A Developing Career
“I moved to Mexico in 2009 to a small town that had had basically one homicide in 20 years,” says Jenna McElroy, M.S.S. ’12, M.L.S.P. ’12. “Shortly after, the president of Mexico declared war on the narco cartels, and three moved into our neighborhood. The violence escalated really quickly.”
The experience, she explains, was politicizing. “It changed my thinking and helped me understand my privilege and question what it is that I'm doing in this world.”
The answer to that question—a career that would bring together policy work and community organizing—was what led McElroy to Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research.
For McElroy, field placements were among the highlights of her time at GSSWSR. “Getting into the field—getting that first-hand experience and learning what the real challenges are—is irreplaceable.”
Her first-year internship was with a community-organizing nonprofit that connected South Philadelphia’s undocumented Latino community to resources. There, McElroy learned firsthand about the struggles faced by people at risk of deportation—losing family members and not getting fair wages.
In her second year, McElroy interned in community legal services in Philadelphia, where she worked with parents accused of abuse or neglect. That position gave her an insider’s look at the work of lawyers in the system and a deeper understanding of the complex dynamic of poverty—“what it means to be a poor parent in a city and what their struggles look like.”
With such micro-level experiences, she decided to pursue a macro track at Bryn Mawr. “I realized I wanted to have a broader impact and address policies and implement changes to the system.”
“I knew that I wanted to be connected to immigration, and there was an opening with an organization in D.C. that does solidarity work with Latin America—as a development and operations coordinator. Development was a funny thing that happened.” And it took. Since graduating, she’s held a number of development roles, both as a staff member and volunteer, at a variety of organizations.
Today, a major gifts officer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, McElroy has seen many stops along the way. “I really did seek out every experience and opportunity I could grab,” she says. In addition to development positions at nonprofits serving the homeless, protecting San Francisco Bay, and providing programs for high school youth, she’s volunteered for an organization that provides humanitarian aid to migrants in the Sonoran Desert and another that supports education for the deaf in Nicaragua.
For McElroy, it’s that rich diversity of opportunity that attracted her to social work: “If I were meeting somebody who was considering social work, I would recommend for them to dive in. Get as much experience as possible and ask as many questions as you can. The field is so diverse: you can go into policy work, you can go into the clinical field, and then there's development and all of the things in between.”