December 29, 2010

Confronting the Language Barrier: Spanish for Mental Health Professionals

While I absolutely love my internship experience thus far at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, there is one skill I lack that immensely takes away from my ability to be a competent social worker on the inpatient milieu: I struggle with my ability to communicate with Spanish speakers.

Even though I studied Spanish in both high school and college (for a combined total of 5 years!), I can barely hold a conversation with patients. To say I am embarrassed is an understatement. Lucky for me, a good friend and classmate found a local Spanish class that is designed for psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals. The class meets every Friday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Family Services of Santa Monica.

Unlike my grammar-focused Spanish classes in high school and college, the class is much more conversational. There are about eight social workers who attend the class, at varying degrees of Spanish competency. We spend a lot of time learning and talking to each other about Latino culture, in addition to practicing words that are helpful in a mental health setting. As a result, I no longer have to rely on the word "triste" to describe my patients' sad moods or affects. I now know words like aguitado (kind of depressed), desatendido (disregarded), depreciado (depreciated) and desilusionado (disappointed). Additionally, the teacher, Eugenio, is very laid back and very patient with all of us novice speakers. We also use the following text book: Spanish for Mental Health Professionals. I highly recommend the class to anyone who is looking to improve their Spanish-speaking skills. See the flyer below for contact information.
Spanish Class for Mental Health Professionals

December 27, 2010

Want to be updated on my blog posts?

Follow my blog with bloglovin

UCLA MSW Program: Curriculum Reinvention

Faculty at UCLA conducted a major overhaul of the MSW curriculum. My cohort, the class of 2012, are the guinea pigs to the reinvented curriculum. Since I was not a student in the program last year, I have no basis for comparison, however I did want to give a quick rundown of each class, in addition to the structure of the program in the first quarter.

Weekly Schedule
M: Field Placement (8-5)
T: 240A (9-12), 280A (2-5)
W: Field Placement (8-5)
Th: 230A (9-12), 201A (2-5)
F: Field Modules (8 total)

201A: Human Behavior in the Social Environment
While this is considered a much more "fluffy" part of the curriculum, this discussion-oriented class is difficult because you are forced to process your biases and feelings towards individuals/groups. The point of the class is gain self-awareness (in my opinion you are screwed if you lack this coming into the program), or at least heighten it. The first hour and half of class is devoted to speakers, and the second half to class discussion. A different theme is covered each week, with topics ranging from religion/spirituality, gender/sex/sexual orientation, community responses to oppression, able-ism and ageism. I ended up loving this class, not only because it was a break from the other more theory-based classes we had, but the group dynamic and professor were seriously awesome. If you have the opportunity to take a class from Professor Jorja Leap, do not hesitate.

Average reading/week: 50-60 pgs
Texts: Racism in the United States: Implications for the helping professions; course pack reading 
Major Assignments: Self Assessment Term Paper (12-15 pgs); Ethnographic Term Paper (12-15 pgs)
Caveats: Due to limited discussion time, our class was not able to process all topics covered.
Additionally, readings were not always relevant to class discussions.

230A: Micro Social Work (Individuals, Families and Groups)
I found this class particular useful, both for my internship at Harbor UCLA Medical Center and for the major and career path I intend to take (micro, mental health). The first two phases of the "Helping Process," and its constituent parts are covered, with Phase I including Exploration, Assessment and Planning, and Phase II including Implementation and Goal Attainment. For students who want to become clinicians, this class is particularly helpful in providing a skeleton or a basic structure to one-on-one therapy. We only skimmed over Evidenced-Based Practices, as this will be more of the focus in next quarter's class (230B).

Average reading/week: 40-50 pgs
Texts: Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills; course pack reading
Major Assignments: Midterm and Final Vignette Case Study
Caveats: While we practiced therapy role-plays with each other in class, I wish we were required to submit them on videos each week. I elected to do this as an extra-credit assignment, and found it extremely useful to see myself on camera.

240A: Macro Social Work (Organizations, Communities, and Policy Settings)
This class provides students with an overview of the core concepts related to macro social work, by connecting the dots between policies and the populations we work with. All four sections are required to carry out one macro group project, with my section investigating barriers to receiving mental health care among the elderly population in the San Fernando Valley. The macro project is an overwhelming focus of the class, as students are required to go out into the field and collect data (hold focus groups, distribute surveys, etc.). My group ventured out to Pacoima and Van Nuys to speak with agencies and their older adult clients, in order to understand barriers to receiving care. This project continues through the next quarter, and the final project is presented to the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health.

Average reading/week: 30-50 pgs
Texts: Social Work Macro Practice; course pack reading
Major Assignments: Policy Brief, Macro Project Report and Presentation
Caveats: I felt the macro project took up way too much of our class time. I also felt it lacked structure and direction.

280A: Knowledge Acquisition, Evidence-based Practice and Research in Social Welfare
As someone with extensive research background (I worked in market research for 3 years), I found this class relatively easy. My cohort only attended the class for the first five weeks of the quarter, and will finish the other five classes at the beginning of spring quarter. While it was nice to have a free afternoon the second-half of the quarter, I would have preferred to continue taking the class through the end of the term. The course primarily covers evidence-based practice (EBP), in addition to basic survey and experimental design.

