Mary Pender Greene received an MSW from the New York University Silver School of Social Work (SSSW) in 1974. A former president of the New York City chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (2002 – 2004), she holds certifications in family and group therapy and is an expert on institutional racism and multiculturalism in the workplace. She maintains a private psychotherapy practice and is an assistant executive director at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS).
Pender Greene received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009 for her outstanding service to the School. She will be speaking on “Leading Effectively-What Does it Take?” on Wednesday, October 8, as part of the Silver School’s Women and Leadership Lecture Series.
What was the SSSW like when you attended?
The School was an extremely exciting place during the early ‘70s. The Vietnam War was raging, Kent State happened, peace marches and rallies took place regularly in Washington Square Park, and social work students took over the dean’s office a few times. I didn’t participate in the protests, but I recall the students’ passion for social justice issues and for stopping the War. We wanted to change the world, and we really believed that we would.
The School’s focus was on clinical social work, and many students wanted a career in private practice. However, many were also committed to public practice─bringing good, critical services to under-resourced people.
The students were from all over the country, all over the world. I made friends with a student from St. Thomas and visited her there last summer while on a cruise. She’s still practicing social work and has a top government job. We spent a day together reminiscing about NYU.
Do you remember any particular classes or professors?
The SSSW required everyone to take a class in group work. I hated the thought of it because it meant being with people I didn’t know and talking about issues that were difficult for me to discuss. A turning point in my education came when the class went away for a two-day intensive group experience. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it helped shape my career. I became a group therapist (I do individual work, too), and I have helped train hundreds of group therapists over the years.
The field work at the SSSW was phenomenal. Between my bachelor’s program (also at NYU) and master’s program, I had several placements all over New York City, in a variety of settings: substance abuse, foster care, residential treatment, and a hospital. Having all those different experiences early in my career helped me know what I would be good at and what didn’t work for me.
How have you stayed involved with the SSSW?
I have taken post-graduate workshops and classes at the School and participated with the alumni association. One of my responsibilities at JBFCS, where I’ve worked since 1984, is overseeing 100 MSW interns from all the area schools of social work, including the SSSW. I am passionate about training students; they are enthusiastic and open to learning.
I was delighted to be graduation speaker at the School a few years ago. I have also been part of the group consulting on the School’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research─implementing the project and thinking about its next steps. The School’s special focus on poverty is extremely meaningful to me. This dual emphasis on clinical work and social consciousness is, to me, what social work is all about.