By Loren Greene as told to Madison Molner
We had the opportunity to speak with MSW Class of 2020, Loren Greene, to understand her experience as a recent graduate, learn about her new role at New Jersey Citizen Action, and her thoughts on the intersection of social work and policy.
During her time as an MSW student, Greene selected the MAP specialization, took courses in the social policy area of emphasis, and earned an additional certificate in human service from the Network of Social Work Management.
Greene’s academic passions extended into her research assistantships working with Associate Professor Lenna Nepomnyaschy to collect state-level policy data on issues like mandatory minimum drug laws and access to criminal records. She traveled to Beijing, China through work with the Huamin Research Center where she helped execute a 10-day mindfulness and life skills training for Chinese adolescents with emotional and behavioral issues, resulting in 2 peer-reviewed publications. And Greene provided additional service to the School of Social Work’s Policy Network.
Q: We learned you recently started a new position. Could you let us know more about this role and your work?
A: I recently got a job at New Jersey Citizen Action as their digital organizer. NJCA is New Jersey’s largest progressive citizen watchdog coalition. They provide direct services to clients, like tax preparation, help applying for health insurance, etc. as well as act as a political advocacy and lobbying group. As their digital organizer, I mainly work on the advocacy/political side of the organization. I’m mostly tasked with maintaining their social media and emails.
As we move more online in our daily lives (especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic) people increasingly rely on technology to get information and interact. I think a lot of organizations are now realizing their need for someone to communicate with their base about the work they are doing and to gather support. As an advocacy organization, we are regularly asking our supporters to call on their legislators and share information that advances our position. It’s not just knocking on doors anymore, we need to be able to provide engaging, digital content that fires people up enough to take action. And, we need to do it just as well as big organizations with significant funding that have a big influence on policy (think the pharmaceutical industry).
I think that the Black Lives Matter movement is just the beginning of this new wave of online advocacy. I’m really excited to be at what I think is the forefront of a new way of doing things and I hope to be able to grow significantly in this field.
Q: Can you tell us more about your experience as a MAP student? Did it impact your eventual career choices?
A: The MAP specialization didn’t just shape my academic and career choices, it really changed my life. I studied psychology in undergrad and was always interested in clinical ideas (I still am) but I now recognize how much macro factors matter when serving an individual. I grew up lower-middle class, my parents are divorced, my mom has struggled with mental illness and substance use, my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and passed away at a young age. The list goes on. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety throughout my life and for a long time I was focused on how to fix the individual (really how to fix myself). And I think that it’s a really negative and counterproductive point of view.
The MSW program (and later the MAP specialization) really helped me understand and apply the person in environment theory and a social ecological model to my life and the way I view others. It’s no coincidence that 1 in 5 people experience mental illness each year in a society with huge inequality, racism, lack of access to affordable healthcare, a broken criminal justice system, wage stagnation, etc. There’s no doubt that genetics and lifestyle play a role in mental illness and personal satisfaction, but we cannot deny the incredible power that these macro factors have in shaping our reality. Learning about these societal issues helped me to take some blame off of myself for my own struggles with mental illness and inspired me to take action to make changes that would positively affect others.
The MAP specialization taught me what the problems are, what’s causing them, and how to fix them. The knowledge I gained was evidence-based, taught by experts in their field, and I received an opportunity to apply my knowledge hands on through field practice. I couldn’t feel more ready to take on the world and I think the world is ready to take itself on too.
Q: Is there anything about your work in social work and policy that you think could be better understood?
A: Easily the biggest misconception is just what “social work” means. Every time I would tell someone I was studying for my MSW or once I graduated and was looking for jobs, everyone would equate social work with therapy/counseling or child services. Meanwhile, my career aspirations couldn’t be further from those things. Social work was born out of grassroots advocacy and mutual aid.
I don’t think that people recognize the value of an MSW when it comes to policy and advocacy. Our skills lie not only in our ability to understand policy but also in our expertise in communication and connection, two skills that I would argue are essential to furthering any political ideology and creating real change.