Average reading/week: 30-60 pgs
Texts: Practitioner's Guide to Using Research for Evidence-based Practice
Major Assignments: Evidence-based Practice Term Paper (10-15 pgs)
Caveats: Discontinuity of the 10 week class

Photo Credit: GettyImages

December 26, 2010

Patrolling the Web this Week

I haven't done this in a while, but here is a weekly roundup of smart, relevant, and entertaining articles and/or videos that caught my eye in the past week or so. Hope you enjoy.

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability. Ted Talks never fail to deliver. The self proclaimed, "life-hacker" and PhD social worker says that, "What we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected... is why we're here." Her powerful talk uncovers why we, as humans, need to live vulnerably in order to be happy.

The Empowerment Plan: By Veronika Scott. Thanks to my sister who tipped me off to this design student's blog. Scott has created a winter coat, called the Elements Survival Coat, that doubles as a sleeping bag for the homeless population in Detroit. Scott has partnered with the Cass Community Center, which has vowed to pay clients minimum wage to make the coats. She hopes to expand her project across the U.S. and eventually the world.

Thanks For the Tax Cuts! By Larry David: A short but witty op-ed piece by one of my favorite comedians. Larry thanks the Republican party for extending the new tax cuts, which will now allow him to indulge in first class seats on his Hawaiian vacation, replace his aging TV, and buy fresh blueberries at Whole Foods.

A day in the Life of an Oncology Social Worker: By Christine D. For those who are curious what it's like to be a social worker on an oncology unit at a hospital in NYC, blogger Christine D published "a day in the life" post describing the challenges she faces everyday. I especially love the "recipe" for Social Work Oncology that she put together.

December 7, 2010

UCLA School of Public Affairs News Forum Magazine

Below is the seasonal News Forum Publication, a magazine from the UCLA School of Public Affairs. All previous publications can be found HERE.
News Forum Winter 2010

December 6, 2010

You Say Mercedes, I say Mental Illness

"God is playing jai alai and you are the ball" 

Dan Neil, a Wall Street Journal reporter recently wrote this catchy description for a review of the new Mercedes CL63 AMG. While I thought this was a cute way to the describe how it feels to accelerate in the coupe, I could not stop thinking about how well these words describe the psychotic symptoms of mental illness, specifically the delusional and hallucinatory symptoms of schizophrenia and other thought disorders.

As an intern for Harbor UCLA Medical Center for the past three months, I have been exposed to a number of patients who are battling severe and persistent forms of schizophrenia. Patient's minds are often transfixed or paralyzed in nightmarish, violent, or persecutory states. Extreme distortions of reality can often have scary and real consequences.

For example, a patient was recently admitted to the inpatient unit after experiencing harrowing ideas of reference. Chorus lyrics from a rap song spoke to the patient in such a way, that he exhibited homicidal ideation towards members in his family. The patient internalized the lyrics and started to believe he was a God-like figure. He reasoned the only way he could preserve his status was to kill members of his family. Fortunately, the patient was admitted before he acted on any of these thoughts.

Another patient, also suffering from schizophrenia, held highly persecutory beliefs concerning her family. The patient was extremely paranoid, and believed her family worked for the FBI and they were plotting to kill her. The patient became distrustful of everyone around her, including her family and the treatment team.

As evidenced by these examples, patients succumb to an outside force that is much larger and stronger than themselves. As one does with a jai alai ball, these patients are figuratively swung around, flung high, and slammed by a disorder that pirates their perception of reality.

Outsiders might stigmatize these experiences as crazy, ridiculous or downright nonsensical. But to victims of mental illness, these experiences are tangible and overpowering. What is even more frustrating, is medicine to treat thought disorders does not suppress or eradicate delusions or hallucinations; patients simply have to learn to live with them.

Photo credit: Jamespot

November 22, 2010

UCLA MSW Program: Social Justice Research Proposals

While UCLA MSW students are not required to conduct an original research project, The School of Public Affairs now encourages it through a program called Capstone. Graduate students from Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning now have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 grant to pursue a dissertation on a topic related to social justice. If chosen, 5-8 students awarded the grant will not be required to take the second year research class. This opportunity is particularly beneficial to students who want to pursue a doctorate.

A detailed description of the fellowship can be found on UCLA's website.

November 2, 2010

UCLA MSW Program: Diversity Day

Interested in applying to the UCLA MSW Program? Then I highly recommend attending Diversity Day, an on-campus information session that allows prospective students to talk with faculty, gain insight into student life on campus, and learn about an absurd number of student initiatives and causes. I have commented previously on how much I benefited from attending this event last November; I received tips on how to improve my application, learned what makes the UCLA program unique, and was able to step foot on campus for the first time, and envision myself in the program.

The flyer below contains details for the event:

October 13, 2010

LAUSD: Responding to Teen Suicide

While it was definitely appropriate to address the recent teen suicides occurring across the nation, the Los Angeles Unified School District's response to this tragic epidemic was shortsighted, and quite frankly, embarrassing. Last week, superintendent Ramon Cortines, sent out a memo to all parents who have children attending schools within the district. 

