Jeff Simms, who graduated with a AM from SSA's Extended Evening Program in June 2012, says he is proud to have been honored with a Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF). He moved to Washington DC to begin a two-year paid government fellowship with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"I chose to study social work, and especially policy, because I believe working at that level is where one can truly affect some of the wider causes of poverty and homelessness. Serving the poor is a calling for me, and I want to have an impact that is broader than working one-on-one as a clinician. That is why the PMF program will be a great opportunity," Simms says.
After receiving a BA from Loyola University Chicago in international studies and theology, Simms spent six years as Director of Youth Ministry at St. Luke Parish in River Forest, Illinois. He has held his current job at as Regional Director of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago for nearly five years.
"Every person of faith has their own way of practicing what they believe. For me, being a person of faith means serving the poor and standing up for the rights of those who are disenfranchised," Simms says.
Looking back, Simms acknowledges that as a youth director he learned about such challenges as poverty, homelessness, and gangs. There his goal was to design activities like service trips that would provide alternatives to high-risk behavior. He took a job at Catholic Charities because he wanted to be more directly involved in programs that serve the poor and marginalized. After working at Catholic Charities for over a year, he recognized that getting further training in social work would greatly support the work he was doing.
Simms did his first-year fieldwork placement working with persons needing assistance, mostly arranging interim housing through the Department of Community Casework and Counseling of Catholic Charities. He chose the Social Administration Concentration and his second-year fieldwork placement was at the City of Chicago's Department of Family and Support Services. In addition to homelessness, he was able to take a closer look at problems facing such groups as immigrants, senior citizens, and victims of domestic violence.
By attending the University of Chicago, Simms says he was also able to further his expertise in statistics, policy analysis, economics, and quantitative research while learning about key issues affecting disadvantaged populations. He mentions Harold Pollack, SSA’s Helen Ross Professor as being a particularly influential mentor and teacher. He also took advantage of the chance SSA students have to take some of his elective courses at the Harris School of Public Policy.
"SSA has given me a stronger foundation that will help me keep moving forward in my career. My time at SSA has also impressed on me the importance of keeping in mind that many persons who are having difficulties are trapped by the larger environment in which they find themselves. My goal is to help change some of those environmental influences by using the good insight that I've been given at SSA on how to develop and analyze policies," Simms says.