April 1, 2021
(HOUSTON, TX) - Two years ago MSW student Selena Garcia revealed her undocumented status in an emotionally moving video supporting Pete Buttigieg in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Much has changed for Selena in those two years. She is currently serving as an intern for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and ending her year-long appointment as an MSW Representative on The NASW/Texas Chapter’s Political Action for Candidate Election. (TPACE)
We asked Selena what she has learned during her time as an intern for Judge Hidalgo, how being a recipient of a GCSW scholarship has impacted her education, and her hopes for the future.
Name: Selena Garcia
Expected Graduation Year from the GCSW: Spring 2021
What has your experience been like interning for County Judge Lina Hidalgo?
My experience as a policy fellow in the first Latina judge's office in the third-largest county in the nation has been unique. It has been a dream come true. Due to the pandemic, everything we do is online, but that doesn't mean it's not engaging. Every day is different! I could be working on a juvenile board meeting, and the next second, I could be assisting with Judge Hidalgo's memos for Commissioners Court. This work can be very time-consuming, but thankfully I have fantastic guidance and leadership from my field instructor, Amanda Rocha, a GCSW graduate. (MSW '18) I have noticed that I have grown immensely since starting as a policy fellow. I credit this growth to the various and engaging responsibilities I have.
What have you learned so far during your internship?
I have learned so much! I have had many "a-ha" moments so far, but I have also begun to develop a sense of gratitude for our elected officials who are shaking things up within the system. As a policy fellow, I have supported the policy staff with research and memo drafts across various topics: transportation equity, education, public health services, and more. Not only have I become an expert with Google Docs, but I have learned the value of summarizing an extensive research outline into three sentences. I have also gotten to meet and know many board members.
What's unique about this role is that it allows me to meet people who I might have never have gotten to meet in my regular life.
Before the winter storm hit, I invested a great deal of time doing a research guide for individuals experiencing homelessness. Before this internship, I never realized how vital it was to protect this vulnerable group. From my past experiences as a community organizer and activist, I can say that many within the community generally gauge a meeting's success upon whether members can complete their objectives. Most people don't see the countless hours of preparation, compromises, and hard work these individuals do behind the scenes to achieve their goals. Providing administrative support in preparation for county and community meetings relevant to the Judge has genuinely opened my eyes to all the forms of advocacy needed to build a community we can take great pride in.
How has being awarded a scholarship from the GCSW impacted your ability to pursue your MSW?
Being awarded a scholarship from the GCSW has opened up doors of unlimited opportunities for me. Becoming involved with my internship and better understanding the gears of policy-making and law were things that seemed utterly out of reach to me before. It has become clear to me that this area of work is my passion and where I belong. The GCSW believed in me and my dream. Thanks to this belief in me and my abilities, I have flourished in every way possible, outperforming society's expectations in key areas such as academics, campus leadership, and community engagement. I often look back at all the moments the GCSW Admissions and Student Affairs team would spend tirelessly trying to find reasonable and fair solutions to my financial constraints. I can proudly say that due to their unconditional confidence and support, I, an undocumented student, will be able to graduate with a master's degree debt-free this spring.
Being a first-year student representative on TPACE must have been challenging, given that we are still in a pandemic. How has it been balancing school and other responsibilities like TPACE?
I'm not going to lie; it was hard. It took a lot of scheduling, late nights, and colored pens to get me through it. The directors had already programmed most of our meetings to be virtual since everyone on the board lives in various cities. It was a good challenge to learn how to balance all of these things. I knew going in the purpose and bold mission the NASW-TX TPACE committee was hoping to accomplish, so I felt committed to upholding my presence regardless of the circumstance. I have to give Alison Boleware (NASW TX Government Relations Director) credit for always giving the team grace to ensure that we took care of ourselves first before doing this type of work.
When looking at the past election in November, what surprised you the most about the Texan voter?
It has become very evident that people have begun to pay closer attention to municipal elections. Regardless of political affiliation, we saw a record number of voter engagement. These numbers were an actual embodiment of "The People Have Spoken." Drive-thru voting, 24-hour polls, and social media campaigns on voter registration showed resilience and a hunger to be heard across the state, regardless of the results.
Why do you believe social workers are essential to the political and policy-making process?
Of course, social workers are essential! We are the ones that spice things up when it comes time to begin the decision-making process. When we are involved, policies are focused on promoting social justice for our clients, organizations, and foundations. Our job is to bring awareness that the normalization of inequality, poverty, and other social issues we face today didn't just happen; they were systemically created. Social workers assist those who regularly face these challenges. Naming and acknowledging these problems is critical. When we do, we are equipping those held back by these difficulties with the tools to reduce these barriers. I think there is no better way to do that than by getting involved in politics.
In what ways has the GCSW prepared you to serve on TPACE and beyond?
The GCSW has equipped me with knowledge and has given me the power to use my advocacy tools. They have taught me the importance of showing up, being present, and claiming your space. You usually have to be unapologetic about it, especially when you're the only one standing up for your ideas in a crowded room. I have realized that by using my voice, I can advocate and bring about real change.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
I'm looking most forward to paving the way for others to make their mark at the GCSW. My work as a student leader has led me to places within institutions that were not easily accessible for people like me. As a glass ceiling breaker, I want to allow others to join me along the way.
Anything else you would like to share?
As always, it is an honor of a lifetime to call the GCSW my home. I feel like I have a robust and solid foundation.