At first glance, the memo below appears to address the issue of teen suicide appropriately. However, smaller details reveal that the person writing the memo failed to be sensitive to the larger issue at hand (I denoted these with a red circle and arrow).

Recent Gay Suicides

I wanted to draw attention to these components of the memo because they are particularly horrifying, and do nothing but perpetuate biases surrounding the Gay community.
  1. The header of the memo reads "Recent Gay Suicides." Does that mean if a straight person commits suicide, the header should read "Recent Heterosexual Suicides"?
  2. Take a look at the district support services, and you tell me if you think the HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit was necessary to include?

What infuriates me further is that there is zero contact information listed for any of the district services. 

Perhaps LAUSD will have a Social Worker edit future memos that are sent out county-wide.

October 5, 2010

Shockingly Unshocking: Observing Electroconvulsive Thearpy (ECT)

Last week I did something that I never thought I would do; I watched a doctor administer ECT to a patient suffering from Bipolar Affective Disorder. ECT is often administered to patients who are treatment-resistant to other, more traditional forms of treatment such as medication.

The patient receiving ECT was resistant to a variety of MAOI med cocktails and other anti-psychotic drugs. Because his delusions (increasingly present in his manic state) were becoming unmanageable, the medical team decided ECT would be the most effective therapy in controlling the patient's delusions. I was present for patient's 14th session.

Prior to observing ECT, I was extremely anxious about witnessing a violent seizure, largely because of preconceived notions I gained from watching this scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:

The reality of the procedure could not have been more different from this scene. The tongue plate inserted into the patient's mouth (to prevent the patient from clenching their teeth or severing their tongue) was the only similarity.

In the operating room, every detail is controlled, with the procedure lasting only five minutes. The patient is put under an anesthetic and remains unconscious for the duration of the procedure. Once unconscious, the patient is administered medication to enter a fully paralyzed state (with the exception of the feet), and then administered a seizure-inducing medication. Two electrodes are placed on the patient's temples, to which the doctor is able to administer the electroshock waves to the patient's brain.

Successful ECT elicits a 15-30 second grand mal seizure. Researchers are still unable to determine why ECT is effective at treating individuals with severe mental illness, but its benefits have been widely documented.

What was surprising about the ECT session, was how little the patient moved throughout the procedure. If it weren't for his toes wiggling back and forth, or the EEG spitting out a brainwave scan, I probably would not have noticed the patient received ECT at all. 

The reason I felt it was important to document this experience is twofold.  
  1. Misconceptions about ECT are rampant. So many of us cringe when we hear someone suggest ECT, often because we automatically think of the media's portrayal of what ECT used to be.  
  2. If administered correctly, ECT can be one of the most painless and effective intervention methods for patients suffering from extremely debilitating illnesses.
Many of us are are biased towards ECT because we too often associate the therapy with violent and negative outcomes. I hope this post elicits a more positive perception of an intervention that has been misconstrued for decades.

Accessing UCLA Library Services Remotely

For those of us who are frustrated because they cannot log in remotely to UCLA's electronic journals, the following is a step by step guide on how to do so.

1. Go to UCLA's Library Computing Off Campus Website
2. Click on Bruin Online (BOL) proxy server
3. Get the Cisco VPN client by clicking on the link in the center of the page
4. Select your supported operating system
5. Install Cisco VPN!

Once you have the Cisco VPN, all scholarly journals (PsychInfo, Lexis Nexis, etc.) can be found on UCLA's Library Article Database website.

September 29, 2010

Volunteer! Become a Notetaker at UCLA

It amazes me how hard it is to locate certain resources and opportunities while navigating UCLA's websites. As one of my professors noted, it certainly is ironic UCLA is "the birthplace" of the internet. And it doesn't help that the School of Public Affairs has two official websites (OLD and NEW).

It wasn't until a classmate in my program (also a UCLA alum) told me about My UCLA, an incredibly useful website that aggregates all academic, career, financial, health, library and transportation resources associated with the university (I wish someone had told me about this website months ago!) You can even send free Bruin E-cards (why this is listed under productivity remains a mystery to me).

The same classmate tipped me off to a really cool opportunity/resource on the site. Any student is eligible to become an official notetaker for students with disabilities... and, you can even earn a $100 stipend for volunteering. Since it's so incredible difficult to find, I've outlined how to access the form below:

1. Log into My UCLA
2. Select "Your Study List" under the "Academic" tab
3. Click the $ sign next to each enrolled class (This tab will open)
4. Scroll down to the third header called "Forms for Service Providers"
5. Select "Application to Become a Classroom Notetaker"

September 20, 2010

UCLA MSW Field Module: Homeboy Industries

Ever wonder what it's like to survive a gang war? Or how to live through 29 years at a federal prison? How about how to start your life over at 46 years old, without money, a family, or the slightest prospect of a job?

This past Friday, I was fortunate enough to receive insights into these questions by attending my first field module of the year. As part of the first year curriculum at the UCLA MSW program, students attend eight field modules in order to learn about different agencies serving a variety of populations across Los Angeles.

