Portfolio Program Student Profile: Taylor Woodard

Taylor Woodard is a dual-degree master’s student (LBJ-Public Affairs/Social Work). She graduates in August 2014. We interviewed her in fall 2013 about her Portfolio Program experience.

Tell us a little about your background, where you grew up, where you went undergrad, and how you came to the LBJ School/Portfolio Program.

I was raised in a very small town on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country. I often joke there were more sheep on our ranch than there were students in my class. While my high school was not academically challenging, I had a wonderful upbringing in a pastoral community where kids were miles and miles from a mall or a Starbucks and surrounded by supportive, encouraging, caring people. It taught me how to cooperate and to care about others.

After high school, I went to Trinity University in San Antonio and earned a degree in Business Administration/Marketing. My greatest honor there was receiving the Trinity Student Achievement Award for Volunteerism for maintaining a high GPA while making a significant contribution to campus life. Among other activities, I initiated a book drive for the San Antonio Children’s Shelter that netted over 6,000 new volumes. Upon graduation, I moved to New York City where I participated in the National Business and Disability Council’s Emerging Leaders internship program and then worked for JPMorgan Chase for two years on Wall Street. While this was a wonderful experience, it only raised my awareness that my true passion was to work on behalf of disadvantaged individuals. It was then I decided to return to Texas and enroll at UT-Austin. Initially, I was only enrolled at the graduate School of Social Work in the Community Administrative Leadership concentration. After a year, though, I felt I needed to broaden my skill set and sought admission to the dual degree program at LBJ. I knew that the LBJ School’s foundational courses would add dimension to my training in areas such as management, public finance, policy, and statistics. I felt these classes would qualify me to work for the kind of change I desire to make in our world today.

Can you tell us about the recent project you completed for Open Door Preschools? 

Through Dr. Sarah Jane Rehnborg’s Nonprofit Governance: Management Perspectives & Analysis course I was able to work with a local nonprofit to gain professional development experience. Based on my interest in and commitment to the disabled population, I elected to work with Open Door Preschools. Our class project focused on preschool alumni associations. After the semester was complete, and spurred by the impressive work Open Door was accomplishing in diversity with young children, I wanted to go beyond the class assignment. At the time, Open Door did not have a research assistant, so Larry Elsner, the Executive Director, working through my Portfolio Program professors, graciously offered me an opportunity to work on a literature review project. 

In recent years, donors have begun to require significant supporting evidence and documentation in awarding funding. Open Door wanted to be able to incorporate into their grant proposals the research substantiating the positive effects of including disabled preschoolers in classrooms with typically developing students. So, I spent most of my days last August scouring hundreds of articles related to this subject. In mid September, I presented Open Door with an extensive research overview documenting the multiple benefits of preschool inclusion. It is my hope that this will help the organization garner additional funding. But, in reality, I also really benefitted from the project. I gained volumes of knowledge about the inclusion process while sharpening my research skills. I have also now accumulated stacks of journal articles on the effects of musical studies for preschoolers, and it is my intention to complete another research review for Open Door soon.

What are some other ways you have benefitted from enrolling at the LBJ School and participating in the Portfolio Program?

Many LBJ students have diverse backgrounds and have worked in local, state, and federal government. Because of the intersections of government and the nonprofit sector, it’s valuable to understand how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Also, as a result of my RGK studies, I was prompted to seek the opportunity to serve on a nonprofit board. I attended a networking event designed to bring nonprofits and potential board members together and, as a result, now serve on the board of Capital City Village, a  local nonprofit dedicated to helping seniors live well at home (age in place versus institutionalization). With the thorough training on board governance provided in Dr. Rehnborg’s class, I have already made contributions to Capital City and feel confident I can continue to be an asset to this organization.

What are your future goals? 

I hope to secure a meaningful opportunity advocating on behalf of a challenged population. Ultimately, I want to serve in a leadership role in an organization that advances opportunities in education, employment, or health care for disabled individuals. I want to help demolish the barriers confronting this population and break the cycle of poverty that entraps many of them.