After considering a future in law or policy – and realizing she was most intrigued by stories of individuals affected by laws and policies in this country – Kathleen Valadez, AM ’16, decided to pursue a career in social service.
She had completed her bachelor’s degree in urban studies at Washington University in St. Louis but, growing up close to Chicago, was well acquainted with the University of Chicago’s reputation, rich history, and intellectual rigor.
“When I finally visited Hyde Park, I knew I wanted to be a part of the campus,” she said. “The School of Social Service Administration (SSA) has everything to offer. You get the highest quality education available in our field while you’re living and working in a vibrant neighborhood in a world class city. There is so much history and culture on the South Side of Chicago and in Hyde Park. SSA is so special because it gives you access to much more than a classroom. You can become part of groundbreaking research, participate in important advocacy work in communities organizing for social justice, or collaborate with students across campus on interdisciplinary projects.” Having a scholarship to attend SSA was another deciding factor. “I simply could not have afforded to attend the University of Chicago if it were not for the scholarship that I received,” says Valadez. “My final decision about where to attend school became a very easy decision when my dream school offered me my dream scholarship.”
As an undergraduate, Valadez had worked with an immigration law project at the Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, in St. Louis. Her clients, often refugees or individuals seeking citizenship, could not afford to pay for legal aid. Many were victims of domestic abuse or trafficking who had been in the United States for so long that they had no other place to call home. Yet, the process of obtaining legal status was an enormous hurdle and in many cases, an impossible task without the help of professionals. Still, the legal aspect of these cases was only one part of the whole picture of the clients’ lives. “I saw the need for better access to health care, language resources, employment, education, child care, socialization, and so much more. This experience demonstrated that I wanted to work next to our clients – collaborating with people in need – to begin to tackle the many other challenges that they faced in living full lives in the U.S.”
Valadez, a clinical student at SSA, focuses mainly on behavioral therapies and family systems work. Schedule permitting, she also takes as many policy-oriented classes as possible. Her first year Programs and Policy class with Assistant Professor Marci Ybarra encouraged her to pursue her macro level interests along with more clinical work. Like many SSA students, she is interested in working at the intersection of clinical practice and policy formation. In particular, she is most interested in reforming policies in the area of violence prevention and also delivering clinical therapy with the aim of violence prevention. Peers also have served as powerful mentors. “I’m continually impressed by the breadth and depth of experience of the SSA students that I work with – both inside and outside of class,” says Valadez. “So many students serve as examples in my work, or challenge me to think more critically or more flexibly, and to invest in myself as a clinician.”
In her current field placement in the family medicine residency program at Hinsdale Adventist Hospital Valadez works with social workers and medical residents to deliver medical and socio-emotional care to patients. She provides individual behavioral psychotherapy to patients referred by the medical residents, including adults and children from a variety of cultural backgrounds. “Learning the ropes of a medical setting has been a challenge,” says Valadez, “but in just my first two months, I’ve learned so much about the connections between physical, mental, and emotional health. I’m excited to continue my work with patients and to continue practicing the therapeutic skills that I learn in class. It has been eye opening to see the power in working with a client and asking: ‘What do you need me to be for you now?’ This field placement has really underscored the countless ways that a social worker can join with individuals, families, and communities to create meaningful change.”
Since graduating from SSA, Valadez is working towards her LCSW, aiming for a position where she can do clinical work with children and families, ideally at an agency that focuses on violence prevention, an area that particularly interests her. Having an Alex and Miriam Elson Scholarship has allowed Valadez to “invest in a world class education while having peace of mind when it comes to the price tag. Thank you so much to the generous donors who have made it possible for me, and students like me, to attend SSA. For me, the confidence that comes from such a high quality education is a gift that will enrich my life forever.”