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Tar Heel Talents: Isabelle Borduas

by Matthew Smith

Isabelle Borduas didn’t grow up with the dream of becoming a social worker.

“I went into social work with zero knowledge,” Borduas said. “I came from an incredibly small town that really had few social workers. I didn’t have any interactions with anyone that had been in the field.”

As project manager for the UNC School of Social Work’s Global Social Development Innovations Center, Isabelle Borduas has learned what it takes to help vulnerable and marginalized youth around the globe.

What the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work 12-month Advanced Standing Master’s of Social Work student did have, however, was a desire to help others.

“When I went into the field, I figured that I would be helping people, but the more I got into social work, the more I realized all of the different ways I could help people,” she said. “I found out I can do really almost anything with this degree.”

Borduas’ undergraduate career began at the University of South Carolina. She thought a career in psychology was in her future, but an advisor steered her toward social work after she expressed a desire to be more “hands on.”

“My advisor told me to just try it out for a semester,” Borduas said. “I took the introduction courses and learned that I was really in love with it. I’ve been doing social work ever since.”

Now her dream is finding a leadership role with a nonprofit with a focus on disability rights. Borduas, who is hard of hearing, wants to help others live independently.

“Working in the disability field is my goal,” she said. “I’m a big supporter of the independent living movement. I hope to be able to start a career in that field and explore, lead and guide the mission of independent living.

“I’ve realized that this is the community for me. Being disabled isn’t the same for each person; it’s always changing and fluctuating. There are so many ways to be an advocate for this community.”

Borduas is building the skills for her future career with the School’s Global Social Development Innovations (GSDI) Center. The research center, launched in 2017, focuses on improving the lives of vulnerable and marginalized youth around the globe.

With just 10 days between her undergraduate commencement ceremony and beginning her MSW program, Borduas had little time to learn about social work research. That didn’t stop her from joining GSDI.

Dr. (Rain) Masa was teaching one of my policy courses,” Borduas said. “On the first day he asked if anyone wanted to take on the project manager role with GSDI. I thought, ‘You know what? I could use the experience. I want to go into administration. I want that opportunity.’”

As part of GSDI, Borduas has organized meetings across the globe, learned about the research process, and helped organize the School’s annual Black History Month Research Series.

“My favorite thing has been working on one of our projects in Burundi,” Borduas said. “I didn’t think I’d ever go into work asking, ‘What time is it in Burundi?’ I’ve helped facilitate meetings between our researchers here and others over there. It’s also fun learning about the cultural differences between people when setting up meetings, agendas and language around topics like mental health.

“Research isn’t necessarily my focus. I had no idea about anything when it came to research, but now that I’m in it, I’m helping people, supporting them, and doing a lot of background work. I know much more about the research process and how important it is to social work.”

Borduas, who will walk across the stage for the second time as a college graduate this month, had time to reflect on the immense impact that UNC made on her life in just 12 months.

“In undergrad you’re taught a lot of theories about what you could be doing,” she said. “From my first day at UNC I was told, ‘You are going to be doing these things and you’re going to start today.’ I really like being challenged like that. It made me realize how much I can take on and that I can be a leader.

“UNC has pushed me further than I ever thought I could go. I’ve been here 12 months and I feel like I can handle anything that comes my way. It’s incredible to me to see how much I’ve changed, grown and learned.”

Tar Heel Facts

Name: Isabelle Borduas
Title: Global Social Developmental Innovations (GSDI) Project Manager
Hometown: Clifton Forge, Virginia
Colleges attended and degrees: Bachelor’s of Social Work (South Carolina); Master’s of Social Work (UNC)

Tar Heel Pride

Years working at UNC: 1
What I do at UNC: I am the project manager for GSDI. In that role, I provide support with communications for GSDI, help delegate tasks, plan for events, and provide my skills wherever they are needed. This can mean one day I am helping write a report, a desk review or putting together a presentation for an event and the next, I am planning meetings with people halfway across the world and trying to figure out time zones.
What I love about UNC: I love the variability and flexibility of my day-to-day. I enjoy being challenged and given new tasks to complete. I love that I am always doing something different and trying my hand at a new skill at UNC with the aid of incredibly supportive colleagues.
What’s your best advice for students? I want to remind my peers to not forget to take care of themselves. I know we can all be busy juggling difficult lives, but being able to step away is imperative to our health. Place those boundaries, have difficult conversations about your struggles, and let people know when you need to slow down and smell the roses.

Tar Heel Quiz

What are some of your hobbies? I am a plant enthusiast! I have too many indoor plants and a garden I put together every spring and summer. I like to refurbish furniture that I find at flea markets, I love taking day trips to random small towns, and I am a huge fan of trying to cook a new dish every week. Right now, I am learning how to make bibimbap!
Last thing you read for fun? My last read was “American Royals” by Katharine McGee.
What are you currently watching on TV? I am not a fan of T.V. shows or movies, but I did watch March Madness for women’s basketball!
What was your first job? My first job was sophomore year of college as a tutor for elementary students.
What’s your favorite meal? My favorite meal is any type of bowl — poke bowl, burrito bowl, grain bowl or bread bowl, I just love it when a meal can come deconstructed in a bowl.
What’s one thing people don’t know about you? I am an amateur art collector and have a gallery wall of more than 50 pieces!

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