Angelica Rivera, MSW ’23

Angelica Rivera stands in front of a metal fence along NYC's East River with the Manhattan skyline in the distance. It is evening and the city lights are shining against the dark sky. She has long tightly braided hair, is wearing a black sleeveless top and a white and black print long skirt. Her right arm is resting on the fence and a big black pocketbook is hanging over her left arm.Meet Angelica Rivera, MSW ’23, who was the student intern in Silver’s Office of Career & Professional Development (CPD) for the 2022-23 academic year, a Graduate Orientation Leader, and President of the school’s Students of Color Collective (SOCC), among other leadership roles. Angelica graduated from SUNY Binghamton in 2017 with her BA in English Literature and Composition and went on to work at the Community Navigator Program based at Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. In fall 2020, Angelica enrolled in Silver’s Extended One-Year Residency MSW Pathway for employed social workers, which entailed four semesters of part-time study followed by two semesters of full-time study.

Finding Her Calling in Social Work

Angelica identifies as a career changer. She completed one semester in law school but realized it was not for her. “It was absolutely petrifying for me to deviate from a highly respected profession in my culture. However, the prospect of the ‘what if’ was even more petrifying to potentially live with.” 

“At my core,” Angelica said, “I always recognized that my personal and professional aspirations revolved around building community, empowering people, and changing systems with and for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities. I discovered my calling in life because I finally ignored the external pressures and instead committed to internal work. I fell in love with the field of social work and decided to pursue my MSW because of my first job as a Community Navigator.” In that role, Angelica connected East Harlem youth and families with unmet needs to quality resources and services in the community. “I served as an intermediary between individuals, groups, and systems that govern their lives due to the historically contentious relationship between BIPOC communities and social service agencies. Although I was born and raised in West Harlem, I connected with the community members in El Barrio because I have also navigated these oppressive systems. When you can empathize with someone’s lived experience, your passion and commitment to their journey are on a different level.”

After Angelica’s first year in Silver’s MSW program and after four years in the Community Navigator Program, she yearned to expand her skills in a different setting. She turned to Silver CPD for support in finding a new job. “Sooah Kwak [Associate Director of Silver CPD] and Terry Nesmith [2021-22 Silver CPD MSW Intern] really helped me develop my resume, hone in on my skills and strengths, and ultimately address the imposter phenomenon that often arises for women of color.” With their assistance, she secured a new job as a 12th Grade Program Manager at iMentor. She supported BIPOC high school students with their post-secondary application process as a teacher, counselor, and mentor at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the South Bronx. “I always felt connected to this population because I can empathize with being a young person full of hopes, dreams, goals, and passions, but the world would consistently attempt to diminish that light. When students and mentees trust me enough to share that gift with me, it inspires me every day to continue fighting these oppressive systems with them and for them. I also wholeheartedly believe in the power of community because I would not be here today if it were not for the family, friends, mentors, colleagues, and more who have unconditionally supported me throughout my journey.”

Angelica worked at iMentor throughout her second year in the MSW program before she transitioned to being a full-time student for her final year and being selected for the Field placement with Silver CPD. “I am excited for the opportunity this placement provides for me to increase my macro skills and to help fellow students like Silver CPD helped me.”

Helping Peers Navigate their Career Paths

As the Silver CPD MSW Intern, Angelica has a hand in the many ways the office provides personalized, inclusive, and student-centered guidance, as well as resources, tools, and programs to prepare the most career-ready social workers in the field. With strong support from Sooah and Administrative Aide Grace DeFino, Angelica provides one-on-one coaching on topics ranging from resumes and cover letters to licensing and career paths; hosts the “My Social Work Journey” series, for which she interviews faculty, staff, students, and alumni; helps coordinate the Silver Success Series panels featuring Silver alumni who work in different settings in the same field of practice; speaks about career and professional in Practice classes; and helps promote the office’s programming via Instagram and email newsletters. “One of my responsibilities includes engaging with social media because we know that is a platform the majority of our constituents use,” she said. “I have really developed my Canva and YouTube skills!”

Angelica added, “The best part of my internship is having the courage and the freedom to redefine career and professional development. It is something that we are doing very intentionally and purposefully in this office because historically the concept of career and professional development has been rooted in elitist and exclusionary white patriarchal connotations. As our Silver CPD mission says, ‘We aim to promote personal, professional, and community growth…and serve as a bridge between students’ academic experiences, identities, and their professional paths.’”

