Carrying on the Silberman School of Social Work’s tradition of cross-cultural engagement, second-year Clinical Practice MSW student Heather Armijo has received the Fulbright English Teaching Award to teach college-level English in Colombia. A hallmark of the Fulbright Foundation’s travel scholarship portfolio, this prestigious award places Americans in school settings around the world, where they help teach English and facilitate cultural exchange.
For Heather, the award presents a unique chance to strengthen her capacity as a globally engaged social worker. “This would be an extraordinary opportunity,” she says, “to work with students in a Colombian university and see from the other side – why do students want to learn English, and how does the U.S. shape that? – as well as to share U.S. Chicano culture abroad, showing that in the present climate there are people who want to foster this connection.”
Receiving the Fulbright reflects the commitment and rigor Heather has brought to her social work education, especially in her Field of Practice Specialization, Global Social Work and Practice with Immigrants and Refugees (GSWPIR).
Heather sees global social work as an endeavor grounded in local communities. She traces her interest in the global, itself, to the locality of her own roots in New Mexico, where her family has lived since the pre-colonial period. Her “strong Chicano pride,” she explains, is what first motivated her to learn more about Latin American cultures and their diasporas within the United States. Before coming to Silberman, Heather studied Latin American and Gender Studies at Fordham University; studied abroad in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala; and helped recent immigrants and refugees heal from trauma as an AmeriCorps service member in Los Angeles.
The GSWPIR specialization chaired by Professor Martha Bragin, together with Clinical Practice, has helped make Silberman “a great fit” for Heather – and an environment which thoroughly prepared her to pursue the Fulbright. Writing policy briefs for her immigration policy course with Dagan Bayliss encouraged her to bridge micro-level and macro-level perspectives. The GSWPIR Platform Course she took with Sam Guzzardi gave her new tools for developing her role and impact in communities whose members come from many different places. Both Bayliss and Guzzardi are adjunct faculty members with extraordinary professional experience in immigrant services.
“In classes, the focus is on culturally informed, culturally engaged work,” Heather says. “Asking questions about your own position when building relationships with others… taught me how to learn from others, both about themselves and about my own role. That framework is such an excellent starting point for engaging with [Colombian] students, families, and even other social workers.”
Silberman and Hunter College also gave Heather a vital support network as she made her way through the highly selective application process. She worked closely with Assistant Professor Katharine Bloeser, Associate Dean Caroline R. Gelman, Writing Program Director Christopher Hartley, and Hunter’s college-wide coordinator of scholarships and grants Myrna Fader, on six drafts of her application – which included a purpose statement, a personal statement, language proficiency, and three recommendations.
In addition to the ongoing mentorship she received from Silberman faculty, Heather emphasizes, “Christopher Hartley at the Writing Center was a huge help. I couldn’t have done it without him. And Myrna at 68th Street was immensely helpful.” All together, she articulates, she was buoyed by “the coordination and collaboration between all these resources.”
With her graduation around the corner and the Fulbright award in hand, Heather underlines the value of what she has learned at Silberman, more important now than ever.
“You can’t be a social worker without engaging global populations,” she affirms. “It is our responsibility to be aware of, and to be able to work with, issues facing global communities.”
The entire Silberman School of Social Work community proudly congratulates Heather, and wishes her the best of luck as she furthers this responsibility in her next chapter.