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Karla Diaz (MSW '03)
Karla Diaz (MSW '03)

Her MSW focus was community-based practice and she's putting it to use coordinating a community internship program.

"In the short term, I provide tools for our students to be more engaged with the community. The long term impact of my work with our students is to sensitize them about the role they can take in order to be volunteers and help being part of the solution of our social problems."

Karla is originally from Ecuador. She and her husband moved to Oregon when he got a scholarship to study in the state. She decided on PSU because it was the only University that offered a program in social work with a community-based concentration. They both lived in Ecuador most of their lives and knew they wanted to return after graduation. "Ecuador is a country with many social problems and I am glad to live here and help in my way to create social change."

After Karla graduated from PSU, she returned to Quito and started working at the University. It's a private liberal arts school that requires each student to complete a seminar and a 100 hour community service internship to graduate. In addition to coordinating this expansive program, Karla is in charge of a Learning Center that provides academic support to students and she teaches two sociology courses, "Ecuador's Social Problems" and "Integral Community Development."

Karla shared this about the challenges and opportunities of her current role: "Some of the challenges I face are realizing that some people are not interested in having an active role as changing agents. Some students are very comfortable with their lives and are not willing to change the status quo. On the other hand, it is very rewarding to know that the majority of our students acquire a sense of social responsibility that will surpass their internship requirement. In addition, in my community development class, I have the opportunity to work directly with underprivileged children and since I am a social worker, this part of my job is the one that maintains my inspiration and fulfills me as a person."

Karla's undergraduate background was in Business and Finance. After working in a bank for almost a year, she realized she needed to do something different with her life. "When I was 12 years old I had the opportunity to work as a volunteer with orphans and I knew that my heart guided me towards the social work field." After working at the bank, Karla traveled to South Africa and took time off to evaluate her goals in life. She worked as a volunteer in an orphanage when she was there and became convinced to take a different route in life. "I wanted to study development and discovered in social work the perfect match for what I wanted to do with the rest of my life."

She credits learning everything she knows about social work to PSU. "My two internships allowed me to combine the theoretical aspects and the practice while confirming that my Master's was all that I expected it would be," she said. The one aspect she constantly uses in her work with the community is the strengths based perspective that allows her to have a specific focus when she works with children.

Both of Karla's field placements allowed her to work with students in education settings. Her first year, she was part of the Safe Schools program from the Multnomah County. She worked in Robert Gray Middle School and in Jackson High School supporting the mental health consultant. In that placement she was very involved with the Latino families from Robert Gray. In her second year, Karla worked with GEARS, a program of Metropolitan Family Services, part of SUN Schools. She worked in their resource program, health program, and Latino- parent organizing program.

For current students or prospective social workers, she offers this advice: "I can say that a social worker's role is very broad and should be very flexible. I find myself teaching, coordinating programs, and doing community-based work. I am passionate about my job and am very lucky to be able to combine different aspects of the social work profession. I can advice to other students that they need to find their passion and try to find the job that can fulfill their dreams as humans and professionals."