Delivering best practices in non-profit management
Fieldwork assignments in two Chicago area schools confirmed for Elizabeth LeRoy the wisdom of her decision to enroll at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA), as the program has provided excellent preparation as she plans a career in non-profit and government work.
LeRoy, a Master’s student in the social administration track who expects to receive her AM degree in June, spent her first year field placement at Burbank Elementary School in south suburban Burbank where she worked with students who were disruptive in class or had challenging home situations. She met with students one-on-one and in small groups. “I utilized anti-bullying and other curricula which I presented to classes at various grade levels in the school.”
It can be difficult for kids to express the problems they are having, she adds, so materials designed to teach children about their emotions and how to respond to challenging situations are essential. “I remember one student in particular. By using games that asked questions about feelings, I helped him open up about his problems and at the end of the year he told me he was looking forward to meeting with a social worker in his next school,” she explains.
This year, she has been working with the principal at Uplift Community High School in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood as the external outreach coordinator for a new Pre-K to Careers Initiative. She gathers together local youth-oriented community organizations, faith-based institutions, and area elementary school representatives to create a framework of cooperation for improving educational supports available for children. Envisioned by Uplift’s principal, the initiative began at the end of last school year to create a pipeline of assistance from pre-K programs to elementary and high schools in Uptown, to post-secondary college and career opportunities. By better coordinating efforts among these organizations, the initiative desires to see Uptown youth succeed in a supportive environment throughout their education and into their future careers.
“I like to make connections, between people and the personal and emotional supports they need, and between organizations and the resources and ideas they require to help advance their mission. SSA has helped me understand how to make those connections in ways that are compassionate, comprehensive, and strategic for the benefit of those in need,” she says.
In addition to fieldwork experience, the courses at SSA and its faculty have helped her prepare for a future career. “I am learning best practices in non-profit management, from financial accounting and board relations to managing change in organizations,” she says. As a history major as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University, LeRoy says she also enjoys classes that include the history of social policy, so that she can acquire a more comprehensive knowledge of how social issues develop in order to better strategize ways they can be addressed.
In addition to history, she also majored in religious studies, and while in college interned with the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that administers the AmeriCorps program, working for the director of faith-based initiatives.
LeRoy worked for a membership organization for lawyers in Washington, D.C. after graduation, and later was director of community life for a program for young professionals seeking to find ways to integrate their work and faith lives.
It was the experience of working for this program, in particular, that helped LeRoy know that SSA would be the right fit for her. “Being in a mentoring role for this group of young professionals who were asking how their stories, skills, and convictions intersected to give shape to their professional goals had me asking the same questions of myself,” she says.
“I discovered through mentoring my peers that I wanted a basis in counseling practices that I could apply in an organization oriented toward achieving social change.” Motivated by her faith convictions to serve and care for the vulnerable in society, LeRoy adds that her background in government and legal policy combined with a growing interest in counseling made social work an attractive choice.
These experiences led her to expand her career by going to SSA, a graduate program she chose because it combines rigorous academic training with clinical and administrative experience in the field. “SSA has a lot to offer incoming students. The University has many resources for professional development as well that further enhance the coursework and fieldwork at SSA,” LeRoy says. She took advantage of workshops on careers in consulting, as she is considering non-profit management consulting as an option for the future.
LeRoy says she is grateful for a scholarship she receives to support her studies [the David and Mary Winton Green Scholarship]. Providing assistance for students is one of the many ways alumni and friends of the school enrich lives for students, she adds. “We also benefit when alumni come and speak to us about their experiences. That helps us see the range of possibilities that are available for people with an SSA degree.”