Securing Unique NYU Fellowships

From the moment she arrived at Silver, Angelica sought out opportunities that the School and University offer students to exercise leadership and increase their capacity to effect change. In her first semester, she became a leader for three student organizations at Silver: a co-leader for Black Women’s Social Work Coalition, a co-leader for Silver Peer Support, and the Social Justice and Diversity Representative for the Graduate Student Association. The following semester, she applied and was selected for the 8th cohort of the university-wide NYU SSLD Fellowship, an 18-month leadership development program that prepares graduate students of color from across NYU to become changemakers in organizations across the social sector. Through the Fellowship’s combination of retreats, monthly workshops, individualized coaching, social events, and annual leadership summits, Angelica gained skills, knowledge, and networks to help her make a lasting impact in the social work field and her community. 

“In the SSLD Fellowship, I had the opportunity to meet students from other NYU schools and expand my network beyond Silver,” she said “There was a lot of socio-emotional support, and while my cohort are alumni of the program now, we are still very close. It was through the loving empowerment of SSLD that I had the confidence to apply for last Spring for Silver’s Adaptive Leadership Fellowship.” That 18-month fellowship, which includes a stipend, is highly competitive, especially for students who have not taken Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Adaptive Leadership in Human Services Institute Director Dr. Linda Lausell Bryant’s Exercising Leadership in the Nonprofit and Public Sectors class. “I wanted to take Dr. Lausell Bryant’s class but my schedule did not permit it. I decided to apply anyway and I put my heart into the application. Luckily, I got in!”

In the Adaptive Leadership Fellowship, Angelica said, “I learned that leadership is an activity. Just because you are in an authoritative role does not mean you are a leader. The fellowship demystified what a supervisor is, what a director is, what a boss is. Every expert was once a beginner and every expert can learn from a beginner as well. Lifelong learning is essential to the field of social work. I hope that once I am in that position – because I am manifesting – that I impart this philosophy into my colleagues.”

Celebrating her Intersectional Identities

At the start of fall 2021, Angelica became a Graduate Orientation Leader at IESL, providing peer support to incoming MSW cohorts. “I joined the orientation team because Silver is my home away from home. I did not have a positive experience at my undergrad so the orientation team served an integral role in my new beginning at Silver. However, as a student of color, I can also recognize the ways in which Silver has been harmful to me or to my colleagues who also have intersectional memberships in marginalized communities. My goal is to help provide a brave space for BIPOC students to not only survive, but thrive at Silver.”

The following fall, Angelica helped reactivate and was elected President of Silver’s Students of Color Collective (SOCC), which was dormant during the first two years of the pandemic. “I love SOCC because my intersectional identities were celebrated. I was surrounded by people who could empathize with the experience of sacrificing a part of themselves in order to gain a false sense of safety in their environment. I am Afro-Dominicana, which means that I am Black racially and Latina ethnically. The pride that I now have in my identity was developed after years of unlearning the internalized racism, colorism, texturism, featurism, and other isms that have been foundational to Dominican and American culture and history.” Angelica said that her unlearning process is also a major component of her leadership journey. “This is my first time being the President of a student organization so I battle with imposter phenomenon: Did I deserve this position? Should I be in this position? Am I right for this position? However, I am grounded by my amazing e-board and our collective experiences, values, and missions.”

Angelica also expressed appreciation for her network of support at Silver, especially her fellow extended students, many of whom are also Latine and Black. “What I love is that we are a sisterhood. We value each other’s strengths and we motivate each other. I have never seen so much camaraderie in a school. I almost did not believe it at first. When you have my lived experiences, you automatically have your defenses up. But I was finally able to let them down at Silver. I no longer perceive being vulnerable as weak. I now see it as the essence and reminder of our humanity.”

Looking Ahead

Angelica’s career goals throughout her social work journey include becoming a therapist, coach, professor, director, speaker, and author. “I yearn to create access for BIPOC communities by expanding the network of support that they typically do not have and affirming that BIPOC communities can proudly enter the spaces that once excluded them.” That said, Angelica sees limitless possibilities. “I used to call myself a ‘hot mess’ for envisioning myself in multiple spaces. I initially perceived this label as a joke. But this label is the product of internalized shame for not remaining on one pathway. Who says that your journey has to be linear? I am multi-passionate. My journey at Silver inspired me to reframe this erroneous narrative! I can be, deserve to be, and was called to be in all of these spaces!”