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Ph.D. Student Annie Perepezko Receives CSWE Doctoral Student Policy Fellowship

November 9, 2023
Annie Perepezko

Annie Perepezko, a second-year doctoral student at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR), has received the CSWE Doctoral Student Policy Fellowship for the 2023-2024 academic year. The Fellowship is awarded by the Council on Social Work Education, the Society for Social Work and Research, and the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work. Perepezko is one of 10 students nationwide to receive this fellowship. 

In the following Q&A, Perepezko shares with us what she hopes to gain from this fellowship and why she chose to pursue a Ph.D. in Social Work at the GSSWSR. 


Can you tell me a bit about this fellowship and why you applied for it?

The policy fellowship is a year-long program where I will be matched with a mentor who works in a government office, and I will work alongside them and learn how to engage in policy advocacy. I will also attend webinars with the other fellows and two in-person conferences: CSWE’s 2023 Annual Program Meeting at the end of October and a policy forum in spring 2024.


I applied for this fellowship because macro-level work is the missing piece of my social work experience. I had a clinical focus in my M.S.W. program and through work experience realized I really liked thinking at a macro level and I think a lot of problems should be solved at this higher level. That kind of work was something that I had always been thinking about, so when this opportunity came along where I would get to work with a mentor who is in that world and who can teach me how to write policy briefs and advocate for different issues in government, I knew I wanted to apply. You want to have people who have had contact with clients and who know what’s going on at the ground level be involved in writing policies and thinking about systemic change, and I like that the fellowship has this angle of trying to get social workers more involved in that process by providing the training that can bring social workers to the policymaking table. 


What was your first job after receiving your M.S.W?

My first job after completing my master’s was as a child advocate social worker and I was in that role for about three years. That was honestly my first exposure to how problematic things are at a systemic level. I was working with so many clients and there was a shift in Philadelphia’s child welfare system at the time where it had at first been more centralized in the Department of Human Services (DHS) and then community umbrella agencies started to take on more of the investigations and case management. Working in the child welfare system made me realize there are a lot of things that need to be improved in the system and it is unfortunate that so many kids are negatively impacted by how this system is designed. My first job really showed me that I wanted to learn how to make change at the macro level.


What is your current job? 

I currently work at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the Roberts Center doing school-based research throughout Philadelphia as a School Intervention Coach. In this role, I coach school counselors and teachers on implementing an aggression prevention program for fourth and fifth-grade students. We’re currently in our fifth year of a clinical trial and it’s been really awesome because I get to meet people in schools all over the city and work with different kids. We also have a parent workshop component, so we get to work with parents as well. Doing this kind of work helped me realize that I wanted to do research on my own eventually and that’s why I started the Ph.D. program. 


What research interests do you hope to pursue as a doctoral student?

I’m generally interested in looking at the gaps between policies and practices at the systemic level, and I think a lot of that has to do with how policies are written but also the discretion of people on the ground who are implementing them, which I think could result in innovative practices, but it could also lead to clients and students being treated differently. Specifically, I’ve always been interested in social-emotional learning and moving away from discipline and toward more restorative interventions. I’m looking to focus my research on differences in school policies and practices.


What do you hope to gain from this fellowship?

I hope to gain the practical experience of working with somebody who is in the policy world and has that expertise. I did work in constituent services for a representative in my area which was awesome because I was able to learn what it was like to listen to neighbors and all of the issues that come up for them and what the state representative or city council member can do and see more of the bureaucracy in why things take so long to get done. I really just want that mentorship and practical skill training and I think it’s so great that there are going to be nine other fellows who are interested in doing this type of work as well. I hope to learn from the other fellows and their experiences and ideally write a stronger dissertation with this newfound knowledge. 


How has the GSSWSR supported you in applying for this fellowship?

Dr. Sousa had sent out information about the fellowship last year, so she was the reason that I even knew it existed, and then I had been kind of keeping track of when the application was going to open because I knew I wanted to do it this year. The application didn’t open until the end of July or early August and the deadline was also in August, so I had to quickly reach out to Dr. Bressi and Dr. Vartanian for recommendations because I needed two recommendations. If they hadn’t been able to do that efficiently I wouldn’t have been able to complete the application, so I really appreciated their swift responsiveness during the application process. Taking the required social policy foundations course also gave me more of that background knowledge and reminded me that my interest in policy was there and something that I wanted to pursue. 


You mentioned you were on the clinical track in your M.S.W. program. Can you tell me more about that experience?

Yes, so I was in the Advanced Standing program at Penn and my undergraduate degree was also in social work at NYU. I learned a bit about macro social work in the program but almost everyone there wanted to do therapy, so I think it just took me having different experiences to realize that’s not really what I wanted to do with my career. I like working with people and I think it’s so important to have that connection, but I knew therapy wasn’t the way I wanted to work with people. I did the clinical track at Penn because it was only one year and I think I realized after taking my first policy class there that maybe I should think about macro, but it was too late to make the switch. My first interview after grad school was with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families for a policy analyst position and it was a good interview, but I remember the interviewer calling me after and saying you seem like a great candidate, but I think it’s important for you to get a few years of direct service experience before you work in policy. I think that’s the best professional advice I’ve ever received.


What have you appreciated about the Ph.D. program so far?

It’s blowing me away how tight-knit the community is at the GSSWSR and how supportive everyone is. First-year Ph.D. students take classes with students who are further along in the program, which is great because we have people in our classes who already know what they are doing and can give new students advice. I think Bryn Mawr tries to be non-competitive with the Ph.D. students and it really feels like that, which is awesome. I’ve really liked every professor I’ve had, and it has been great having the opportunity to work with some of them. I’m currently working with Dr. Sousa, Dr. Gusak, and Dr. Martin on their work in Ukraine and it’s been so cool to see their process and how they work as a team because academia can be toxic and isolating sometimes, so it’s nice to have a model of how it can instead be a collaborative and supportive environment. I also have an amazing cohort mate, Kal Skye, who has been a phenomenal research collaborator, study partner, and friend throughout the program.


Can you tell me more about the work you’re doing in Ukraine with these professors?

I am working with two other Ph.D. students on coding the interviews that Dr. Gusak completed with social workers in Ukraine by pulling out themes from the interviews and helping build the team’s presentations around that. Hearing their stories through these interviews has shown me the resilience of these individuals as they navigate being social workers during a time of war, and learning about the general differences between social work in the Ukraine and the U.S. has been fascinating.