To gain exposure to a criminal justice setting, a segment of our class attended Homeboy Industries, an incredible organization that helps ex-gang members become contributing members of society. What's so incredible about this organization? Here are just a few reasons:
  • Ex-gang members are hired to run all of their small businesses including a bakery, catering business, gift shop, and silkscreen business
  • All nine of the programs, case management, therapy, education, employment, Homeboy press, legal assistance, twelve step meetings, solar panel installation/training program, and tattoo removal are free, so long as members take a vow to stay out of the gang life
  • Regardless of jail history, Homeboy Industries opens its doors to anyone who needs their services
  • The headquarters are situated at an $8.5 million facility in a gang-neutral part of downtown, allowing members a chance to geographically separate from their old lifestyle
  • The facility runs free tours!

Vance, our tour guide, started us off in the Homeboy Industries bakery. Not only is the cafe worth a five-star rating on Yelp, but it has some really unique menu items (I recommend getting Angela's Potion -- spinach infused mint green tea with limeaid).

Our tour continued through the gift shop, various conference rooms, past the tattoo-removal clinic and upstairs through the offices. I was thoroughly impressed with the availability as well as the comprehensiveness of all the services being provided. Did I mention it's all free?

By far, the best part of the tour was listening to Vance's personal story. Thrown into juvenile hall as a teenager for attempted murder of his step-father (a retaliation to a domestic violence incident involving his mother), Vance recounted the horrific details of the next 29 years of his life. He also recounted the survival tactics he learned while serving his sentence at Folsom State Prison in Sacramento, California. The facility is notorious for being "the end of the line" for many inmates, since such a large percentage are killed while serving their sentences.

While Vance spent a generous hour delving into his personal story, I wanted to share just a few of his anecdotes that surprised me:
  1. Inmates attempt to kill other inmates if they come in with a rape or child abuse conviction 
  2. If one inmate snitches on another, the guilty inmate becomes a murder target
  3. Inmates learn Sign Language and Swahili, in order to understand the guards as well as communicate with each other, respectively
  4. In order to survive, inmates must keep their boots on when showering, never interact with other races, and never sleep during the day
Despite the tremendous odds, and with the help of Homeboy Industries, Vance now leads a vibrant and successful life.
    Below are a few photos from the tour. Enjoy!

    Vance (Tour Guide)

    Angela's Potion

    The Cafe
    T-shirts in the gift shop
    Tattoo removal clinic
    Second floor offices
    Life collage from ex-gang member
    Memorial for an individual killed in gang warfare

      September 17, 2010

      Patrolling the Web this Week

      Worth Reading This Week...

      How do you help someone who doesn't believe that he/she deserves self-compassion? The author shares some great strategies on how to encourage depressed clients to self-sympathize. Utilizing a cognitive-behavioral therapy technique called "acting-as-is," are among her suggestions.

      Driving Projects Into the End Zone: Why we tend to stall behavior as we near the end of large or small projects or tasks. Creating a consistent sense of urgency, tackling unpleasant tasks first, and taking a real break from the project help ensure you reach that finish line.

      Gen Y's Most Perilous Trait?: The author weighs in on why the prevalence of narcissism, especially among Gen Y'ers, is prohibitive for succeeding in school, today's job market, and having the ability to have compassion for others.

      Slow Food USA: A great overview of recent food-borne illnesses, and why there should be a greater sense of urgency around food safety. Definitely worth the 2 minutes. 

      September 14, 2010

      UCLA MSW Field Internship: Exposure to the Other Four Senses

      Trying to describe my internship at an inpatient psychiatric unit, feels like trying to explain stage-fright to someone who has never been on a stage... or better yet, someone who doesn't even know what a stage is.

      I have interned only two days at UCLA Harbor Hospital, and I can already tell I have my work cut out for me. The psych ward is staffed with two doctors, four residents, three to six nurses (depending on the shift), and two to three clinical social workers. The ward has 24 beds (12 of which are currently in use), a nursing station, two seclusion rooms, a cafeteria, and a place for patients to lounge. The office I share with my supervisor is tucked behind a hallway on the floor of the ward. The office door is always bolted, and the office comes equipped with a panic button (something I hope I never have to use). 

      The image I just described might sound familiar. Nearly all of us have some notion of what a psych ward looks like, probably due to Hollywood's portrayal of them in the classic film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, or more recent films, Girl, Interrupted and Gothika. I have to say that Hollywood does a pretty good job of depicting what a typical psych ward looks like: a white, sterile environment, with patients wandering the halls in hospital gowns.

      While these films accurately depict the scenes of a typical psych ward, they only offer a loose sense of what it is really like to be present and interacting with patients in the unit. To give a more compelling idea of this reality, I'd like to push beyond the sense of sight by detailing how my other four senses (hearing, smell, touch, and taste) are actively engaged in the psych ward.

      Hearing: The most shocking part of working in the psych ward are the sounds I hear: patients screaming, singing, shouting, rambling, crying, mumbling, etc. I was quick to learn about Code Green (combative person/elopement risk/person with internal disaster), when an unruly patient burst into rounds and had to be restrained by security and the nursing staff. Later that day, I encountered one patient who, according to the nursing staff, had been belting out lyrics for six hours straight, and had to be moved into seclusion so she wouldn't disturb other patients. Lack of sound is surprisingly shocking as well. In contrast to the patient who was singing, I met another individual who has not uttered a single word for over a year.

