Social Welfare Alumni Association's 2012 Alumna of the Year: Alice Jordan (MSW '79)
Alice Jordan (MSW '79) has spearheaded the development of family friendly campus policies and innovative student support services over the course of a 25-year career at UC Berkeley. As director of the Women’s Resource Center, Jordan established a welcoming home base for student families. The Student Parent Program, which she currently oversees at the Transfer, Reentry and Student Parent Center, evolved from this early beginning into a set of innovative services and resources that have become a national model for other campuses. She has also served as a graduate field education instructor for the MSW-MAP program since receiving her MSW in Community Organization, Planning and Administration, with a concentration in Children/Family Services in 1979.
Why did you pursue an education and career in the field of social welfare?
I was an undergraduate in social welfare -- my father was a professor of social work so I didn’t have any choice! I went to both Wisconsin and Illinois, large public universities. I was working in nonprofits with children and families since the age of 16. When I finished my undergraduate degree, it was the 60s. I really came west to Berkeley because this was the place where things were happening. Plus it wasn’t as cold!
Why did you enroll in the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare?
I was directing a nonprofit, and I came back to Berkeley after having worked in direct practice. I did not come here specifically to go to graduate school, but I ultimately pursued an MSW because people with undergraduate social welfare degrees realize the need for that at some point.
I enrolled in the School of Social Welfare’s Management and Planning program, and at the time I was directing a local nonprofit called Berkeley Children Services. It was a City of Berkeley-funded agency and its role was childcare needs assessments and to create childcare programs for low-income families. You can’t do this anymore, but I served my first- year placement at my agency. In my second year, I created a placement for myself in Washington as an intern with our then-senator, Alan Cranston, in his child and human development subcommittee. I was interested in social work in politics, social policy and social change -- that is why I chose a MAP concentration and a focus on community organization.
After having worked in nonprofit settings, what made you decide to continue your career on the Berkeley campus?
My interest in working in an academic setting comes from having grown up in an academic family. My example was my father, who was a first-generation immigrant in New York City. He went back to school on the GI Bill. One of the things I have seen come full circle and why re-entry students and non-traditional students seem like a normal part of academia to me is that I lived in family-housing barracks while my dad was getting his higher education and my mom worked to support him. The GI Bill put a whole set of low-income and first-generation students into college. Our family’s lives were transformed by education, and that’s why my connection with re-entry students and families and giving them access to college as a way to create a better life.
Describe your career trajectory at UC Berkeley.
The job I came back to at the university was in the Women’s Resource Center, which supported the continuing education of women. At that point in time, the center was primarily for women who had not gone to college or dropped out of college because they got married -- and that was the whole point of going to college. That kind of re-entry, what I call “classical,” were typically women who were much older with grown children in high school or out of the nest.
The re-entry women’s population has completely changed in the 25 years I have been at the center because women don’t need to wait until their children are grown to pursue their own education. Student population shift – women do not need to defer or have to leave school because of pregnancy. Over the course of my career, I became the director of the Center of Education for Women, which eventually became the Women’s Resource Center. It evolved into what is now the Gender Equity Resource Center, which has a very different mission.
What do you consider some of your most important career accomplishments?
As a graduate of the School, I was able to bring together undergraduate social welfare majors and a real focus on undergraduate social work in lots of different ways through the mechanism of field placements. I did graduate field placements but also created undergraduate field placements, which gave students the opportunity to do the things that they would otherwise not be able to do because they had to work and go to school and study – there wasn’t room for that.
In a collaboration that began in the mid-1990s with Bart Grossman and Paul Terrell, generations of undergraduate students have served in the Starting Point Mentorship Program, helping guide non-traditional students seeking to transfer to Berkeley. Each semester up to 25 students also engage in field education internships, which have included the initiation of current ongoing student parent projects, such as the CalWORKs = CalGRADs Project, the Bear Pantry Project and the Baby Bears @ Cal Project.
I approached these programs as you would in social work – you see a need, involve people and eventually the program becomes institutionalized. We then begin to take it for granted; it’s the normalization process. My proudest accomplishments have been using that process to create programs that continue to serve students.
How have the social work values you learned at the School affected your work?
Remember when we had a war on poverty? When we were focused on eliminating poverty? Most of my social work values are poverty-based, and that’s where I cut my teeth. I worked in community-based organizations like Model Cities and Urban League, programs that were addressing community needs, especially around children and families. I saw education as the best anti-poverty program.
To me, social work values are strengths-based; they are about program development, resiliency, empowerment, advocacy, group work, support, self-empowerment and teaching others how to make systems work for them. All of those values have certainly been an important part of my work.