In a new series of posts on social work careers, we talk to CUSSW alumni who got launched in their careers upon graduation. We hope their stories will be of use to 2013 graduates in their employment searches. First up: Emily Jabbour (MS'06). Comments or questions for Emily? Enter them as comments below, and she will respond. Suggestions for future posts? Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi, Emily. Before we talk about your current employment, I’d like to learn a little more about you. When did you know you wanted to be a social worker?
I didn't really know that I wanted to be a social worker, actually! I knew that I was passionate about social justice and wanted to make a difference in the world. In college I chose to major in psychology as I was fascinated by human behavior and the ways our experiences shape us. But I wasn't sure how I would merge that fascination with my interests in volunteerism, service learning, and social justice until a colleague in my psychology lab suggested I consider a graduate program in social work. And social work ended up being the right fit!
What attracted you to CUSSW?
I was initially attracted to CUSSW because of two unique aspects of the curriculum—the first being the policy track and the second being the opportunity to pursue a minor. I was particularly interested in the law minor, and thought it would be pretty amazing to be able to take courses at Columbia Law.
I assume you chose the Policy concentration?
Yes. I knew that clinical work was not a good fit for me after having had several clinical volunteer experiences and spending a year working in a clinical capacity after college. I was able to pursue my passion for policy during my second year with the policy coursework and field placement. I felt right at home at CUSSW from that point forward.
Did your field placements at CUSSW support your professional development?
In my first year I was placed at a grassroots domestic violence program in downtown Brooklyn for Haitian and Caribbean women. I provided counseling and case management services. In my second year I selected to be at Children’s Rights, a legal organization that pursues class action lawsuits against child welfare systems. Children’s Rights also has a small policy shop that would sometimes work with the legal team, but mainly handles child welfare policy advocacy. My experience at Children’s Rights taught me the way policy making works in terms of the relationships between federal, state, and local officials in the child welfare context. I also learned a lot about government bureaucracy.
I understand you got a job right out of school. Where do you work?
I got a job with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) in the Administration for Children and Families. I am a Social Science Research Analyst. On a daily basis I use a combination of my clinical and policy social work skills: reflective listening, consensus building, policy analysis, program evaluation, managing with results, etc. My background as a social work professional with both clinical and policy skills made me a strong candidate for this role as I have to work collaboratively across multiple programs or agencies to address matters of policy.
Can you give an example of a specific project you’ve been assigned to work for on your job?
Specifically, I am working in the Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation, where my primary responsibility is to coordinate the performance materials that are included in the annual budget request made by the President to Congress. My agency has over sixty individual programs that are required to provide some level of performance reporting via output, outcome, or process performance measures. I work with each of these programs to ensure that their budget justifications are supported by discussions of performance and (where possible) research. To get an idea of the outcome of my work, see the budget documents supporting our FY 2014 request.
How did you find your present position?
I owe my current position to being accepted as a Presidential Management Fellow. I got excited about applying for the Fellowship after attending an information session at the School of Social Work, which was conducted by a CUSSW alum who at that time was a Presidential Management Fellow working for a program office at the Administration for Children and Families (where I now work). It was a rigorous application process. Fortunately, another Presidential Management Fellow, who had entered CUSSW as a doctoral student, coached me through it once I made it to the second round. Ultimately, I succeeded in being nominated as a fellow and then in landing my current position.
Did you have to go out and find this position?
A Policy professor and the doctoral student I just mentioned tipped me off initially. I found additional information about the opening on USAJobs.gov, which is the main portal for all federal government jobs.
What networks have you developed to support you in your work?
I rely on several different networks for both professional and personal purposes. I am very active within the CUSSW alumni community as the outgoing president of the Alumni Association. I have acted as a mentor for current students interested in the Presidential Management Fellowship, and have also developed a network among fellow alums who’ve entered the federal government workforce. Since the policy concentration is so much smaller than the clinical concentration, I’ve also kept in touch with Policy classmates.
What advice would you give to someone interested in your area of work?
I always encourage students who are interested in working for the federal government to set up informational interviews with staff working in their program areas of interest. There is so much to be learned just from talking to people about their experiences. I also recommend checking out USAJobs.gov to get a sense of the range of jobs available.
What was the best part of your CUSSW experience?
It’s actually hard to limit my response to just one thing! I was so impressed with the caliber of the Policy faculty and the incredible support I got from them during my job search and brainstorming process. I was also impressed with my fellow Policy class mates and their passion for their areas of interest. And now that I’m a graduate, I find the CUSSW alumni network unparalleled in terms of breadth of experience and willingness to provide support. I’ve had so many great experiences reaching out to people I’ve never met on the recommendation of fellow alums or someone at the CUSSW alumni office.
What was the most surprising thing about your CUSSW experience?
I didn't expect to end up feeling so connected to the community—by that I mean, students, faculty, administrators, and staff—after a two-year graduate program, as opposed to a four-year college. But it was my time at Columbia that set me on my career path.
—Contributed by Sara Pellegrom, Intern, CUSSW Office of Career and Leadership Development