      Smell: Being a state hospital, UCLA Harbor receives its fair share of homeless individuals. Regardless of whether the patient is homeless or not, patients are encouraged to shower everyday. However, no one is forcing them to do so. As you could imagine, it's not the most pleasant to conduct a psychiatric intake interview when someone hasn't showered for multiple days or weeks. On the bright side, all hygiene is documented in a patient's chart, so at least I know whether or not they have showered prior to when I interact with them.

      Touch: Physical interaction with patients is limited, nonetheless, it happens. A patient, for instance, reached out to shake both of my hands, and held them for what felt like an eternity. His hands were shockingly cold, dry and frail. Moments later, he volitionally fell on the floor. When I grabbed his arm to help him up, I was shocked by how light his body was.

      Taste: I'm not sure if it's the hand sanitizer stations, the lingering smell of rubbing alcohol, or the combination of both, but I seem to barely have active taste buds by the time lunch rolls around.

      I can say, with confidence, that I have never had such eye-opening experiences in such a short amount of time. Who knows what the next 8 months will bring, but I certainly welcome the challenges that will no doubt come my way.

      Photo Credit: loojie

      September 12, 2010

      Patrolling The Web This Week

      Worth reading this week...

      Letting go of fake needs: mnmlst discusses how people created "fake needs," such as the compulsion to read all the posts in your rss feed (guilty), the need to constantly check your inbox (guilty), or the desire to look a certain way before work (again guilty). The point of this article is to urge all of us to take a step back, and ask ourselves if we really need to do something? If the answer is "no," it's only a matter of learning to let go.

      Google Reader -- An Introduction: Ignacio gives a very in-depth, step-by-step guide for how to use google reader, which is a fantastic tool that aggregates all of the websites and blogs you read or subscribe to.

      How Millennials' Sharing Habits Can Benefit Organizations: Explains why this generation is so gung ho about sharing information, whether it be through blogging, facebooking, twittering or buzzing. Unlike previous generations, Gen Y'ers primarily share to make themselves and others around them more efficient.

      Top Ten Tips for a Successful Social Work Job Interview: This applies to a lot of other sectors besides Social Work, but I thought it was a great, concise list.

      Change Up Your Study Spaces for Better Recall: Switch up where you study to actually remember more. Why? Apparently, when we try to commit something to memory, we are more successful if we have multiple sensory associations to connect it to.

      September 7, 2010

      Purposeful Action

      Tomorrow I begin my field placement at the UCLA Harbor Hospital in the inpatient psychiatric unit. Like many of my classmates, I have no formal experience working in the setting (hospital) or with the population (acute mentally ill) I am assigned to. I am anxious to see how the details of my internship unfold, but I feel much more acclimated to the field component of the program, now having gone through field orientation in the last week.

      UCLA faculty and staff gave us a ton of information, dates, assignments, and materials to process. I did, however, feel the advice given to me by my field liaison stood out amongst the administrative details. As new social work interns, she said the most important thing we could start doing is acting and making decisions with purpose, instead of just reacting; something she referred to as "purposeful action."

      I was immediately reminded of Ericcson's theory of "deliberate practice" since his framework suggests that acquiring a skill or gaining expertise is much more about how hard you work, rather than the innate talent you posses.  Both Ericcson's theory and my field liaison's advice focus on the importance of intentional action, rather than knee jerk action.

      While I know I am far from becoming an expert in the social work field, it helps to keep Ericcson's framework of "deliberate practice," or my field liaison's explanation of "purposeful action" in mind. The following are just a few ways I hope to carry out deliberate or purposeful action, while pursuing an internship in the field of social work: 

      1. Follow the client at every level. This means I need to engage and listen to clients while keeping unique cultural, physical, or emotional circumstances top of mind.

      2. Engage with others as much as possible. Even though I might be in a micro social work setting, it is my responsibility to seek out macro ways to be involved (policy initiatives, community outreach or education, inter/multidisciplinary team meetings, etc.).

      3. Never make assumptions. I cannot assume all clients are comfortable with cultural norms (i.e. a handshake or other greeting).

      4. The potential to learn comes from not-so-obvious places. Clients are just as much teachers as supervisors or faculty are.

      5. Form relationships with everyone. A security guard, administrative assistant, or someone from the cleaning crew might help me in a sticky situation.

      6. Mentally and physically prepare to work in any setting or context. This will allow me to do great work, be safe, and get to know my new work environment.

      Photo Credit: Martin the Hat

      September 3, 2010

      Grad School Fair for the Public Good has just released their annual schedule of Graduate School Fairs for the Public Good. This fair is for individuals who are interested in pursuing an advanced degree in the humanity sector.

      I wasn't aware of this fair last year while I was going through the application process, but I wish I had. This is a perfect opportunity for those who want to learn more about the admissions process, have a chance to chat with graduate admissions reps, as well as receive professional development advice. Admission to the event is free. Click HERE to sign up.

      Details for the Los Angeles Event:
      November 2, 2010, 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
      Kyoto Grand Hotel, Golden Ballroom, 2nd Floor
      120 South Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, CA

      List of other cities can be found HERE. Thanks Michigan Girl Cafe for the info!

