graduate research

A Passion for Policy: MSW Student Zachary Henderson Works to Effect Change in Kalamazoo

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MSW Student Zachary Henderson surveys the view over Quito, Ecuador
MSW Student Zachary Henderson surveys the view over Quito, Ecuador

For Zachary Henderson, a first-year Master’s student in the School of Social Work, the MSW program has provided a wealth of opportunities to be involved in programs and policy-making to create real change in the Kalamazoo community. After earning his BA in sociology from Western, Zachary decided to shift his focus from sociological theory to the real-world applications of social work; he also wanted to make use of his Spanish language skills gained after studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador earlier this year. Our MSW program was an ideal choice for him, giving him the chance to work with the City of Kalamazoo and the city’s new Family Engagement Program.

As part of his field experience in the MSW program, Zachary’s interest in working with Spanish-language groups led him to an internship performing data-entry for the Hispanic-American Council in Kalamazoo. After a time, he realized that he wanted to have a better view of how governmental / municipal programs can make positive change for Kalamazoo citizens, so he talked to his former professor and City Commissioner Dr. Don Cooney about the role of policy in social work. Seeing Zachary’s passion and enthusiasm, Dr. Cooney helped to connect him with the Lewis Walker Institute and, through the Institute, with a new internship for the City of Kalamazoo. As a student intern for the city, he undertakes research about various government programs, including policies to reduce gun violence, poverty, and truancy. On his first days in his new position as a student researcher, Zachary participated in a meeting of the City Council with Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Dr. Cooney, Dr. Tim Ready, City Commissioner Laura Lam, and former Commissioner Stephanie Moore, and was excited by the opportunity to engage immediately in conversation about policy, and to see how his research could have real-world effects. Currently, he is working with the city to provide employment assistance programming for impoverished individuals. As Zachary explains, “it’s not just providing clothing, or help writing resumes or letters — we want to help people make real connections with employers and CEOs in the community. We need to see real change and improvement in peoples’ lives.” His passion for this work is clear as he excitedly talks about the other programs he’s researching for the city; “I get excited by actually seeing problems being solved, by seeing the impact of policy first-hand!”

The difference between the environment of the classroom and of the internship is clear, though Zachary has found a bridge between the two in order to make his skills and experience work for him. He explains, “social work is extremely research-based. What you learn in the classroom, those critical thinking skills — you really get a chance to put them to work in the field. You see the difference between classroom applications and real-world applications. But my internships have also really taught me to open up, and to be curious… I’m getting interested in the history of these groups I’m working with — too see the roots of larger conflicts, so that we understand where we are now.”

His department is enthusiastic about his work, as well. According to SSW Field placement coordinator Jennifer Harrison, “Zachary is not only completing his field placement in an arena that will allow him to research and advance policy to decrease gun violence, reduce poverty, and effect truancy rates, but was also recently hired in the Family Engagement Project working in North Kalamazoo to engage families in early childhood education. The Family Engagement Project is a partnership between the Douglass Community Association and the Office of Institutional Equity, and is led by Dr. Linwood Cousins. Zachary is excited to have the opportunity to partner with community members to make an impact in both of these programs.” Speaking about this recent opportunity, Zachary says that even though his work with the Family Engagement Project has just begun, already he can see the dramatic and insidious impacts of poverty, and how poverty is ignored or misunderstood by the wider community. Though he has begun by taking surveys and inputting data in order to help the Project conduct research, Zachary has also participated in meetings between the Kalamazoo Mothers of Hope, the city police, teachers, doctors, and other citizens, listening as community members discussed how they interacted with police, what resources they needed in order to find employment. This kind of personal interaction with the community, Zachary says, “makes you realize what some of these families are up against.”

Zachary has also been an active leader in his own program. He was one of the co-founders of WMU’s student chapter of the Association for Behavioral Sciences and Medical Education (ABSAME) — the first student chapter of ABSAME in the nation — for which Zachary now serves as President. For other students considering enrolling in WMU’s MSW program, Zachary’s message is clear: “Go for it! You can take the MSW program in whatever direction you want… you can make the work fit within what you want for your life, whether that means working in politics, in a school, in a hospital. You just need to know to ask for what you want or need, if you think your program isn’t going in the right direction for you.”

— Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, WMU Graduate College


Meet Becky Straple, new Editor of The Hilltop Review

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Hello, everyone! As the new Editor of The Hilltop Review: A Journal of Western Michigan University Graduate Student Research, I wanted to drop in at The Grad Word and introduce myself.

Becky Straple, the new Editor of The Hilltop ReviewI’m a PhD student in the Department of English, currently working on my coursework. I specialize in medieval literature, particularly Old English and Old Norse and issues of gender, sexuality, and the body in those literatures and in Anglo-Saxon and early medieval Scandinavian cultures. I’m considering branching out into early medieval Ireland, too… so if anyone knows where I can take a good intensive on Old Irish, drop me a line. (Or where there’s an outdoor archery range in Kalamazoo!)

I have what I consider to be good, well-rounded experience in the fields of English and publishing, from teaching to copy editing to technical writing. I once worked for a safety consulting company that specialized in industrial shipping, doing technical writing for them and copy editing things like safety manuals and tables specifying the load-bearing capabilities of specific clamps or the severity of pinch points on a shipping vessel (so for anyone out there feeling insecure about their job prospects with an English degree, never fear—you’d be surprised at the jobs you can get). I’ve worked in IT departments and for web design departments and I’ve been working as a freelance copy editor and proofreader for the last five years or so, working on projects from young adult Christian sci-fi novels to scholarly monographs and from academic journal articles to my uncle’s Vietnam memoir.

I’m excited to start working on the Fall 2014 issue of The Hilltop Review, and on that note, I’d like to let you all know about the Call for Papers (and Artwork, and Creative Work, and Book Reviews, and Letters to the Editor!) for that issue. The deadline for this CFP is September 22, but I highly encourage you to submit early—maybe you have a seminar paper from last semester, or are finishing up a chapter of your thesis or a literature review. Take advantage of all the free time you have over the summer (ha!) to prep it for submission and send it in! I’ll send out a reminder about the CFP when the semester starts, but I thought it might be good for everyone to get a jump on things and open the call now.

Submitting to The Hilltop Review is a great way to gain experience about or to try out the publication process at a scholarly journal. We’re completely run by students, but we follow the same procedure that many other peer-reviewed journals do. You submit, your work is blind reviewed by one graduate student and one faculty member in your field (they don’t know who wrote the work they’re reviewing), and we let you know whether your work will be included in the next issue, whether it needs work and can be resubmitted, or whether it’s not right for the current issue. If you need to revise and resubmit, we review the work again, and hopefully you’ll see your name and your research in the next issue! It’s also a great line to have on your CV and something to brag about! Plus, we have awards for the three best articles ($500, $300, and $150), for the best creative work ($250), and the for the artwork selected for the cover ($250)!

Some things to know, if you’re interested in submitting:

  • While the last few issues of The Hilltop Review have had themes, I thought I’d start with an issue that’s open to any topic, methodology, field of research, etc. The Spring issue will probably feature a theme, and we’ll let you know what that will be when the time comes.
  • The Hilltop Review publishes research articles, creative writing, artwork, and letters to the editor. This year, we decided to try book reviews, too; so if there’s an exciting new publication out in your field, please review it and submit the review for consideration!
  • The Hilltop Review is also looking for new Editorial Board members and peer reviewers. If you are interested in either of these positions, feel free to email me any questions you have. To self-nominate, please send me a short cover letter and your CV (which should include a statement about what fields you are comfortable reviewing in).
  • You can see a detailed description of the guidelines for submission (for all types of submission listed above) at The Hilltop Review on ScholarWorks.
  • All submissions are now being handled through ScholarWorks. This is a platform for hosting scholarly journals, on which The Hilltop Review has been available digitally for several years. This is a great system; you can upload your submissions here, and I can assign a reviewer to it, edit it, and respond to you, all through one system. We hope this will be more efficient and useful than emailing back and forth between multiple people. You will need to create a new account to submit if you don’t already have one.

If you have any questions or concerns about The Hilltop Review, the publication process, or me, your new Editor, please feel free to contact me. I’m looking forward to working with you all to promote graduate scholarship at Western Michigan University for the next two years!