Penn MSW Students Named Council on Social Work Education Fellows

Three master’s students at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice are among 40 recipients of the Council on Social Work Education Minority Fellowship Program Youth Master’s Student award.

Alexandria Okeke, Pablo David Rodriguez and Kira White have been selected to join the third cohort of CSWE “Now is the Time” students. Funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the fellowship supports training and professional development activities to supplement students’ social-work courses. Fellows will participate in virtual webinars throughout the year and attend a training in Alexandria, Va., in March.

The fellowship carries a $6,500 annual stipend.

“We are very excited and proud that three of our students are among the 40 new fellows,” said Joretha Bourjolly, associate dean for academic affairs and director of the MSW program. “These students will be able to build on the strong foundation of course and field work in the MSW program to further their commitment to addressing the mental-health needs of children, adolescents and young adults.”  

After graduating, each fellow has committed to entering the behavioral-health field providing mental-health services to at-risk youth and young adults aged 16–25 in underserved minority communities.

Okeke plans to use the fellowship to further develop her clinical skills to serve LGBTQ youth of color in the rural South. She is currently interning in Trans Care Services at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, learning about best practices in providing health and wellness services to Philadelphia’s queer and transgender community.

“This is a population at the intersection of multiple oppressions: racism, transphobia, misogyny, homophobia, classism, ableism and regional isolation,” she said. “I don't think that the identities we hold dear should impact how we exist, but they do.” 

Rodriguez and White plan to use their fellowships to work with underserved communities closer to home.  

Rodriguez said that the fellowship will enable him to augment his work aiding recently immigrated, undocumented Latinos in Philadelphia better access basic services and mental-health care.

“Recalcitrant policies and organizational structures in health care, insurance and housing create obstacles for the undocumented Latino community in the city, making even a simple task of scheduling an appointment for a physical check-up difficult,” he said. 

White, the third fellow, is currently working at the Mill Creek School, an alternative high school in West Philadelphia, and plans to seek full time employment after graduating. 

“I will be using my fellowship to work in school- or community-based behavioral and mental health with underserved youth, specifically adolescents in the Greater Philadelphia area,” she said. She is also pursuing a degree in public health at Penn with a projected graduation of May 2018.

Since its inception in 2014, the CSWE Minority Fellowship Program has supported 80 fellows. Most work in mental-health or substance-abuse agencies, while others serve in settings such as schools, hospitals and child-welfare organizations.

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