      September 2, 2010

      Transitioning from the Corporate to the Humanity Sector

      Next Thursday will be my last official day working for Corporate America.  It will also be my last official day receiving a paycheck for a while, but nevertheless, I am ecstatic. 

      When I was only toying with the idea of going back to school, it was a simple phrase my manager used to say that gave me the kick in the butt I needed to apply for a Master's in Social Work. 

      "We're not saving lives people!" she would remark, after a particularly stressful conference call or meeting. "We're just selling movies!" She was right, and I couldn't ignore it any longer. 

      Others might think I'm nuts to leave a stable job in the entertainment industry, go back to grad school, and probably earn less money than I do now. But for me (and yes, I am about to use a double negative), obtaining my Master's in Social Work is something I can't not do.

      Next Thursday is the day I finally cross over from the Corporate to the Humanity Sector... the day where I finally stop striving for work-life balance, and start creating work-life alignment. What does this mean? For me, it means going home at the end of the day knowing that I tried to make someone's life just a little bit easier.

      Photo Credit: Escape From Corporate

      August 31, 2010

      UCLA School of Public Affairs Google Calendar

      Friends close to me know what an advocate I am of google products. They are just so darn efficient. Thankfully, it looks like the School of Public Affairs thinks so too!

      I feel lucky to have stumbled across the official SPA google calendar. It's a comprehensive calendar of all meetings, office hours, and field modules for MSW and PhD Public Affairs students. What's also nice is that they include room numbers for meetings...something I've noticed is missing from emails.

      The only drawback to the calendar is that it also includes appointments for doctoral students and administration... which leads me to ask why there isn't a calendar for just MSW students?

      Add the calendar by clicking HERE.

      Patient Dumping

      Earlier this year, a friend and I were eating at a relatively upscale restaurant in Beverly Hills. Just as we were about to dig into our salads, a man walks into the restaurant and declares he has an announcement to make. His voice was strong but composed, and he immediately captured the attention of the entire dining room. I'm paraphrasing here, so bear with me:

      "I would like just five minutes of your time please," he begins. "I need $75 to pay for my lithium medicine. I have just been released from Cedar Sinai Hospital, and I can't afford my medicine." To my surprise, waiters and busboys continued to serve patrons in the restaurant. He continued, "This is known as PATIENT DUMPING. I can't afford my medicine," he repeated, "and I need $75 to pay for my lithium."

      Two things happened next. A man stood up from his table and handed the guy a $20 bill. Then, just as the maitre d tried to escort him out of the restaurant, the police arrived and removed him from the restaurant.

      Anyone who has taken an introductory course in psychology, or seen a psychological thriller knows that lithium is prescribed for people with Bi-Polar Disorder, otherwise known as Manic Depression. My reaction to what I just witnessed was first shock, and second sadness. I was sad a homeless has an oppressive mental illness. I was sad he felt he had no other options but to enter a restaurant and beg for money. I was sad that even after he was taken into police custody, he would be released without a solution to his original problem.

      The reason I wanted to share this story is twofold. I am about to embark on my first internship as a social work student, and it happens to be in the Department of Mental Health at the UCLA Harbor Hospital in Torrance. There is no doubt in my mind I will come face-to-face with similar situations: patients who are unable to afford treatment. As a social worker to be, it is my responsibility to provide the best possible assistance to people, regardless if they have insurance or the funds to pay for treatment. When a person is diagnosed with a serious illness and cannot afford to pay for treatment, what exactly are they supposed to do with the diagnosis? To say I am anxious about how these situations might unfold is a huge understatement.

      This leads me to the second reason why I wanted to share this story. Marion Nestle recently wrote a post on public health. She defines the concept beautifully:

      "My definition of public health isn’t much different from mainstream definitions.  But to me, public health is a critically important expression of democracy, and the antithesis of  a “corporate” concern.  Public health approaches [to] promote good health for everyone, not just those who can afford it or are educated enough to make appropriate choices."

      What I liked so much about Nestle's definition is that she allows the reader to conceptualize Public Health as a democratic right, as opposed to just a heated political issue. What Nestle's definition implies is that Public Health might help solve the issue among those who can't afford medical expenses by allowing them to choose survival.

      I'm not going to imply that I have a solution to myriad of problems that confront individuals such as the homeless man I saw at the restaurant. Nor can I offer a brilliant plan for exactly how to fund Public Health issues like these. However acknowleding and speaking to the multi-faceted layers that confront these individuals, is certainly a start.

      August 18, 2010

      Fighting Sex Exploitation

      Earlier this summer, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a summer program through Justifi, an organization dedicated to prevent the growing human sex trade among children in Northern Thailand. Justifi partners with other organizations such as The Sold Project to prevent, rescue and provide services to children affected by one of the worst crimes committed against humanity. 

