Working Toward Real Change
“I went into social work because I believe in the values of social work,” says Tia Burroughs ’05, M.S.S. ’08, M.S.L.P. ’08. “I believe in social equity, I believe in social change, and I believe in empowering people and giving them the tools to improve their lives.
“But that's not enough: I believe we have to affect systems if we want to see real change in the world.”
Starting out at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR), Burroughs had “a little bit of an advantage,” she explains. “I was an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr and had the opportunity to study with some Social Work professors. So I got to know the professors in advance, and the entire feeling of the School seemed very supportive. The School really opened up opportunities to learn.”
Among those opportunities were two field placements that traced very different paths open to social workers: Prevention Point Philadelphia was all about direct service to clients, and People’s Emergency Center, where she found herself advocating on Capitol Hill, focused on policy.
When she first contemplated entering the field, she expected to follow that first path and become a clinician. But as she took more courses, she realized that she was more interested in bringing about systemic, macro-level change. And her work as a senior consultant and program manager at Equal Measure gives her the chance to do just that.
Equal Measure partners with foundations, government entities, and other nonprofits to advance social change by offering program design, strategy evaluation, capacity building, technical assistance, communications support, and narrative change. Burroughs’ work pairs her with one of those partners—the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Her focus is the Foundation’s New Connections program, which aims to increase the diversity of its programming through research funding and career development for professionals from historically underrepresented groups.
Day to day, Burroughs’ work varies but centers on grant-making and professional development. “We offer research grants to people from underrepresented populations in academia,” she explains, “and I manage the grantees. I make sure they’re working towards their outcomes and that they’re at our professional development events. And when they have issues, I help them troubleshoot with our program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.”
Over the long haul, her work is about promoting diversity and equity in research and academia. As the country’s demographics change, Burroughs explains, the research agenda should change with it. “We want to make sure that different minority populations are included in health and health research.”
“People who come from underrepresented populations understand the nuances and the things that affect their population and their families. So when they go into research, it can affect the type of research that gets funded,” she says. “And having those different voices can affect policy. It can literally help people live healthier lives.”
“The flexibility the degree offers is great. I've been able to do macro-level work, to work in evaluation, to evaluate government-funded programming. Even now, if I wanted to, I could go back and take a few courses and get a licensed social work degree and become a licensed clinical social worker.”
—Tia Burroughs '05, M.S.S./M.S.L.P. '08