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Friday (April 12) is Alumni Day at the Columbia University School of Social Work. In honor, we are running the interview of Trélan Holder (MS'06), president-elect of the CUSSW Alumni Association, which ran in the Winter 2013 issue of our Spectrum magazine.
Q. Tell us about your trajectory as a social worker. Did you know that’s what you wanted to be when you grew up?
TRÉLAN HOLDER: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in working with people and finding a way to be useful. As a student, I developed a particular interest in advocating for children. Before CUSSW, I worked in the city’s Administration for Children’s Services to investigate reports of alleged child abuse and neglect. At CUSSW, I had the opportunity to study abroad one summer in Cape Town, South Africa, where I helped care for HIV/AIDS patients, many of whom were children. My first job after graduation involved providing clinical and support services to youth in the Bronx who are living with HIV infection in the face of social stigma—often exacerbated by poverty and social inequality.
Q. You did your undergraduate degree at Clark University. What did you study there?
TRÉLAN: I majored in psychology with a minor in American government. I also did an internship with a lawyer who was representing a child who had been a victim of sexual abuse and placed in foster care. This experience cultivated my interest in the field of social work and the legal system—that’s why I eventually applied to CUSSW.
Q. What was the most surprising thing that social work school taught you?
TRÉLAN: Actually, it’s something I’ve learned more in retrospect—which is that getting your MSW is akin to getting a driver’s license. Getting a license does not make you a good driver; it only proves you have mastered the minimum requirements, the basic rules of the road. Likewise, social work is a field you will never master; you are always practicing, always evolving. I think about this a lot when interacting with my students. I am an adjunct at the School.
Q. Besides teaching, what else do you do?
TRÉLAN: I recently became the acting director of the Counseling Center at the City College of New York. In this new capacity, I have to wear many hats—from performing administrative and clinical duties, to serving a diverse and vibrant student population.
Q. You are also the president-elect for CUSSW’s Alumni Association. When does your term begin?
TRÉLAN: July 2013. However, as president-elect, I am learning all I can by shadowing Emily Jabbour (MS’06), our current president.
Q. It’s early, but do you have an agenda in mind for your presidency yet?
TRÉLAN: Increase awareness of the Alumni Association and all that it can offer to current students as well as graduates. Networks are so important, and alumni can play a very large role in helping to build a network of young professionals. I’d also like to continue with bringing Alumni Association programs to regions outside the tri-state area. So many alumni are not in this region, and with technology and strategic planning, we can provide our alumni with informative, educational, and exciting ways to stay connected. Emily and many of the past presidents have been working hard on this, and it’s important to keep building on this initiative.
Q. Not everyone stays in touch with their graduate school in an active way. Can you tell us why you find it fulfilling to do so?
TRÉLAN: I’m a native New Yorker, and Columbia University is the epicenter of academic excellence in the city. I am proud to be an alumna, and I see my affiliation with CUSSW as a lifetime relationship and commitment.
Q. CUSSW hosts a Self Care Day every year. What’s your favorite method of self-care and how often do you practice it?
TRÉLAN: I love to travel and vacationing is a must! It is also important to keep your loved ones close and have some time just for you, whether it’s a massage or a mani–pedi at a day spa. Working out is part of my weekly routine—I recommend boxing as a great way of getting out one’s aggressions!