Student News

Four NYU Silver MSW Students Awarded CSWE MFP Fellowships

Headshots clockwise from top left: Maritza Alva, Susan McKenzie, Aida Sidi, Orlando Rodriguez

Class of 2021 MSW students Maritza Alva, Paula Susan McKenzie, Orlando Rodriguez and Aida Sidi have been awarded Master's fellowships from the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Minority Fellowship Program (MFP). The one-year fellowship, which is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), provides a stipend, training, mentorship, and professional development supports to outstanding MSW students who are committed to providing behavioral health services to underserved racial/ethnic minority communities after they graduate.

Maritza Alva, who is in our two-year MSW pathway, said her own experience as an immigrant woman of color inspired her to focus on reducing disparities and improving behavioral health outcomes for racially and ethnically diverse people. She explained, “I grew up in communities surrounded by community love and support but unfortunately my loved ones never had access to mental health resources. My goal is to increase access to mental health services in our communities and ensure that we champion for equity in Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities.” 

After graduation, Maritza said, “My goal is to provide comprehensive and affordable mental health services to immigrant communities impacted by our broken immigration system. I also plan to conduct community workshops to share my knowledge on the importance of mental health, the effects of trauma on physical health, and how to practice self-care. I want to do this work because I want to provide my community with every resource possible to ensure we all reach our definition of success.” 

Maritza credited her Social Welfare Programs and Policy class with helping prepare her for this vital work by providing valuable information on current policies impacting low-income communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color, and how social workers must be at the front lines of social change by advocating and lobbying for that change. “During my time at NYU,” she added, “I have had the privilege to meet and learn from some incredible professors like Tiffany Younger, Jan Roberts, and Ava Schlesinger. Each has provided me with valuable knowledge I will carry with me when working with clients in the future.” 

The MFP Fellowship, she said, will enhance her readiness to serve her community. “I’ve already had the ability to meet some incredible people through this fellowship and I've been able to attend talks and workshops to further my knowledge,” she said, “CSWE is an incredible organization that is truly going above and beyond for its fellowship recipients.”

Paula Susan McKenzie, who goes by “Susan,” said that “the Master’s Minority Fellowship will allow me to assist in decreasing health inequities and improve behavioral healthcare outcomes for those African Americans further marginalized in their communities by the stigma placed on their chronic and pervasive mental health and substance use.” A student in our Extended One-Year Residence MSW pathway for employed social workers, she noted, “In my work, I have encountered many people struggling with co-occurring disorders and often, it seemed that the systems designed to treat them further exacerbated their problems, made their lives more fragile, and undermined my advocacy and effectiveness.” This made Susan passionate about addressing these inequities as an MSW. 

“I fervently read all I could about dual diagnosis treatment i.e., medications, interventions, criteria for initial care,” Susan said. “Traditional models and philosophies for treating co-occurring disorders tend to be confrontational, where substance use treatment requires total abstinence, and then for mental health, treatment involves the medical model, using psychotropic medications as the sole treatment strategy to ameliorate symptoms. They are exclusionary and require the individual to seek treatment from two separate complex entities. This issue is a daunting task for anyone and especially for those with chronic and pervasive mental health and substance use needs.” 

As a result, Susan is a proponent of an integrated approach to treatment of co-occurring disorders, including care coordination and training for providers across disciplines. “I will have a great opportunity to assist in furthering this work as a trained Harm Reduction Psychotherapist,” she said. “Such specific training will not only allow me to meet clients ‘where they are at’ but also work with them while providing a humanistic approach. Before I graduate, I will be a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor in the state of New York and hold a paralegal certificate in order to enhance my work as a Forensic Social Worker.” 

Orlando Rodriguez, who is in our two-year MSW pathway, said he was inspired to focus on reducing health disparities and improving behavioral health outcomes for racially and ethnically diverse communities by his prior experience working at a non-profit program that was not culturally responsive. “The program’s services did not acknowledge cultural or language barriers,” said Orlando. “What drove me to pursue social work was a desire to provide an outlet for people in a space where they feel comfortable in their identities, whether linguistic, racial, cultural, etc.” He is excited about the opportunity the MFP Fellowship is providing him to connect with likeminded students and practitioners of color so he can learn what they are doing in their respective cities, agencies, and placements.

After he graduates, Orlando hopes to provide culturally responsive mental health services to the Latinx community while, on the side, doing advocacy or community organizing work to make sure that more culturally responsive services are available. He said his current Field placement at Puerto Rican Family Institute, a New York State licensed mental health clinic, is helping to prepare him for that work. “While we are using Western, evidence-based practices like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I am doing hands-on, anti-oppressive work with Spanish speaking clients,” he explained. “I talk to them about religion, culture, and what healing looks like in that space for them.”

Orlando cited Adjunct Lecturer Amanda Mays, MSW ’05, as one of his professors at Silver who has been particularly influential. “I have taken two classes with her: Policy I last year and now Advanced DROP (Diversity, Racism, Oppression, and Privilege). She has been amazing in terms of teaching us anti-oppressive practices and pushing us to be curious and challenge things but also care about ourselves and make sure we're okay in the process.” In his final semester at Silver, Orlando said he is looking forward to taking the elective Practice with Spanish Language/Latino Families, which is taught in Spanish by Adjunct Professor Andrés Hoyos.

Aida Sidi, a student in our Advanced Standing MSW pathway who earned a BS at NYU Silver in May 2020, said “I am looking forward to being in community with other students and professionals committed to anti-oppressive work through the MFP Fellowship. I believe that BIPOC clinicians carry the resilience and wisdom to move the field of mental health in a direction that acknowledges the immense joy and strength of marginalized communities, and I hope to partake in clinical training that encourages me to cultivate the skills to do so.”

Aida said, “After I earn my MSW, I am interested in community organizing and mental health work that is intentional in supporting marginalized communities including BIPOC & LGBTQ+ youth and adults, immigrant communities, and current and former foster care youth. As a student of color in the field of social work, I am aware of the trauma that is held in historically marginalized communities. However, I am also aware of the tremendous joy and pride that flourishes within our communities ‒ and this is where I find my motivation.”

Aida’s Field placement experience last year at JCCA Preventive Services instilled in Aida a sense of urgency to work to dismantle systems of oppression. “At JCCA, I learned about the ways in which the macro (systems & policies) intersect with the micro (direct practice work). These systems, including the child welfare, housing, education, healthcare, and criminal legal systems, are intentionally structured in a way that contributes to the marginalization of individuals and communities.” Currently, Aida is placed at the Institute for Human Identity doing psychotherapy work with BIPOC and LGBTQ+ young adults.

Aida credited McSilver Associate Professor and Director of the School’s BS Program Robert L. Hawkins and Adjunct Assistant Professor Susan Pelosi for their guidance through Aida’s undergraduate experience and serving as references for the fellowship application. Aida added “One of my best friends and mentors, Celine Chong, who graduated from the BS program with me, has also provided me with so much support in navigating being a student at a predominantly white institution.”

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and MSW Program Director James I. Martin noted that NYU Silver had more students selected for the 2020-21 cohort of MFP Fellows than any other school. “We are so proud that Maritza, Susan, Orlando, and Aida were awarded this prestigious fellowship, which will enhance their capacity to serve racial and ethnic minority populations and advance health equity.”

To see a complete list of 2020-21 MFP Master’s Fellows, please visit the CSWE website.