December 2, 2021
(HOUSTON, TX) - GCSW Alum Torey Ian Powell (MSW '14) has been selected to serve on the Presidential Management Fellowship Advisory Board.
The Presidential Management Fellowship Program is a "flagship leadership development program for entry-level for advanced degree candidates to generate a cadre of potential government leaders."
We spoke with Torey about why the inclusion of social workers in the decision-making process is so critical and how his time at the GCSW helped shape his view of how the government operates and can better serve all communities.
Name: Torey Powell
Program at GCSW and Graduation Year: (MSW '14)
Congratulations on being named to the Presidential Management Fellows Advisory Board. Why is it important to include people with social work backgrounds in these conversations?
When you're having these conversations, you have a different approach because you have a social work lens. You're thinking about systems at the individual, community, and national levels. Having a social work background, you're made aware that the things you're doing as part of the federal government impact all of these different communities.
This sort of lens is critical in this day and age because we all have begun to look at things from the perspective of trying to account for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We need to have people asking these questions, and I think having more social workers as part of this board is critical for getting the ball rolling in this process.
What are some things you hope to achieve while serving on the PMF Advisory Board?
I'm a firm believer in partnerships and human relationships and building to achieve things as a unit. I'm hoping to have broader conversations about how to develop long-term relationships with the institutions the board is engaging with to determine if these relationships are happening in a meaningful way.
Why did you choose to pursue your MSW?
While attending the GCSW, I was a reservist in the U.S. Army, and I did that until about 2016 when I got out. After graduating from the GCSW, I started with the US Forest Service and came to Washington D.C. and started with USDA. The USDA is one of the agencies that fall under the Department of Agriculture. I have been at the USDA, championing diversity, equity, and inclusion while also figuring out how to develop meaningful partnerships. I have been in the community outreach and partnership kind of space since I began.
I anticipated working at the individual level and aimed at becoming a clinician and thought I would go and work for Veterans Affairs and do clinical social work. But it was the Austin Legislative Internship Program that opened my eyes to the impact of policy and its ability to shape and mold the way we operate.
With the Internship Program, I learned that you could have a lot of really excellent and meaningful outcomes that positively affect communities. You can also have the opposite: you can have a damaging policy with detrimental impacts. So it was the legislative internship program that kind of solidified the idea that the road for me would be to focus on attaining a macro level career within the federal government.
In your bio, it states that you aim to "support inclusive, prosperous, and intergenerational agricultural workforce in your current role at the USDA." Why are these points important for those that work within agriculture?
What people don't realize is the immense impact that the USDA has on the everyday lives of individuals. Most people interact with them on a level of things like food assistance programs like WIC, which is very individual. Even with my seven years at the USDA, I'm still learning new things that the Department of Agriculture is interested in maintaining such as rural development of roads and building infrastructures in communities where many students at UH live.
Given the impact of the USDA and the wide breadth and scope of what we do, I think it's important to have as diverse of a workforce as possible to ensure that various perspectives are at the table. With every position I have had at the USDA, I am also constantly thinking about how I can open doors for young people to be included in the conversation so that the policies we implement are equitable for all communities and allow for self-determination.
How has your background/education in social work policy benefitted you in your current role?
Having the background and knowledge from the GCSW and the social work lens helps you understand program evaluation, implementation, community development, and how all these things play into the system.
I think that having the lens of a social worker really gets you to think about the impact of the work. I've had to use this perspective on many boards that I have served as co-chair of at the USDA.
We’re excited for you and your partner Natalie R. Powell (MSW ’14) to be co-chairing the upcoming virtual fundraiser for our Austin Legislative Internship Program. Both of you participated in the program. Is there a specific moment during that program that confirmed you want to work in public service/policy-making?
There are a lot of moments when you feel as though the work you're doing goes into a black hole. It's those very rare moments when something you wrote is mentioned by an elected official in a hearing or is referenced as data on the floor. When your words are used to advocate for something to be better or to try and prevent something that could be detrimental, it can be inspiring.
Having this sort of unique experience in using my voice to influence and impact began during my time in the Austin Legislative Internship program. It was a great experience.