Julia Conte graduated in June 2012 from the joint AM/MPP program between SSA and the Harris School of Public Policy Studies. She continued her learning through a number of developmental activities when she moved to Washington, D.C. in the middle of the summer after graduation to begin her position as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF). Her two-year paid government fellowship is with the Office of Family Assistance, which administers Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) that aids eligible low-income families through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"I developed an early love of American history and politics, with a special in social issues such as civil rights. I continue to be interested in how race and gender intersect with poverty. Through the PMF program, I'm excited to have the opportunity to do advocacy at the national level," Conte says.
Having received a BA in political science and economics in 2009 from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Conte went on to acquire a firm grasp of concepts and politics through her dual degree coursework. SSA's Program on Poverty and Inequality broadened the scope of her concerns to include the economic disparity experienced by women.
"I enjoy both qualitative and quantitative approaches to policy and program evaluation. I love becoming a more conscious consumer of research who can relate studies to day-to-day practice. With training from both SSA and the Harris School, I can look at a situation from different perspectives. I think that social work's role in research is important to inform advocacy, whether it is for funding or for public policy," Conte says.
Her concentration was in social administration, but she believes she can stay connected to "on the ground" experiences by using and doing research. In fact it was community organization through anti-poverty programs and housing issues, as well as coursework, that first piqued her passion for research.
"I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, so it has been really fun for me to learn about the history of the neighborhoods in the city. For example, by supporting the employer-client placement process through the Put Illinois to Work Program I saw first-hand the impact of community dynamics on a neighborhood. I believe that a multi-dimensional perspective, which incorporates statistics and economic analyses as well as the lived experiences of people, can lead to a better understanding of social problems and policy," Conte says.
Writing is one way that Conte says she has been able to go between different worlds. While an undergraduate, she was on the staff of a student journal and prepared documents for the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. As an intern at the Englewood Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, her responsibilities included writing and editing for many different audiences, including partners, community members, and public officials. She wrote advocacy factsheets and program newsletters to convey quantitative and qualitative information related to program outcomes.
SSA is one of only a handful of schools that offer a journal to master's level social work students, and Conte was on the editorial board of Advocates' Forum. "Reading articles written by others introduces me to new issues and allows me to reflect on my own work. I like to challenge myself, and I'm looking forward to moving beyond academic writing to presenting complex research to my boss at TANF. Then I hope to develop more communication skills so I can be an effective advocate to multiple groups," Conte says.