Nearly six years ago, Glamarys Acevedo was certain she had chosen the career path that was right for her. A graduate of Campbell University with a degree in kinesiology, she was eager to put her new skills to use in the physical therapy field. She’d even landed a job as a physical therapy aide with a clinic where she had previously interned.
“But after a year there, I just didn’t feel the way I wanted to help people was being fulfilled in that role and in that capacity,” said Acevedo, a Theimann and Dean’s Scholar and final year student in the Master of Social Work/Master of Public Health dual degree program. “I needed more.”
Soon after, Acevedo applied for and was selected for a year of service with AmeriCorps. Although she had hoped to nail down a position in a community health center, she was eventually placed with the Maternity Care Coalition, a nonprofit in Philadelphia that offers early childhood resources and parenting programs to families and individuals in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, infant mortality, health disparities, and changing immigration patterns. The placement was somewhat of a leap of faith for Acevedo. She had been adamant that she wasn’t interested in working with mothers and young children. But an official with AmeriCorps encouraged her to apply for the position anyway.
“The nonprofit was led by social workers, and I was so impressed and interested in the work that they were doing,” she said. “So I soon realized that yes, this is my passion, and this is the population I want to work with and the particular topic I care about. This is what I’ve been seeking.”
After spending several years mainly in low-resource communities of color performing community outreach, education workshops and home visiting around topics such as birth and lactation support, Acevedo said she was even more convinced that she was where she was supposed to be. She felt comfortable in the work because it combined the language and skills of social work and public health, and it was critically important because it challenged community inequities.
Nevertheless, Acevedo, who identifies as Afro Latina, said she struggled with the fact that the leadership within the organization was not representative of the clients they were serving.
“That really was the turning point for me in wanting to pursue my dual degree,” she said. “I recognized that our leadership wasn’t diverse. When leadership looks like the community they’re serving, decisions and the way leading is conducted will be different because of the variety of perspectives and lived experiences voiced in the room. I realized that the only way I was going to get to sit at the table and play a role in leadership was to go back and get my degree.”
Acevedo, who will graduate in December, is confident that she made the right decision to return to school and that the dual degree program has prepared her for work and perhaps for a leadership role, especially within communities serving women of color.
“One of the things that I’ve learned from both the social work and public health side is about approaching communities from a strengths-based place and finding a solution within that framework,” she said. “It’s about working with people and not coming to them from above and finding solutions for them.”
Acevedo is particularly interested in focusing attention on advocacy and racial equity around prenatal and post-partum care, and birth and lactation support in lower-resourced neighborhoods. To that end, she enrolled this past fall in The Mary Rose Tully Training Initiative, a year-long lactation training program offered through the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute— an opportunity that probably would not have been available to her if not for the scholarships she received through the School of Social Work, she said.
“I’m really grateful for the scholarships because they freed up funds for me to pursue other training initiatives within the university,” she said. “In the long run, I think this training will really help me with the work that I’m doing and hopefully help me to better serve the community that I want to serve.”