Meet Natalie Gutierrez, MSW ’23

Natalie Gutierrez headshot.A Dominican-American native of Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood, Natalie Gutierrez, MSW ’23, always knew that she wanted to do social justice work that impacts her communities. As an MSW student and one of 16 members of NYU Silver’s 2022 cohort of Adaptive Leadership Fellows, she is gaining the rigorous education she needs to answer her calling. 

After Natalie earned her BA from SUNY Purchase in Arts Management and Sociology, which included courses in nonprofit business and critical race theory, she went on to become an advisor at NYU’s College Advising Corps (CAC), helping youth from underrepresented communities pursue higher education.

As an NYU employee, Natalie began to think about graduate school, considering sociology of education, school counseling, and educational leadership, as well as social work. But ultimately she realized she was meant to be a social worker. “A lot of social workers have impacted my life and I worked with two social workers at CAC ” she said. “It was like social work was following me. When I was deciding where to apply, my friends said to me ‘You’re a social worker. Why are you running from this?’” 

Natalie has never regretted her decision. Through her coursework, Field learning, and fellowship, she has developed the knowledge and skills to provide holistic support and effective advocacy for the young people to whom she plans to dedicate her career.

Pursuing a Flexible Path

So she could continue to work full-time at CAC, Natalie enrolled in Silver’s Extended MSW pathway, a flexible, three- to four-year option that enables students to complete an individualized study plan with their academic advisor. She finished most of her coursework in her first two years, spreading her classes over the fall, spring, and summer semesters. In her final year, she only needed to take one class per semester – Social Work Practice III in the fall and Social Work Practice IV in the spring – as well as complete 600 hours of Field instruction. The reduced course load allowed her to not only work at CAC but also to take on an additional role at KIPP NYC charter school network as a Workforce Advisor for high school alumni.

Natalie is doing her final-year Field placement at the Bronx Lab High School at the NYC Department of Education’s Evander Childs Campus, which consists of six different high schools. She counsels students in temporary housing, which includes those in foster care, in the shelter system, and “doubled up” with other families. Natalie said she is getting excellent supervision from her Field Instructor, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker she previously worked with at CAC, and feels well prepared for the role by her NYU Silver education to date. “Silver has provided me with a strong understanding of diagnoses, interventions, and human behavior from a clinical lens as well as of macro social work and social justice,” she said. “I am well acquainted with both the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] and the context of housing insecurity, the ways it may show up symptomatically, and also how it differs with each student.”

Advancing Post-Secondary Access for All

One of Natalie’s favorite experiences at Silver has been her participation in the school’s Adaptive Leadership in Human Services MSW Fellowship. The stipended fellowship program features weekend seminars on adaptive leadership, a framework that provides strategies and tools to help practitioners bring about necessary change within organizations and communities as well as coaching and guidance to help fellows directly apply what they have learned through interventions in their Field placement agencies or other organizations with which they are involved.

Along with two other fellows in her cohort, Natalie has focused on the adaptive challenge of expanding post-secondary options for high school students in the public school system. “Many students graduate from high school without any options to sustain themselves if they are not going to college,” she said. “Given the fact that college has systematically been set up to exclude young Black and Brown people, it is very obvious to me we are sending these kids out of school systems to be stuck in low-wage jobs.” As part of the fellowship, Natalie has been doing research on workforce development and the New York City Department of Education’s decision to stop funding training in the trades. She and her colleagues are now exploring interventions to create new opportunities within the school system.”

Looking Ahead

Once Natalie graduates in May, she has a full-time position as a Workforce Advisor lined up at  KIPP NYC. Expanding on her current work, she will be helping KIPP high school graduates who are not interested in going to college to get into Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in areas like construction, technology, and health. She also hopes to work part-time providing therapy, including group therapy with youth, and would like to be an adjunct professor as well, “down the line.” For now, she said, with her MSW degree in sight and her job secured, “I feel very lucky and grateful.”