Alumni Panel: Careers in Leadership

On February 16, six NYU Silver School of Social Work alumni shared with students lessons they had learned on leadership over the course of their careers. Silver School students eagerly asked questions and alumni offered practical advice on everything from networking to tackling professional challenges to finding one's passion.

The alumni panel participants were:

  • Karen Campbell, MSW '91, director of the social services department and the Dr. Lorraine Marchi/NAVH Client Assistance Program, Lighthouse International
  • Phil Coltoff, MSW '64, Katherine W. and Howard Aibel Visiting Professor and Executive-in-Residence, NYU Silver School of Social Work
  • Susan Conceicao, MSW '83, director of psychosocial services, MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care
  • Agnes Halarewicz, MSW '01, director, Next Stage Senior Care Services
  • Jeffrey Palladino, MSW '00, assistant principal, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
  • Amy Rosenberg, MSW '92, associate director, Program in Human Sexuality, NYU Langone Medical Center

For many panel participants, a leadership position was not an aspiration at the start of their careers. In 2002, Palladino co-founded the high school The Bronx Guild: A Big Picture Learning School. To have an operational school, Palladino said his team worked hard, had to make important decisions, and he soon "felt the responsibility" of their work.

In 2006, he received his New York State administration license and became the school's co-director and assistant principal. "I didn't want to go into leadership or I didn't know I wanted to," said Palladino. "It just happened because I was so passionate about my work." 

Campbell suggested students push themselves to see what they can do and what they are afraid to do. "Be ready to take calculated risks," she said.

Before her current position at Lighthouse International, Campbell became the director of the School of Social Work for Adelphi University's Manhattan Center. She had years of experience as a psychotherapist as part of NYU's Counseling and Behavioral Health Services, but Campbell admitted she did not have much administrative training. She had to learn on the job and was able to have a successful career at Adelphi.

Rosenberg told students, "If there is a void, jump in and start doing the work." At NYU Langone, she began supervising the fourth-year psychology residents when no one else was in that role. She began to expand the program and because she was already doing the work, she received a new title.

The panelists told students they did not have to wait until they advanced their careers to take leadership roles. Coltoff noted that being the boss and being a leader do not always have to go hand in hand, and there are opportunities everywhere to do good work and test oneself. He advised students to learn about their organization, help it get involved in new areas, and use their relationship-building skills. 

Halarewicz said another way for people to take a leadership role at a nonprofit organization is to get involved in policy and advocacy work, and to learn about the organization's funding sources and how money is spent. 

When the floor was opened to questions, one student asked -- if you eventually want to hold a leadership position -- whether it was better to take a job out of graduate school focusing on clinical work or a more administrative role. Multiple panelists suggested students take a job with a clinical focus. Campbell quoted a former faculty member who said that the first job should allow someone to hone clinical skills and everything will follow.

Campbell also called networking "critical" and said the personal contact "carries a lot of weight." She noted that mentors can be valuable resources and discussed how an executive coach has provided her support and insight.