Undergraduate student Maria Monica Andia’s journey to social work spans 15 years and two continents. Andia, BS ’14, was born in La Paz, Bolivia, and immigrated to the United States when she was seven years old. Her family settled in a suburb just outside of Washington, DC, where Andia was confronted with the isolating effects of ethnic homogeneity. “[It was] an area that did not have many people of color,” she explained. “For this reason my high school experience was isolating. I was the only Latina in my academic program.”
Andia’s outsider experience did not deter her from her strong desire to help others. From a young age, she aspired to a career as a children’s therapist. And when it came time to apply for college, Andia focused solely on schools in New York City, which appealed to her with its promise of diversity in a vibrant and progressive setting. She targeted New York University as her first choice, noting and appreciating how “the campus is a part of the city landscape.” Andia was accepted into the bachelor of social work program, and relocated in the fall of 2010 to begin her education.
Andia called her undergraduate experience “transformative.” She elaborated, “I am a completely different person than who I was when I came in.” With this personal evolution has come a broadening of her social work interests. Andia expanded her focus, tackling a double major in social work and social and cultural analysis (SCA) in the College of Arts and Science, with a concentration in Latino Studies. She credits the pairing of the two majors with giving her both a macro and micro understanding of social welfare policies, communities of color, and social justice. As her education advanced, Andia learned the theoretical underpinnings of the exclusion and isolation she experienced firsthand as an immigrant and minority student. In a particularly influential SCA class, Constitution and Communities of Color, Andia learned “how systemic oppression and racism is codified and deeply ingrained in our society, and how people of color experience racism in different but related ways.”
Armed with an ever-broadening knowledge of racial inequality and a desire to make a difference, Andia founded the DREAM Team at NYU. As Andia described it, “The DREAM Team is an organization that works to advocate for the educational rights of undocumented students. As an immigrant myself, this is a political and human rights issue that is very important to me.” Since its inception, the group has organized several public programs designed to educate the NYU community about the unique realities faced by undocumented immigrants. The DREAM Team is also working to make NYU more financially accessible for undocumented students, which includes advocating for legislation at state and federal levels. Past events include a protest art exhibition, panel discussions, and film screenings. The group is partnering with the Latino Student Social Work Organization on an event scheduled for April 26 that highlights the unique assets and needs of the Bronx.
In addition to her studies and active leadership role at NYU, Andia has held internships with the advocacy organizations LawHelp, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and Make the Road New York. She is a member of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, where she was active on the campaign to pass the New York DREAM Act.
As a social worker, Andia is inspired by community organizing and youth work. She is already preparing for life after graduation. She plans to join the Bronx Defenders—which provides criminal defense, social work support, civil legal services, and advocacy to needy residents of the Bronx—as a civil legal advocate with their Civil Action Practice. The position will allow her to merge her social work and social advocacy experience with her newfound interest in pursuing a law degree. She plans to work in the field for two years before applying to law school.
By Penelope Yates, MSW ’15