Patricia McKnew Nielsen Scholarship Recipient
Alexandra Frenn, AM ’16, had graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a research focus on child development.
Upon graduating, Frenn transitioned to work with an under-resourced preschool where she juggled many responsibilities, including lesson planning and implementation, field trip management, volunteer coordination, fundraising, community organizing, and general project management. Motivated by the lack of strong administration at the center, which eventually led to its closure, Frenn pursued an advanced degree in Social Welfare and Nonprofit Management to support similar organizations and prevent future closures.
Frenn was drawn to the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) because of the School’s focus on broad level changes as well as clinical support. After attending Admitted Students Day, an event giving students a first-hand look at the SSA experience, Frenn realized that she was committing to “a diverse, brilliant, rigorous, innovative, well-rounded, specialized community of individuals.” Frenn “was inspired by SSA’s attention to career development and expansive options for their students. Its focus on the history, development, funding, political support, and implementation of public policies and programs –particularly welfare benefits – within the social safety net sparked my interest in the School and the university as a whole.”
Frenn singles out classes with SSA professors E. Summerson Carr, Harold Pollack, and Matt Epperson, and lecturers Carolyn Barnes and Nicole Beechum for their thought-provoking, pragmatic, and challenging style of teaching. “When asked about my program,” says Frenn, “I consistently highlight the discussions that have forced to me to question my status quo assumptions.” She also has been deeply influenced after reading the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Charles Payne’s I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, Associate Professor Waldo E. Johnson Jr.’s Big Boys Don’t Cry, Black Boys Don’t Feel, and Peter Benson’s Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry.
Throughout her first year within the program, Frenn was also inspired by the relationships she developed while an intern at the Salvation Army Booth Lodge Homeless Shelter. Her task supervisor Jackie Scott “truly opened my eyes to the long term challenges of a career in social work. We consistently discussed the failure, successes, boundaries, obstacles, attachments, separations, and politics that I am guaranteed to experience as a social worker. Without fail, she reminds me about my strengths and passion for this work, which can and will pull me through the obstacles that sometimes seem impossible to overcome.”
Frenn’s second year field placement at the Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) has a stronger focus on administration and program management, including grant writing, database navigation, and problem management, as well as college counseling for a cohort of five students. Since working at GCYC, the center has implemented a number of organizational changes, which have required clear communication, nimbleness, and flexibility. “Considering my current interest in becoming a nonprofit leader,” says Frenn, “I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to witness such a strong leadership style.”
Outside of her classwork and field placement, Frenn works at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls providing therapeutic support to adolescent boys living in a juvenile residential facility. She also is a pen pal with an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center and finds time to attend performances at Storycatchers Theatre, an arts group that produces original works by youths in juvenile justice centers. On campus, Frenn is an active and leading member of Justice Works, a University of Chicago student organization that focuses on local criminal justice events and news.
Having scholarship support while at SSA “cannot and should not be understated,” says Frenn. “I am incredibly grateful for the Patricia McKnew Nielsen Scholarship and the opportunities it has afforded me. I thank the Nielsen family very much for this donation to my education. The generosity of this scholarship truly inspires me and strengthens my commitment to public service.”
Frenn is continuing her career in Social Welfare throughout the city of Chicago. She accepted a full-time position as a case manager in the admissions department at the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a residential facility for young men and women between the ages of 12 and 24. While in this role, she commits to community outreach and resource distribution to youth in need of shelter, healthcare, education, clinical treatment, athletic opportunities, faith-based connection, and other specialized supports. Upon acquiring her License in Clinical Social Work, Frenn has a long term goal to pursue efforts in policy work on a national scale in Washington D.C. within five years of graduating from the University of Chicago.