Liz Mullen, AM '13

Liz Mullen surprised nobody more than herself when, after graduating from Augustana College, she accepted a position working with young students. "Before I started working with students, I never really saw myself as a person who would be good with kids; that definitely was not the path I thought I would take. Looking back now, though, it is hard to imagine a point when I considered anything else,” Mullen says. Mullen was a Social Administration student in the Community Schools program.Liz Mullen

Before attending SSA, Mullen worked with students at Bethune School of Excellence as a Learning Coordinator for City Year Chicago. "In many ways, this school and these kids had been statistically discounted, but it didn’t take long to recognize the many forms of brilliance the students possessed. My year at Bethune ended up being far more formative than I originally thought it would be,” Mullen says.

Mullen continued on to be a corps member at AmeriCorps Project YES!, where her duties ranged from leading math and literacy groups at Polaris Charter Academy to organizing a member training on education reform in the Chicago Public Schools. Mullen’s other work and leadership experiences include positions at the Senate Office of Barack Obama, Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, Literacy Is for Everyone program, and the Neighborhood Schools Program at The University of Chicago. As an SSA student, she held field placements at the Legal Assistance Foundation and the Federation for Community Schools.

It was as a member of the field support staff at the Woodlawn Children's Promise Community that Mullen began to think about attending SSA, particularly after getting to know colleagues who were SSA students or alumni. “People affiliated with SSA, who worked with and ran parts of the summer program, were able to put words to things I had been observing with my students. The perspective and clarity they were able to lend in even that short period encouraged me to look further into the school,” Mullen says. “Once I started taking classes at SSA, I learned more about how the challenges students, teachers, and families were facing in the classroom and at home may have been the manifestations of trauma.”

Liz Mullen

As a recipient of a 2012 SSA Social Innovation Summer Fellowship, Mullen traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa to live and work at Ikhaya Lomusa, a children’s home managed by the local NGO Rays of Hope. “I went to South Africa thinking that my work there would be further training in how to work with and respond to children who have experienced significant traumas. In reality, my actual experience ended up contributing a lot to my perspective on how trauma may manifest differently given stronger support, nurturance, and consistency. The entire trip influenced how I think about what it takes and what we can do to address trauma," Mullen says.

Mullen's career aspirations now involve improving how youth development programming and services are allocated in public schools, particularly those that address trauma and mental health. In Africa, she says she learned a great deal about how existing services can be coordinated and, when necessary, new services established to address complex issues and situations. “Given environments of scarce resources and very high need, it seems like too many organizations focus on a singular issue; this approach often neglects a situation’s intersecting causes and effects. Rays of Hope takes an innovative approach by coordinating a network of projects, each of which offers specific services and expertise,” Mullen says.

This is a method she believes can also be used with students in the United States to address the complex challenges faced by our students and schools. “Put in the simplest of terms, what is happening in Chicago’s schools is just not working for too many students, and addressing these issues will require a significant amount of innovation. Providing for the well-being of our students means coordinating multiple levels of expertise at different important sites in students’ lives. The community schools movement has already begun and developed this work, and it is work that needs to continue,” Mullen says.

"I'm very fortunate to have had experiences that have scaffolded my understanding in very meaningful, somewhat unexpected, ways. I've been lucky through my work, field placements, and classes to be able to see the various roles social workers can fill. All of these experiences have shaped my perspective on what I think the role of social worker as leader can and should be, a perspective that I’m sure will continue to evolve as much as it has over the past few years,” Mullen says.

After graduating from SSA in 2013, Liz worked as a Social Worker at a therapeutic day school for students who had been removed from their home schools due to emotional and behavioral challenges. Currently, she is the Milieu Treatment Manager at Lawrence Hall's Child and Family Treatment Center, a residential treatment program for youth in care throughout the state of Illinois.