents and materials about national service. Inspired by the archive and heeding their call, Dr. Emily Morrison designed an oral history project in collaboration with archive co-founder Susan Stroud and Amy Cohen, executive director of GW’s Honey W. Nashman Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement. The archive project also allows HSSJ students to combine national service with unique educational opportunities.

Morrison's oral history project has been woven into two HSSJ courses. The first, Fact, Field, Fiction: Intersections in HSSJ (previously called Issues in Human Services), was taught from fall 2019-fall 2020. In spring 2021, it became part of the Principles of Ethical Leadership course.

The archive project lets HSSJ students learn by interviewing significant leaders who have helped shape national service in the United States (and globally in some cases) about the challenges, successes, reflections and insights on leading national service. In addition to their own learning, students contribute to the archive and public understanding more broadly. Since fall 2019, HSSJ students have conducted oral histories with over 40 leaders. From these interviews, they have produced rich analyses illuminating major themes such as working through political differences, securing funding, navigating societal inequities and empowering youth.

Most importantly with regards to course objectives, students have learned how to integrate and apply course theories with data and real-world experience, honed their research skills and developed professionalism, all while having a rare opportunity to meet leaders who provide insight, advice and in several cases invitations to stay connected after their interview.

Positive Student Feedback

Initially, students expressed some nervousness about interviewing a key leader and felt challenged by the research process. However, feedback from the students shows how the project has been a meaningful and even transformative learning experience. As alumna Caroline Malone, BA ’20 shared:

“Being involved in this project was the first time I was able to witness the progression of my learning and growth as a researcher with a definite degree of clarity. As I interviewed leaders of national service, I found it fascinating to hear how an individual’s career progressed from being in my position as an upcoming college graduate to someone who worked with a president of the United States in the White House. But I struggled to see the connections between the data and course theories. I became totally frustrated and overwhelmed coding the data, but retrospectively, I realized that struggle was the sensation of learning and it allowed me to slow down. 

“Soon after, the connections came out of the woodwork. There were ‘Ah-ha’ moments and connections I made that compelled me to dive deeper into the research and made me realize the historical importance of the archive we were contributing to with our interviews. As I was writing my final paper, I realized this was not a paper I wanted to be filed away and forgotten. It was a story that deserved to be shared and told, because to me these national service leaders deserve more recognition for the federal programs they built and the legacy of service they hope will span across generations. 

“In the words of John Bridgeland, ‘National service is the golden thread of American democracy and the civic glue that makes us one nation.’ Yes indeed. Now, I continue to look for ways to be an advocate for the expansion of national service. I would like to see the legacy of these leaders carried forth and the potential of national service achieved.”

Pleased Participants


Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive as well. American social entrepreneur Alan Khazei wrote that Alyson Campbell, BA ’20, “did a great job on this. I'm very excited about this project, am honored to be included and very much appreciate the time and energy and thoughtfulness you all are putting into this.” 

Co-Founder & Strategic Advisor of Green City Force Lisbeth Shepherd was grateful “for the opportunity to share my national service story!” Director of AmeriCorps Bill Basl, wrote about how impressed he was with junior Michelle Christian who interviewed him: “It seems to me that she will make a great leader wherever her career interests take her. Her poise, flexibility, research capability, subject knowledge and interest in the topic were clearly evident. [I] enjoyed the experience.” The feedback speaks to how HSSJ students are rising to meet this challenging assignment in ways that honor the participants and serve the broader community.

To hear a few insights from leaders participating in the project, check out a brief video on the history of national service created by alumna Emma Martens, BA ’20. To learn more about the research process, check out this brief student video-presentation as part of the Nashman Center’s Virtual Service-Learning Symposium. If you’d like more information about the project, please email Emily Morrison. We’d love to include alumni in the project.

National service is vital to the work of human services and social justice as well as other disciplines and fields. This is because the urgent and challenging issues facing our communities are being addressed (in)directly through service as a means to cultivating more inclusive and just communities. Ensuring service efforts are ethical, effective, sustainable and coordinated requires real leadership and ongoing practice, reflection and inquiry into such efforts. 

Many of you and GW students, alumni, faculty, and community partners have been and continue to be active partners in this work. Thank you!

Back to top 

HSSJ Work on Criminal Justice Reform​

Class of 2020 HSSJ Capstone
The Capstone class of 2020 had unique challenges with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, which included modifying the grant application process to assist non-profit applicants.

Each spring, the senior HSSJ capstone class offers a unique opportunity to combine scholarly and community practice to make social change in the District through an experiential philanthropy project. Students partner with the Learning by Giving Foundation (LxG), which provides the class with an initial $5,000 for their giving project. Students then create a class foundation, deciding together which social issue their philanthropy will address. In spring 2020, students focused on criminal justice reform and created the GW Arc Foundation.

Using best practices examined during the course, the students researched the selected social issue, raised additional funds, put out a call for grant proposals and selected grant recipients among local nonprofit applicants.

A private donor generously contributed an additional $5,000 to the foundation. Then-HSSJ students Dawn-Marie Sullivan, BA ’20, and Nili Ezekiel, BA ’20, brought in $1,500 when they entered and won blog competitions, which brought the total funds to $11,500. Of the 20 applications, students funded three: National Reentry Network ($9,000), U.S. Dream Academy ($2,000) and Free Minds Book Club ($500).

