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Student discovers true calling and passion for social work

Kathryn Kevin spent much of her childhood dismissing any urges to be a social worker. Although she admired the profession, she also knew just how challenging the work could be. After all, her grandmother had practiced in Oklahoma during the Depression, and her mother had worked in child welfare in New York City before leaving practice altogether. Both, she said, always presented a realistic lens of the job.

“I really had only thought of social work as being direct practice, and I just didn’t think that was for me,” she said.

Yet, this May, Kevin will be among the 150 or so graduates expected to receive their MSW from UNC’s School of Social Work. After receiving an undergrad degree in liberal studies, Spanish and anthropology, living abroad, and working in different settings, the Raleigh resident said she finally realized her desire to help others outweighed any uncertainties about a social work career.

“I just couldn’t shake the fact that I kept being drawn to work in communities that related to social justice and helping,” she said.

Kevin discovered her true calling and passion for social work in 2006, after accepting a position as the higher education coordinator for El Pueblo in Raleigh. Among other advocacy efforts, the nonprofit works with Latino youth around issues such as health education, college preparation, civic engagement, and leadership development. She found inspiration in her new role. After all, as an adolescent, she’d taken refuge within her own community youth group and as a result, discovered a space that surrounded her with caring adult mentors.

“That youth group sort of changed my whole life,” she recalled. “Having supportive and positive peers and adults who were a guiding presence in my life was so important.”

Her work with El Pueblo further fueled her interest in “youth-led spaces,” she said. But after seven years there, including as youth program director, Kevin also realized that so many of the young people she encountered didn’t just need educational and leadership skills—they needed emotional and mental health support. Some even needed grief counseling. But to help address those needs, she would have to go back to school.

“I realized I really wanted more tools and more education so that I could better manage these spaces and be more accountable to the young people I was serving,” she said.

In 2011, Kevin enrolled in the School of Social Work’s Triangle Distance Education Program, which allowed her to remain employed and to pursue her MSW at the same time. This year, with help from a $3,500 scholarship from the School’s Alumni Development Fund, Kevin was able to enroll as a full-time student.

Although such a commitment meant leaving El Pueblo, Kevin has continued to hone her social work skills through a year-long internship with the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. The agency offers students “mentoring, tutoring, advocacy, enrichment, leadership training, and scholarship support services.”

The internship, along with her classwork, has given her the framework she needs to support youth in a much more holistic way, she said. “I really love working with Latino youth, but I also feel very passionate about building relationships between communities. So that’s another thing that’s been mulling around in my head.”

Regardless of the path she chooses, Kevin is thrilled to be entering a profession she once wasn’t so sure about. And she’s pretty certain that her mother, who died a few years ago, would be, too.

“Even with all the difficulties she faced, I think she definitely identified as a social worker and that it shaped who she was,” Kevin said. “I also think that she would be happy that I will be doing something that I feel will help to make our world a better place.”

For more information about fundraising priorities and the impact of private giving at the School of Social Work, please contact: Mary Beth Hernandez, associate dean for advancement,