Army Veteran Judith Ignacio Aims to Continue to Serve As an MSW

Judith Ignacio headshot. Her long, straight dark hair hangs down over her left shoulder. She is wearing a violet blazer over a white mock turtleneck
After six years as a U.S. Army Unit Supply Specialist, a commitment to service and a desire to effect change within the military motivated veteran Judith Ignacio, MSW ’23 to pursue her Master of Social Work. 

While in the Army, Judith said, “I came to realize that there were a lot of things in the military I wished I could address but I didn’t know how.” She cited reporting sexual harassment within the ranks and changing the culture where high ranking officers were often dismissive of enlisted service members seeking information as examples.  Thanks to her NYU Silver education, and particularly her courses in Social Welfare Policy and Clinical Social Work with Military Service Members and Veterans, she feels prepared to make change from within as a military social worker after graduation.

Finding Her Path to Social Work

During her deployment, she said, the questions started resonating more and she began talking with an Army Behavioral Health Officer. “He not only helped me with my personal challenges but he also shared what his work entails. That’s what first got me thinking about social work. Then, when we came back from the deployment, I was having a hard time transitioning and he helped me think about my future. He said ‘find the thing that makes you feel that you have meaning.’ That’s when I started to really do my research and think I might want to go back to school.” 

Soon after speaking to the Behavioral Health Officer, Judith got a job at AHRC New York City, an agency that supports people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. “I didn’t think I was going to stay there long. I never saw myself working with that population, but I ended up loving it,” she said. Judith’s colleagues recognized her enthusiasm and insight and encouraged her to go back to school so she could hone her skills. “That’s when I finally decided to apply to NYU and was accepted.” She is now in her next-to-last semester of the Extended One Year Residency (OYR) MSW pathway, which involves two years of part-time study and one-year of full-time study. 

Judith’s first semester was in Fall 2020, when classes were remote due to the pandemic. “I didn’t think going to school that way was going to be great, but it ended up working really well,” she said. “At the time, I was helping AHRC transition to doing work remotely so as I was learning how to use Zoom for school, I was able to apply those skills to work.”

Realizing She Belongs 

In addition to getting a handle on the technology, Judith also took two classes in her first semester that reinforced her decision to pursue her MSW. “I had Clinical Social Work with Military Service Members and Veterans with Adjunct Assistant Professor Wendy Bassett and I loved it,” said Judith. “That’s the class that made me go ‘okay, this makes sense.’ She made clear that the issues I was concerned about are legitimate issues that service members and veterans have been going through and that we, as social workers, can do something about them. That class as well as my Policy I class with Adjunct Associate Professor Olatunde Olusesi  empowered me to speak up more. For our final Policy assignment, Dr. Olusesi had us pick an issue that we’re passionate about. I chose reporting sexual harassment and assault within the military and I was able to really delve into it.”

While Judith continued to work full-time as a Community Support Supervisor at AHRC during her first two years in the program, she resigned her position at the start of her final year to dedicate herself to her classes and field placement. She is doing her internship this year at Care Design NY, an agency that, like AHRC, serves people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. “At AHRC,” she said, “I used to work in a day program. Now, in my internship, I am doing case management and also helping with the enrollment team, so I’m learning a different side of working with a very similar population.”

She explained that she chose to attend NYU Silver because “From all my research, NYU is very veteran friendly. I wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable and seen in school and I do here. I started going to the student veterans association and walked in the [Veterans Day] parade with them. It was nice. I felt like I was with my community again.”  

Looking Ahead

As Judith looks towards graduation, she feels well prepared to have a meaningful impact as an MSW. “All my professors have been great and every time I take a class, I feel more prepared and more empowered,” she said. “I can’t wait to put my skills to work!”

Once she graduates, Judith expects to go back into the military. “That was always my plan,” she said. “I got out in 2020 so I could focus on school with the intent of going back in and serving as a social worker. I want to work at the mezzo level, providing educational programs to address the pressing issues that service members face.”