      I did a lot of research to prepare for the summer program. Victor Malarek's "The Natasha's: Inside the New Global Sex Trade" was by far the most insightful text I read. In his book, he details the global consequences of the human trafficking in a political, social and psychological context. Here are just a few takeaways from his book:
      • After drugs and weapons, the sex trade is the third most lucrative sector globally, estimated to generate over $12 billion annually
      • Sex trafficking victims can be forced to serve 10 to 30 men in a single night
      • Once rescued, trafficking victims are often processed as illegal immigrants, making legal action a virtually impossible choice
      • The legalization of prostitution in Germany and the Netherlands have caused a surge in foreign sex tourism that ultimately encourages sex trafficking
      • UN police and soldiers are often popular brothel customers 
      • Sex trafficking is a driving force in the global spread of AIDS
      Unfortunately, due to violent civil unrest in Thailand, the trip was canceled just a week before we were scheduled to leave. While I was disappointed that I could not participate in the Justifi summer program, I feel compelled to stay connected to its cause. In an effort to keep this issue topical, I wanted to share a teen-run organization I came across called Minga, translated in Quechuan to mean "the coming together of a community for the betterment of all." Founder Katie Simon was motivated to start the organization after hearing a speech about childhood sex trafficking. The mission of her organization is truly inspiring. Through a peer-to-peer effort, Minga not only raises money for victims, but has set out to empower, educate, and change how the world perceives sex trafficking. 

      Between classes, my field placement at the Department of Mental Health at UCLA Harbor (a post to come on this later), and studying, I have no idea how much time I will be able to devote to this cause. What I do know is that I must make the effort to help, even if it's donating small amounts of time and or money to the organizations listed in the post. 

      August 10, 2010

      What Matters Now

      I came across the "What Matters Now" ebook in my recommended items on Google Reader (if you do not use an RSS feeder, I highly recommend you do so).

      This free ebook, courtsey of Seth Godin, is a collection of slides from numerous writers, editors, entrepreneurs and business owners, intended to inspire and motivate its readers to refocus on what is important and relevant today. Among the contributors is Eat, Pray, Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert who chose to write about the word "Ease," and why we should resist the constant chaos that creeps into our daily lives:

      "EASE UP. Pump the brakes. Take a step back. Seriously. Take two steps back. Turn off all your electronics and surrender over all your aspirations and do absolutely nothing for a spell. I know, I know – we all need to save the world. But trust me: the world will still need saving tomorrow. In the meantime, you’re going to have a stroke soon (or cause a stroke in somebody else) if you don’t calm the hell down."
      Gina Tripani's contribution about "Productivity" is also particularly inspiring. I could not agree with her more that "Getting things done is not that same thing as making things happen."

      I referenced this ebook numerous times as I crafted my personal and professional statements for graduate school. Whether you or someone you know might be able to use it for a similar purpose, or just want to inspire the people around you, I encourage you to circulate among friends, families and coworkers. Proceeds from the hardcopy version benefit Room to Read.

      August 9, 2010

      Mentor Youth, Build a Life

      As my first quarter at UCLA encroaches, a barrage of emails and general announcements have started to hit my inbox at an accelerated rate. The majority are, of course, posts from my future MSW classmates, eager to introduce themselves or hunt for potential roommates.

      Sifting through my daily digest of the 1st year MSW emails, one particular post caught my eye: "LA Conservation Corps - Mentoring Future Leaders Youth 16 to 18 years of age." I barely finished reading the subject line before I found myself googling the organization.

      What I found was truly inspiring: LA Conservation Corps is an organization that seeks to help at-risk youth through a number of free programs: after-school tutoring, academic scholarships, work-skill programs, transitional living programs, one-on-one mentoring... the list goes on and on.

      As I dove deeper into each initiative of the LA Conservation Corps, I was extremely impressed by the YouthBuild Mentoring Program. Young adults develop relationships with volunteers by meeting on a month-to-month basis. Mentors guide mentees in numerous ways, whether it is exploring career options, developing strategies to achieve academic success, or discussing how to reconnect with their families and communities. Ultimately mentors are there to guide program participants on how to build a path for a productive and fulfilling adult life.

      The influence of programs like the LA Corps YouthBuild on young adults are limitless. Many attribute mentoring programs for reducing juvenile crime, substance abuse, and recidivism rates among young adults. Imagine what a collective initiative by the community to mentor youth could do? YouthBuild alone has allowed 725 young adults to complete their high school education, 99 more to earn their GED, and 626 to receive their high school diplomas - it's pretty remarkable.

      What is so clear in the minutes that I researched this organization, is that the program's success is completely dependent on the talent and passion of the staff. Mary Starks, director of the YouthBuild program, shared a small window into the world of devotion she provides for these at-risk teens:

      "During the youth recruitment process, I walked in a classroom filled with 16 to 18 year old students waiting to hear about our LA Corps YouthBuild Mentoring Program. To my surprise the room was packed with students looking for a chance to be a part of the program. From that moment, I made them a promise that I would find them mentors even if I have to work nights, evenings and weekends to do it."

