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Connecting the Dots of Social Work and Policy
October 26, 2020

By Maya Wahrman, as told to Madison Molner

Intensive Weekend MSW student, Maya Wahrman, has been accepted to the fall 2020 Eagleton Institute for Politics Graduate Fellowship Cohort at Rutgers University. Wahrman tries in all facets of her life to integrate individual connection and a community view, particularly in her clinical- and policy-focused social work practice. She hopes to holistically benefit her clients by working with them as well as with the system they are a part of.

Wahrman currently serves as a case manager and educational coordinator for newly arriving immigrant and refugee families where she has the opportunity to work with both adults and families. This summer she brought her personal passion for music to her clients by helping to establish a weekly sing-a-long for families as a way to connect virtually and find commonality through music

We had an opportunity to speak with Wahrman for her take on the intersection of micro and macro social work and what she hopes to achieve as an Eagleton Fellow. 

Q: Can you share the work you'll be doing as an Eagleton Fellow? 
A: This fall I joined a cohort of 20 other wonderful graduate students from all different departments at Rutgers. I am taking a Perspectives on American Politics class and attending seminars and other events with my colleagues. 

In the spring I will pause my clinical internship with Church Based Mental Health Services in Middlesex County for a few months to pursue a governmental internship in New Jersey's Office of New Americans as the second part of my Eagleton fellowship. I look forward to this experience as it connects with my passion for working with immigrant and refugee populations, and the opportunity to better their access to the existing social safety net and health and human services programs.


Q: What interests you in both social work and policy?  
A: Before I came to social work, I often felt that the policy sphere was far removed from people's real experiences and needs. Politics can often be about ambitious folks searching for power rather than working ardently on a policy cause. I felt that to make positive change , I had to actually work first with people on the ground.

When I fully committed to the field of social work, I was excited to immerse myself in clinical practice. In my work with refugees and immigrants, I find that often meaningful change in someone's life comes in the form of personal advocacy: facilitating someone's access to benefits, directing compassionate attention to a problem, or using the privilege of my education, fluency in English, and cultural confidence in challenging authorities or injustices to advocate for my clients. Social work is a perfect fit for me, using a strengths-based approach to understand client experiences and work with clients on their goals , while also emphasizing the importance of understanding macro processes and systems to help make things better for those same clients. When I applied to Eagleton, I hoped to bring new clinical studies to my everlasting interest in politics and systems, and to constantly remember both client experiences as well as the necessity to change the larger structures around them.


Q: What roles do you believe social work and policy play with one another?
A: What makes social work so powerful and important is its understanding and approach to start with real people to make change. At the same time, it demands of us not to forget the systems of oppression or injustice that trap or hurt marginalized people, that a person's inner life and experience is in many ways inseparable from the world affecting them. Both perspectives deserve the attention of d experts and advocates.

There are so many important ways to engage with policy: quantitatively, through science, with economics, through politics. But one of them is definitely understanding social work, people's inner and outer experiences through mental health and psychology, and how welfare policy and social justice affect us all. I see social work and policy as an inextricable Venn diagram: even if folks focus on only one side, they cannot ignore the other.


Q: What are you most looking forward to from your experience as an Eagleton Fellow?
A: My field experience and my cohort have been the two most amazing parts about my MSW studies so far. I learn so much from our diverse set of students with amazing human services experience, as well as life experience. I look forward to gaining a similar experience with our Eagleton cohort, students and professionals who have varied expertise anda deep commitment to their passions and disciplines. I also hope to integrate what I learn at my  government internship into my social work practice, while contributing  some of my own on-the-ground experience with refugees to be helpful and make a difference in the state of affairs for immigrants in NJ. 

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