Christian Nsonwu, AM '19, is on a journey. After spending a year as a volunteer facilitator at Corrymeela in Northern Ireland, he “fell in love with working with people,” and realized that social work was the field for him. He completed his master's degree at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration in June 2019, and now plans to move to London.
He decided to pursue a master’s degree in social work with the understanding that it would expand professional opportunities in policy and policy management after earning an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where he double-majored in Political Science and Social Work. “I love higher education,” he laughs, so he viewed the need to return for to school as “an opportunity, not just a requirement.” He was accepted by other top-ranked programs, but chose SSA because of the school’s reputation for academic rigor, as well as the fact that the institution reached out and supported him “throughout the entire process.”
“Academically,” he notes, “I found that the school’s reputation for rigor is real.” No matter which class, no intellectual stone was left unturned: “every issue would be looked up and down, flipped around and sideways, and fully analyzed.” But, he adds, the process was never about “telling us what to think; it was about showing us ways to find solutions and opening our minds to possibilities.” Apropos of this last observation, it was a class on Queer Theory taught by Doctoral students and Lecturers Lance Keene and Jane Hereth that ended up making an unexpected impression on him. Nsonwu notes that he has LGBTQIA+ friends and had previously worked with the community, but he had “never addressed what it meant inside an analytical framework, viewing the politics, policies, and histories. It really opened my eyes, especially regarding policy.” Eventually, he thinks he will pursue a doctorate in order to delve more deeply into these issues.
As he was pursuing his coursework at SSA, his initial field-placement work for the Forefront in the Democracy Initiative program as a Policy Intern was both useful and beneficial for networking. This experience included program evaluation, policy briefing, and administration regarding Hard-to-Count communities in Illinois for the upcoming 2020 Census.
Among other things, he explains, the field placement component of the program allows students “to build off the theories we’re learning in class and apply them. It’s also excellent work experience that might translate into a job afterwards, while allowing students to explore different options.”
“This university is a place you can really test your limits,” he notes, “and Chicago is the perfect city to grow while not feeling swallowed up. If a student is truly passionate about helping others and about academia in general, then this is the place for them.” When he arrived, he did not know anyone in the city, and didn’t even know anyone who’d attended the university. “Faculty and administrators in the program really care about students’ lives. I noticed people going out of their way to make students feel comfortable and welcomed.” Despite the intensity of the program, Nsonwu managed to explore the larger city of Chicago while adjusting to the colder climate. “In North Carolina, you get an inch of snow and the city shuts down. Here, you get a foot and nobody blinks.”
Nsonwu came into the SSA program with high expectations, and he will graduate with a sense that those expectations have been fulfilled. “The faculty is intentional about supporting students,” he notes, adding that the community as a whole embraced him and invested in his success. As he approaches graduation, he sums up his experience thusly: “You’re surrounded by amazingly talented people who bring great energy to their pursuits, and it’s exciting to ponder where they might end up, and where I might end up, and we’d eventually end up working together again in the future.”