Marci Kirchberg, AM ’17
Marci Kirchberg, AM '17, is a social administration student with an interest in healthcare and international development. Before coming to SSA she spent three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, where she worked with the community on health education initiatives. After this experience, Marci determined that obtaining a master's degree would help to advance her career, and she decided to pursue social work. "I liked the approach of social work because it puts the main consideration on people," she said.
With her interest in healthcare, Marci was excited to learn about the Graduate Program in Health Administration and Policy (GPHAP). “It was an important part of my decision to come to SSA,” she said. She was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the program, as it brings together students with different areas of study and perspectives from five of UChicago’s professional schools. “Sometimes we, as social workers or prospective social workers, can get in a bubble, so it’s good for me to expand my way of thinking,” she said. “Also, wherever I work after SSA, I most likely won’t just be working with social workers. I will be working with people who have different degrees, professions, and perspectives.”
In addition to learning how to work effectively with people outside of the social work field, Marci stepped out of her comfort zone within the field through her first field placement at Alternatives Inc. There, she worked in the after school Urban Arts Program, helping with arts programming and leading social-emotional learning activities with high school youth. This placement challenged Marci to find creative ways to engage youth.
While she gained valuable experience and a deeper appreciation for clinical work, Marci was eager to spend the summer in between her first and second year focusing on global health. With a fellowship from UChicago’s Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, Marci worked with the Social Franchise team at Population Services International in Malawi. Her work focused on improving access to sexual and reproductive health services for youth. “Clinics are not designed to be youth-friendly,” Marci said. She collaborated with local youth, service providers, and community members to find better ways to meet these health needs. Marci also took advantage of her time in Malawi to learn more about the local culture. “I’m interested in understanding how culture contributes to global health programs and how a culturally aware approach can enhance healthcare delivery,” she said.
Before participating in the Human Rights Fellowship Program, Marci took an international social welfare class that provided her with an international development framework to bring to her work in Malawi. “I knew the vocabulary,” she explained. “I could more easily recognize issues and situations and put terms to them because they were things that we discussed in class.” Additionally, SSA helped Marci understand how a social work framework can be used to address global health. “Social work involves thinking, ‘how does this impact people?’” she said. “It looks at the whole system.”
In her second field placement, Marci gained a better understanding of the role of larger organizations in public health work. At the Illinois Public Health Institute, she worked with a collaborative of hospitals to find organizational solutions to public health problems in Cook County, specifically issues connected to mental health, substance use, and social determinants of health. “I now have a better understanding of how healthcare organizations operate and what goes into large-scale community health projects,” she said.
Reflecting on her experience at SSA, Marci said, “The SSA Master’s Program is so open. There are a lot of things you can get out of it. I learned more about what I can do within public health—like policy, research, or nonprofit work.” She also appreciates that SSA students come from different backgrounds. “I learned as much from other students as I did from my professors or field placements.” She explained that students’ ability to bring their experiences into the classroom gives the academic material an element of “realness.”
After completing her education at SSA, Marci knows that she wants to continue working in health equity and international development, but she is open to the location. She is considering Washington, DC, but loves all of the different cultures and neighborhoods in Chicago. While undecided, Marci added, “I definitely want to live abroad again at some point, too.”