      There is no denying that the LA Conservation Corps is demonstrating how a successful non-profit should operate: with an ironclad mission, a committed staff, and a proven devotion to their population. Should you or anyone you know have any interest in becoming an LA Corps YouthBuild mentor, please contact Mary Starks (

      August 4, 2010

      Passing the UCLA Health Clearance

      I just thought I send a step by step guide that outlines how to pass the health clearance for UCLA, since it was a bit confusing on the website. First off, you need to go to a doctor and get blood drawn to prove immunity to the following:
      • Hep B
      • MMR (3 separate immunizations for measles, mumps and rubella)
      • Chicken Pox
      • Tetanus
      • TB skin (in the past 6 months)
      Once you have this record from your doctor, you can fax the medical record to the Arthur Ashe center (make sure to put "ATTN MEDICAL HEALTH CLEARANCE") to 310-267-1996 or you can scan and send an email to Jennifer Blank who works in the office:

      You must also complete a health survey on the Arther Ashe website:
      • Log on through here:
      • Confirm identity by submitting your birth date
      • On the left hand side you'll see "immunizations," click this and enter in your medical history to the best of your ability
      • Complete all "surveys" to comply with Arthur Ashe terms of agreement.
      Once you complete these steps, you should send Lance Fooks your completed immunizations record from the Arthur Ashe center (step #3 above). Your status must say "compliant" to pass.

      FoodCorps: Battling the Obesity Epidemic

      There are so many amazing individuals and organizations who are trying to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. Jamie Oliver for instance, otherwise known as the "Naked Chef," set out to change the way people eat, talk about, and interact with food in the town of Huntington, West Virginia. His successful attempt to transform the lunch program at a local public school in Huntington was chronicled in a show called Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Other well-known individuals such as first lady, Michelle Obama spearheads the Let's Move Organization that not only aims to get school-aged children to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, but allows them to learn about and be inspired by gardening and cooking with fresh foods.

      I feel compelled to share another organization that is trying to revolutionize the way children are eating on a national level. I recently learned about an organization called FoodCorps through one of Marion Nestle's blog posts (whom I regard as the godmother of all things related to nutrition, food politics and related topics). FoodCorps has an extremely grass-roots, hands-on goal to help minimize and eventually diminish the over-consumption of processed foods among children in public schools. Similar to what Jamie Oliver did in one small town, FoodCorps hopes to do across the nation.

      This strategy of FoodCorps is to station gardens in public schools across the country in order to give children the opportunity to participate in and learn about gardening, nutritious food, and ultimately how to integrate healthier eating habits into their lives. In addition to the gardening program, FoodCorps will also initiate a direct farm to school supply chain for the lunch school program, and develop nutritional education programs within school curriculums. Sounds like a win, win to me.

      I recently received an email from the organization about its first conference call which will be held this Thursday August 5, at 5 pm EST. The call will provide an introduction to the FoodCorps program, an update on FoodCorps Work Groups, information on becoming a FoodCorps host site, and time for questions. To participate, call (218) 936-4141 and enter code 571334#.

      I'm so excited to see how this program unfolds. How many more tater tots and chicken fingers can elementary school kids stand for lunch?

      July 21, 2010

      Personal Statement Inspiration

      Knowing that I had applied to grad school this past fall, a friend of mine recently asked me how I went about writing my personal and professional statements for the UCLA MSW program. It's incredibly challenging to give a "statement of purpose" or describe exactly why you want to pursue a particular profession, but I found that reading the stories of others was the best way to help me articulate answers to the following questions:

      1. Describe the significant relationships and life experiences that have influenced your decision to seek a career in a helping profession.

      2. What values affected your decision to enter the social work? How are these values reflected in social work practice?

      3. Describe your experiences with diverse populations and groups, and how those experiences have contributed to your interest in social work. Which population (defined by culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and psychological and physical functioning) would you like to serve?

      4. What are your expectations of graduate education in terms of your own development? Indicate any problem or limitations that should be taken into account in planning your graduate program.

      I conducted a lot of research and drew on many sources for inspiration, but one website I consistently went back to was Harvard Business School's "Portrait Project" which features most students from the incoming class. All participants answer the following simple yet thought-provoking question:

      "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

      The responses are truly moving, and vary from poems to songs to anecdotes. I found Jonathan Wilkins response among the best (I'm a runner, what can I say?). For all of you who are struggling with ways to answer those tricky questions, I hope the Portrait Project provides some help!

      May 14, 2010

      UCLA MSW Recruitment Materials

      Nearly 6 months after I decided to pursue a Master's of Social Work, I received an acceptance to UCLA's program. Those 6 months were not fun. My days basically consisted of working full-time, completing a 40 hour domestic violence counselor training program, studying for the GRE's, and of course, completing my applications to 4 programs (The University of Michigan, The University of Texas in Austin, UCLA and USC).

      Because I live in Los Angeles, I was able to attend local info sessions for UCLA and USC. One event in particular, UCLA's Diversity Recruitment Fair, was by far the most informative and useful info sessions I attended. What I liked most about the Diversity Fair was that it was designed to help applicants better position themselves for acceptance to the program.

      Best of all, they distributed a packet which contained all kinds of valuable information about the application, admission requirements, personal statement writing tips, etc. While it was great to receive it, I wish they had distributed or posted it on a website at least 3 months earlier than they did... which is why I posted materials to this site.

      March 24, 2010

      Crisis Crowdsourcing

      I came across Ushahidi on one my favorite blogs. Ushahidi, which means "testimony" in Swahili, has an amazing objective: it allows people all over the world to tell others about what is happening to them or around them. Originally created after the Kenyan uprisings after the election in 2008, Ushahidi has since covered the Snowmaggedon in D.C., the aftermath of the Chile and Haiti earthquakes, and numerous other crises across the world. It even links survivors of human trafficking.