Thomas Szlezak, a second-year MSW student at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, is interested in the work that people and communities do every day. He studies Clinical Practice at Silberman, specializing in the World of Work field of practice. Both within and outside his specific course of study, his involvement in the school reflects his capacity to empower others by building positive, productive relationships. This comes across especially clearly in his commitment to the Silberman Faculty-Student Senate, the school’s internal governing body comprising students and faculty.
“Students work best when they are connecting with the school,” says Szlezak, who joined the Senate after hearing its former president deliver an inspiring presentation. He was compelled by the opportunity to “connect with others, identify challenges together and make a difference.”
In Szlezak’s experience, the Senate enables Silberman students and faculty to channel their collective energies toward a greater good – to impact not only the school but also the many diverse external communities with which its members interact. One of the Senate projects he most enjoyed exemplifies this. In Senate discussions between students and faculty members about the curriculum, Szlezak excitedly helped his colleagues think about academic planning in a way that “supports as many students as possible but also really helps the people our students ultimately serve [using what they learn].”
“The better we are at educating for field and practice,” he emphasizes, “the better off our communities, our clients, and those we work with in the field are.”
Szlezak has long been building relationships that work in service of public needs. Even before his arrival at Silberman, he was already doing so as a member of the City University of New York (CUNY) community. He worked at Queens College as an assistant manager of the CUNY Service Corps program, helping to match students with opportunities in nonprofit organizations and government agencies, and managing the range of services that support those partnerships.
When engaging on the Faculty-Student Senate, Szlezak sees the lessons that define his Silberman education operating in practice. “The Senate boils down to the ability and chance to advocate on behalf of students concerning an issue they care about,” he explains, which is “fundamental to social work.”
He elaborates, “In social work, we hear stories and experiences and must relate to people in a way that helps them. In clinical [especially], it’s about listening; thinking, how can this be addressed; and then creating a voice or giving light to a voice that would otherwise be unheard.”
Szlezak finds that the same process characterizes the Silberman Faculty-Student Senate, and he enthusiastically encourages his peers to join him.
“In order to really impact your own student experience, you have to get behind the curtain,” he says. “Use your student voice, use your agency and capability.”
“It’s your voice – but if no students are in the room, if you’re not in the room, it is not heard.”