Meet Nadine Raia, MSW ’22
At NYU Silver’s Class of 2022 convocation ceremony, Nadine Raia, LMSW, led the academic procession, carrying the school banner into the historic United Palace theater and onto the stage with faculty and honored guests behind her. One month later, she was already fulfilling her dream as a therapist at New York Center for Living, working with adolescents and young adults with substance use and co-occurring mental health issues. She had come a long way since she entered Silver’s 16-month MSW degree pathway in January 2021, three decades after she earned her undergraduate degree in journalism.
Nadine explained that prior to applying to Silver, she had a long and very happy career as a photo director at magazines, raised two wonderful children with her husband, and found fulfillment in volunteer work. Over the years, she volunteered with children and adults at Winslow Therapeutic Riding Center and taught yoga and mindfulness to women in court appointed drug rehabilitation programs, formerly incarcerated homeless men preparing for job interviews, older adults with mobility challenges, and adolescents with eating disorders, among others.
In recent years, Nadine said, “The scale tipped and while I loved my job, it didn’t bring the joy that I really needed in my life. I realized that my heart was really where my volunteering was.” Still, Nadine said, “taking that leap of faith is difficult, especially when you’re established and you have that routine. But then the pandemic hit at the same time I was recovering from surgery and undergoing chemo for breast cancer, and the company I was working for went bankrupt. I said to myself ‘This is a sign; it’s now or never.’ Without telling even my husband, I submitted my application to NYU Silver. It was such an exciting surprise for us both when I received my acceptance.”
Nadine said she never doubted that earning an MSW from NYU was the path to finding professional fulfillment. “I always wanted to go to NYU and I always had social work envy. When I would meet somebody who was a social worker, they were like a rock star to me and I would say ‘please tell me everything about it.’” She added that the facilitator of her support group while she was going through cancer treatment had earned her MSW from Silver. “She impacted me so tremendously. She helped me in the darkest, most horrible times of my life and I wanted to be able to do that for other people, to help them heal.”
As excited as Nadine was to begin her MSW studies, she was also anxious about returning to school after so many years away. She worried about everything from using course registration technologies that didn’t exist when she was an undergraduate, to having rusty research and writing skills, to feeling out of place among much younger classmates. Some of those concerns were allayed by one of Silver’s registration advisors who shared that she herself had earned her MSW many years after earning her bachelor’s degree. “I was so grateful to have that mentor,” Nadine said. What really helped, however, was connecting with other Silver students in a similar situation. “When I actually started meeting people who were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and coming back to get their MSW, I just started collecting them and saying ‘you have you have to be part of my circle.’”
At first, Nadine and the other older students she met formed a WhatsApp group. “We all had different backgrounds, ranging from theater to marketing to finance, but we were all changing our careers in mid- or later-life and readjusting to the academic world at the same time we were caring for children and in some cases aging parents among other obligations.”
In the fall of 2021, WhatsApp group member Carolyn Cantor, MSW ’23, had the vision to make the group a recognized student organization. With support from NYU Silver’s Office of Inclusive Engagement and Student Life, the “Silver Silvers” were formed with Nadine and Carolyn as co-presidents. According to the official description, the organization “provides a space of connection and support to students who are 40+. In addition, we work with the school to create programming geared towards issues of interest to older students. We welcome people of all backgrounds, races, gender expression and abilities in our effort to create a vibrant and diverse age-affirming community.” Fittingly, their faculty advisor is Associate Professor and MSW Program Director Ernest Gonazales, who is an expert in productive aging and Director of Silver’s Center for Health and Aging Innovation.
Today, Silver Silvers has moved from WhatsApp to a members-only Facebook group, which allows them to archive and search content, as well as an Instagram page on which to interact with members and supporters. While Nadine has graduated, the group has strong leadership in place for the 2022-23 academic year with Carolyn continuing as a co-president along with Nicole Koch, MSW ’23.
Even beyond her involvement with the Silver Silvers, Nadine said her NYU Silver experience lived up to all her expectations. “I loved every moment of it,” she said. Among her favorite classes was The Human-Animal Bond in Clinical Social Work Practice taught by Dr. Katherine Compitus. “The energy that she brings into her classes is fantastic,” Nadine said about Dr. Compitus. She added that all of her Social Work Practice professors were “phenomenal”: Meredith O’Boyle for Practice I/II, Laura Hickey for Practice III, and Dr. Susan Gerbino for Practice IV.
Another highlight of Nadine’s NYU Silver experience was being among the MSW students selected to participate in the Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders Focused Learning Opportunity (FLO). Directed by Adjunct Professor Christine Fewell, the year-long FLO incorporates Field education in an agency licensed by New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports, related coursework, and monthly seminars providing group supervision and lectures on topics including assessment and diagnosis, substance use disorder treatment options, 12-step groups, harm reduction, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relapse prevention.
“Professor Fewell is amazing and my FLO was my family,” Nadine said. “We were together for the whole second year. Beyond getting specialized training, we were each other’s advisory board.”
As part of the FLO, Nadine did her second year Field placement working with adults with substance use disorders. She explained “My client’s lives were damaged; they had lost their families and their jobs. I worked with them to help them overcome their substance use and to rebuild their lives and the trust they had lost.”
The training Nadine received prepared her well for her job at New York Center for Living, a position she describes as “the most perfect fit. I am working with adolescents and young adults, which I love doing. It’s exciting to work with people while they are young, before substance use has significantly damaged their lives, and to be able to help them avoid a lot of pain. I am there to guide and support my clients and help them not get bogged down by shame and regret. We all make mistakes; it's what we learn and take away from our mistakes that is important. My clients all deserve happiness. It’s my job to help them move forward so they can have full, beautiful lives.”
Reflecting back on her NYU Silver education, Nadine said “I’m so proud that I’m an NYU Silver graduate. I found in my interviews that it really does carry a lot of weight. It takes you up a notch!”