Alumni Discuss Their Leadership Experiences in Social Work

The NYU Silver School of Social Work hosted the NYU Silver Alumni Panel Series: Executive Leadership in Social Work Practice on Wednesday, November 14. Moderated by Lily Tagg, BS '13, co-president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, the following alumni presented:

  • Victoria Dexter, MSW '99, vice president of mental health treatment services at Safe Horizon.
  • Silvia Dutcheveci, MSW '09, founder and president of the Critical Therapy Center;
    Jeff Palladino, MSW '00, assistant principal at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the South Bronx.
  • Marjorie Stuckle, PhD '89, associate vice president of Behavioral Health Services (Bronx) at FEGS Health and Human Services.
  • Clark Williams, MSW '97, elected official with Santa Clara County, California. 

The conversation opened as Dexter discussed what led her to her leadership position at Safe Horizon, which provides critical counseling to clients in all five boroughs. Dexter states that people, specifically clients, are disempowered. "Remember, the same kind of justice you want for clients you want for yourself," she said. She also illustrated how some skills are especially pertinent to an agency's ability to serve clients. "I was surprised that I enjoyed the budget aspects and grant writing," she shared. These two skills have enabled her to help provide services at Safe Horizon. She advised students to use their POPS projects as a way to learn how to provide services to clients. 

Dutcheveci empowers her clients through counseling at the Critical Therapy Center. She described her road to this leadership position. She explained, "I initially got my master's in psychology and went into analytic training." However, she felt that psychology was not enough. "I wanted to incorporate social justice." Dutcheveci holds the important belief that clients need to be treated as humans. She started Critical Therapy Center because she saw a way of providing new services to people. She encourages students to think about administration, and the importance of administration in creating change in an agency. 

Palladino believes that an extended skill set is useful in working at high schools, and this has aided him in his position at the Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School. "I always loved working with people," said Palladino. He believes that "leadership is not a job title." People need to learn how to be neutral, and this skill has served him well in his position. Palladino told students, "There's some people you have a hard time working with. Figure out ways to deal with it!" He describes how, from a human resources view, good workers are hard to come by, and agencies want to keep competent employees. If students can successfully navigate politics, it can only benefit them in future positions.

Stuckle of FEGS emphasized the power of decision-making in a leadership position, an ability that social workers often want to have but lack. She feels that people should enjoy what they do. She said it is important for social workers to have a business sense. Most importantly, her advice for student: know yourself well, and the populations with which you can work.

Williams pointed out that much of the training at the Silver School prepared him to work with others and serves him well as an elected official. His advice for students is to have role models to provide guidance in the field, but also follow your own morals. "Be true to yourself," he declared. He also believes an important skill for a leader to have is well-defined ethics, as this often gets tested, particularly in politics.

The panelists agreed that having a mentor, administrative experience, and working in multiple settings makes potential social workers marketable for leadership positions. Leadership in social work is an area worth exploring for students motivated by their experience with clients in a clinical setting and interested in pursuing social justice and having the power to make change. 

Listen to the panel discussion.