School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

V-C-U social work students and faculty member Basil Gooden pose before a Federal Policy Fellows seminar class.
Front row, from left, Sarah Meehan, Isabel McGuire-Ruiz, Lindsey Brown and Bryana Berry; standing, from left, McKenzie Rybak, Michaela Hatton, Calvin Anderson Jr., Hanan Kourtu, Ashley Stupak, John Ruane and Dr. Basil Gooden.

Basil Gooden knows all about sausage-making and pork barrels.

If any of the 10 social work students selected for the 2020 Federal Policy Fellows Program are unfamiliar with those political metaphors, they won’t be after participating in five seminars and a two-day visit to Washington, D.C., during the spring semester.

Gooden is the perfect teacher, taking over as director of a program now in its sixth year. He has his master’s and doctoral degrees in social work and is attached to the VCU School of Social Work as a first-year iCubed Visiting Scholar. 

But he also happens to have an extensive background in state and federal politics, having previously served – among other positions – as Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry; Virginia State Director for Rural Development at the United States Department of Agriculture; and Chief Deputy Director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

“As a social worker who has worked for four Virginia governors and served in the administration of President Barack Obama, I wanted to share my experiences to empower social work students to effectively engage in policymaking and the political arena,” says Gooden, who will be managing the program with co-coordinator Nicole A. Corley, Ph.D., social work assistant professor.

Fellows will learn strategic skills to impact policy in the legislative and administrative arenas. They will gain an understanding of various methods to effectively monitor, influence, and alter social policy. 

Seminars will focus on the power of political action, understanding the federal legislative policy landscape (aptly titled The Sausage Making, a reference to how legislation gets done), lobbying and advocacy organizations, understanding and communicating with politicians, and finalizing effective communications. (Pork barrel is a term that originated in the late 19th century to describe pet projects funded with government appropriations.)

This year’s program will provide a survey of issues related to sustainable food access, food sovereignty and socially just food systems – issues that are at the heart of Gooden’s work with the Sustainable Food Access Core at iCubed (Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation).  

Key program objectives include: 

  • Providing a deep-rooted understanding of sustainable food access, food sovereignty and socially just food systems; 
  • Providing opportunities for the Fellows to engage directly with advocacy organizations, governmental officials and agencies, and elected Congressional Representatives. 
  • Increasing the social work profession’s presence, power, influence and impact in the political and administrative arenas. 

The program will culminate in an all-expense paid trip to Washington on March 25-26 to engage with advocacy nonprofits, governmental agencies and Congressional representatives. 

The first day will focus on sustainable food and justice issues, with visits to the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, USDA’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment, Food Policy Action and the Aspen Institute’s Food and Society Program. Day two will feature, as schedules allow, visits with Virginia’s Congressional delegation, as well as other national legislators whose interests align with food, agriculture and social work.

For the first time, the FPF cohort has expanded to include master’s students, from both the clinical and social work program, planning and policy (SWAPPP) tracks. Here is the complete 2020 cohort:

  • Calvin Anderson Jr., B.S.W. student, upper level
    “I want to work with African Americans who are experiencing poverty and through my various internships, volunteering, and other efforts in the community I have seen first-hand how poverty can affect this population. I have seen how legislation can have an impact on a community and the people who inhabit that specific community.”
  • Bryana Berry, M.S.W. student, direct practice (clinical)
    “The future relies on policy to influence the transformation of social programs, education, and healthcare. As a student envisioning a future in military social work, the development of policies to improve the quality of life and a continuum of care for military personnel and their families is paramount.”

  • Lindsey Brown, M.S.W. student, direct practice (clinical) 
    “I will use the knowledge and skills acquired to bridge the gap between policy makers and vulnerable populations by advocating for policies that promote social and economic justice.”

  • Michaela Hatton, B.S.W. student, upper level
    “As a social worker with a passion for macro practice, understanding systems and how federal legislation impacts various vulnerable populations is crucial to ensure professional competency.”

  • Hanan Kourtu, M.S.W. student, SWAPPP (macro)
    “The implementation of policies is essential in setting up the infrastructural framework for countries to follow. This sparked my interest in policy work and how having a social work background offers a unique perspective and set of values that prioritize client needs. I believe this opportunity will align with my passion for gaining policy skills.”

  • Isabel McGuire-Ruiz, B.S.W. student, upper level
    “Social workers have a unique relationship with oppressed communities that are underrepresented in policy. I am passionate about making sure these communities are heard and protected through policy reform.”

  • Sarah Meehan, B.S.W. student, upper level
    “As a social worker, I want to work in disability policy, fighting for rights for people with disabilities. Specifically, I hope to help create inclusive policies that benefit people with disabilities. Participating in this program would provide the opportunity for my passion for policy to grow by exposing me to policy work and other professionals who are passionate about this work.”

  • John Ruane, B.S.W. student, upper level
    “The NASW Code of Ethics ethical standard 6.04 calls social workers to social and political action, and as such, I want to learn as much as possible about policies and how to use them as well as modify them to better serve society.”

  • McKenzie Rybak, B.S.W. student, upper level
    “Federal policy sets the standard for how people experience their environments. As a dedicated CNA (Certified Nurse’s Aide), driven student, and future public health advocate, I am ready for political action.”

  • Ashley Stupak, M.S.W. student, SWAPPP (macro)
    “I believe that policy is the root solution to combating social injustice. Throughout my social work education, I have developed a passion for environmental justice, and plan to dedicate my social work career to developing policies and implementing programs that directly benefit communities most affected by the climate crisis.”

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