Alumni Profile-Susan Parish
Since high school, Susan Parish has been chasing her dreams. Interested in working with people with disabilities, the Rutgers School of Social Work alumna volunteered at a camp for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, and lets nothing dampen her interests.
“I started working in the disability field when I was a sophomore in high school. I absolutely loved it, and I never really left the field. I worked in direct care (group homes) when I was in college and after graduating,” said Parish, currently the Nancy Lurie Marks professor of disability policy at Brandeis University, specializing in health and financial wellbeing of children and adults with disabilities.
Although Parish graduated with a Masters in Social Work in 1994, her memories of Rutgers are not hard to refresh. From loving to study at the seminary near the School of Social Work to the content of some of the reports she read, Parish remembers it all.
“Rutgers was an excellent fit for me. I was able to work full-time, and study part-time, which was what my family needed,” she said. “And I loved integrating what I learned in my MSW program with my work in the disability field.”
Parish said Rutgers, particularly some of her professors, strengthened her ability and passion to work with disabled populations.
“I had been working in the disability field for a few years, but I didn't have the historical context. But it was invaluable how Professor Eleanor Brilliant prompted me to learn the history of oppression of people with disabilities,” she said. “My anger at the injustice they faced still is with me today, and some of the research my team does directly references that terrible eugenic history.”
Parish is also a member of the School of Social Work Alumni Council, and stays connected to the school.
“The Alumni Council allows the alumni to support the School, and ensure that students get an excellent educational experience. I feel that I got so much from Rutgers, it is now my turn to give back. We are really partners with the dean and the faculty to support the School,” said.
One of Parish’s professors, she feels, not only created a memorable experience at Rutgers for her, but also influenced the path her career took.
“Professor Paul Lerman was incredibly important to me. I have felt for a long time that he directly shaped the direction my career took - he bent the trajectory. His class catalyzed my interest in public policy and I finally understood how deeply policy impacts the everyday lives of vulnerable and marginalized people,” Parish said. “My intellectual debt to him is enormous. I don't think I would have gone forward for my PhD and become a scholar, without his influence.”