Kate Englund, AM '11Kate Englund

When Kate Englund, AM '11, returned to Ethiopia in summer 2010, she had the opportunity to combine what she learned in her School of Social Service Administration first-year field placement with her love for the African continent.

A grant from the International Social Welfare Group (ISW) made Kate's 2010 trip to Africa possible. The ISW at SSA is a student-run organization that promotes discussion on how social work can respond to international social justice issues.

The trip was the fifth she has made to Africa and her second to Ethiopia. During her ten weeks there, Kate worked with four foster care homes through the Gladney Center for Adoption. Her first-year SSA clinical placement was with the adoption unit at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Since Ethiopia now sends more children to the United States for adoption each year than any other country other than China, her knowledge of U.S. adoptions was a significant asset.

"I was able to advocate for the developmental needs of children to ensure they were being listened to and thriving while in temporary foster care settings," said Kate. "My role was to help with the transition from orphanages to foster care to adoption. When the children come out of orphanages, they need more activities to stimulate them intellectually."

Kate chose to study at SSA because of the strength of its administration concentration and because of its location in Chicago. "SSA teaches us to be good advocates for people who do not have voices to bring their stories to the realm of policy-making and program development. While we are all passionate about different issues, we have a common goal to advance social justice by helping people realize their human rights," she said.

"The true test of the effectiveness of a macro-level policy is how it is experienced in the daily lives of the poor. SSA helps us learn to evaluate how the policies and program we implement are affecting society's most vulnerable people."

Her second-year SSA placement again focuses on children. She is working with the Immigrant Child Advocacy Project on advocacy for unaccompanied minors. "Some of these children are eligible for asylum. I talk with them to learn their stories. Based on the evidence we uncover we can help their case with immigration."

As an undergraduate student at Boston College, Kate was part of a study-abroad program in Mali, where she worked in gender studies and did an independent study project on the causes of orphanhood there, noting, "I spent a lot of time at three different orphanages, examining the cultural issues that prevented children from being adopted within their home country."

After earning her degree in Human Development, Englund returned to Africa. In 2008 she spent four months in Ethiopia under a Samaritan's Purse International Relief internship, overseeing flood relief efforts and dispatching supplies, and in 2009 she went to the Congo on a work assignment for that organization, managing logistics and field financing.

During that trip she met Gabriel, an 11-year-old boy who had a heart defect that was interfering with his ability to lead a normal life. Throughout her first year at SSA, Kate did fundraising through benefits in Chicago and in her hometown of Portland, Ore., to pay for surgery and discovered that India offered the best options for surgery. When her grant project was completed, she accompanied Gabriel and his father to India where a successful procedure repaired the hole in the boy's heart. "Now Gabriel can look forward to a fulfilling life," she said.

In Spring 2010 Kate took part in SSA's Washington Week, a networking opportunity for alums and students. "It was encouraging to hear from so many SSA alums in non-profit and government positions. This is such a diverse degree that it is exciting to see the large number of possibilities."

Kate hopes to find a position based in that city. "Long-term I would like to be back in Africa, possibly with an organization such as UNICEF or the U.S. State Department, working with child welfare systems to create more sustainable solutions for the continent's orphans. I don't think a child should be put up for adoption because of poverty. We need to do more to help families."

Although Washington Week and her field placements are important components of her SSA experience, Kate also gives high marks to her teachers, including Assistant Professor Alida Bouris, her cohort's Direct Practice professor for two quarters; Associate Professor Yoonsoun Choi's class, Immigrant Families and Adolescents; and Hermon Dunlop Smith Professor Melissa Roderick for making data analysis both exciting and relevant.

For the current academic year, Kate is preparing a report-back presentation to the ISW on her experiences this past summer. She is also helping to lead the organization this year as head of its fund-raising activities. "It's important to me to give back. I want to make sure that another first-year can participate this summer."

Alumni SPIF
Jeff Simms

Jeff Simms, AM '12

"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."

Bria Berger

Bria Berger, AM '14

“It’s important to have transferable skills and to have a professional mentor. Working with [Assistant Professor] Alida Bouris has helped me both personally and professionally. She has encouraged me to mold my course schedule and placement to my interest and goals, to take risks, and she has helped me shape my vision of who I am in the social work world.”