Sullivan blogged about getting started in experiential philanthropy:

“I have learned so much throughout my years in this major about inequity and different ways it can be addressed. Now this project is a real, tangible way for me to get involved and start to address this problem. Mass incarceration is not something that is easily visible to the eye. The city does not have posters bragging about the number of individuals who were arrested. It is not something that is obvious when walking by the Capitol building or riding on the Metro. It is quite literally the opposite. Mass incarceration sadly has the ability to hide people and take people, in often unfair and disproportionate ways. How do we avoid this? How do we combat this? 

“To understand the problem, we must understand the root. As students who walk the streets every day we too often become consumed in our own lives and struggles. When is our next paper due? What time do we have to be at our internship? When are we hanging out with our friend from freshman year? All these items can begin to consume our lives and leave us to forget about the larger problems in our community. Especially specific problems that may be invisible.

“Although criminal justice reform is no easy feat, and criminal justice may not be as apparent as other social problems, this is a problem that collectively we need to address to prevent unfair, inhumane treatment of people within our community. By our class…having a better understanding of what leads to interactions with the criminal justice system we were able to create and develop GW Arc Foundation’s mission and ultimate vision. We then turned to local D.C. statistics provided by the government of the District of Columbia to understand the local area and problem. We learned that high levels of incarceration definitely impacts the D.C. area. This was heartbreaking to discover. However, it also solidified our decision to pursue this as our social problem to address.”

Nili Ezekiel, BA ’20, noted how her understanding of philanthropy became complicated as she and her colleagues navigated challenges with giving practices:

“I realized that I don’t know what the right way to give is. And that maybe there is no ‘right’ way, but there are certainly wrong ways. When we chose criminal justice as our issue area, we discussed the role of the criminal justice system and mass incarceration in other areas of inequality. It is impossible to separate it from other huge societal problems. I have learned that philanthropy needs to tackle root issues, the larger system of injustice. It honestly feels a little uncomfortable, as college students who have never worked full time at a nonprofit (or anywhere for that matter!) to be deciding who is ‘worthy’ of funding. I felt my own privilege very acutely during this process. 

“Our class spoke frequently about trust-based philanthropy. We considered the ways foundations can lower barriers for organizations that might lack experience or resources to perfectly format a budget, for example, but are community-based and pursuing systemic change. In our grantmaking process, we recognized the additional strain that COVID put on staffs’ resources and simplified requirements. One organization described the need for a halfway house for ex-offenders recovering from substance use disorders. Another facilitated programming to support the children of incarcerated parents and break the cycle of incarceration. Another provides literacy support and creative outlets for incarcerated individuals. It was evident from the proposals how passionate the nonprofits are about their services and the urgency of their requests. I felt inspired by the programs they have created despite the heaviness of their work. I feel humbled by the creative and impactful programs of the nonprofits that have applied for our grant.”

Back to top 

Program Kudos

  • Senior Alyson Campbell was quoted in the GWToday story “Virtual Day of Service Centers Martin Luther King Jr. 's Philosophies,” on the importance of virtual service opportunities like GW’s MLK Day of Service.

  • Recent alumna Nili Ezekiel, BA ’20, won the 2020 Honey Nashman Outstanding Senior Award.

  • Sangeeta Prasad co-founded the nonprofit In The Streets, which is dedicated to fostering internal work in community members in order to serve from within the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

  • Michelle Kelso continues her work as program director. She presented at the American Sociological Society and the Association of Slavic and East European Studies conferences in 2020. She also co-authored a book chapter on “Demography in Central and Eastern Europe” and authored another on Romania for the well-received book Central and Eastern European Politics, Changes and Challenges, 5th edition. In June 2020, she joined the board of the D.C. Sociological Society.

  • Emily Morrison co-edited the book How to keep your doctorate on track: Insights from students’ and supervisors’ experiences, which came out in paperback in September 2020. She also authored “Exploring Community-Engaged Scholarship: Insights and Questions for HRD” in Advances in Developing Human Resources, and co-authored three articles all published in 2020 titled “Enacting Reflection,” “How we learn is how we SEE” and “Changing of the Guard in HRD.”

  • Gretchen Van der Veer has been working on issues related to civic engagement, nonprofit capacity building and leadership development in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years. She currently serves as the CEO/executive director of Fair Chance, a social change organization fighting generational poverty by investing expertise and capacity building in strategically selected community-based nonprofits so they can achieve life-changing results for children and youth experiencing poverty. This year, she also took part in the Oral History Project and was interviewed by students in Dr. Emily Morrison’s class.

Back to top 

Class Notes

Lee Goldstein, BA ’09, MPA ’10, is an emerging leader in the affordable housing industry, managing the development of multifamily housing, and contributing to federal housing policy recommendations on behalf of Volunteers of America. He lives with his wife in Takoma, Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Kahan, BA ’70, JD ’73, is a partner at Hogan Lovells US LLP, practicing medical technology law. He is also an adjunct professor at the GW Law School and sits on the university's Leadership Advisory Council.

Caroline Malone, BA ’20, is the development and volunteer coordinator for Horton's Kids. She is excited to be serving the communities of Southeast D.C. and remain connected to the greater network of nonprofits in the D.C. area.

Blythe Purdin, BA ’04, is currently in her 50th year as an early childhood educator. In the fall of 2019, she moved to Nantucket, Mass., to begin a new chapter in her career; teaching kindergarten and living on a beautiful island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod.

Elyssa Scharaga, BA ’09, completed her clinical neuropsychological fellowship at the Connecticut Veteran Affairs Medical Center and is now practicing neuropsychology at Northwell Health in New York.

Lisa Zerden, BA ’02, received tenure at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She serves as the senior associate dean at UNC’s School of Social Work. Her research focuses on the social drivers of health and inequitable access to access, treatment and prevention.

Back to top