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What is one of your favorite memories as a VCU student?
When I first saw the campus, I loved the integration of the university and classroom buildings with the beautiful Greek Revival architecture of that part of Richmond. The vigor of the campus blended so nicely with the history of the city. I felt immediately at home in Richmond.
How did your experience as an English major inform your career path?
As a college student, I tried a couple of majors, graduating in 1972 with a degree in English and a minor in mass communications. I wasn’t sure of my precise career path, but those were the academic areas I loved. Graduating in 1972, the world was in turmoil and social change was blooming everywhere. Ultimately, I was drawn to a position as a social worker in the Richmond Department of Social Services. There I saw a world of challenges that I was inspired to bring some impact to. After a few years in local social services, I transitioned into providing mental health services at community services boards (the local agencies that provide mental health, developmental and substance abuse services). There I found my passion. I decided to go to graduate school and completed my Master of Social Work at the VCU School of Social Work in 1980. Obviously English major skills were helpful in a graduate program, where there was lots of writing and public policy analysis to be done. I think that once you have a subject that you really care about, you can most effectively apply your communication skills.
Can you tell us about your work with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health?
After graduate school, I worked a few years as a mental health clinician in local government and in a private hospital and completed the post-graduate requirements to be a licensed clinical social worker. But while the clinical work was very meaningful, I felt drawn to the bigger picture. I learned of a position in state government managing a new federal grant to the state that would improve the system that serves children. I was hired for that position by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health. Managing the grant exposed me to the intersection of federal and state governments. There was a significant opportunity to use and hone my English major skills. I held a number of progressively responsible positions with that department until I retired as director of child and family services. I learned that my skills and my level of satisfaction were best when applied at the state level, bringing improvements that would help those who help others, such as innovations in public policy and increased funding and training to support the work of local clinicians. Communications skills were helpful in preparing competitive grant applications, writing documents that helped the agency advance its policy initiatives, analyzing legislation being considered by the Virginia General Assembly that would affect the agency and the people it serves, conducting legislative studies and writing study reports as required by the Virginia General Assembly, and developing training programs to support the statewide workforce that provides mental health services.
If you could give advice to a current VCU student, what would it be?
Be proud of the amazing growth of VCU! If you are an English major, be open to the many ways your skills may be applicable to support a cause, issue or business that gives you meaning and purpose. Finally, think of your career as a journey, rather than a destination.