Portfolio Student Profile: Marley Williams

Marley Williams is a dual-degree student pursuing a Master of Public Affairs (MPAff) and a Master of Science of Social Work (MSSW). She graduates in May 2016. We interviewed her in Fall 2015 about her Portfolio Program experience.

What in your background led you to pursue your current degree plan?

Marley Williams, MPAff-MSSW '16Marley Williams
MPAff, MSSW '16

I was raised by two parents with a strong commitment to social justice, advocacy, and public service. Before attending graduate school, I spent two years in a youth development non profit, working with low-income youth from across the Bay Area on college access and social/emotional development. Seeing how directly the criminal justice system impacted the daily lives of the youth I worked with led me to accept a job working on behalf of prisoner rights throughout the California prison system. From these experiences, I realized how many systems (i.e., the education system, the incarceration system, the health care system, etc.) in our society keep people oppressed, impoverished, and struggling to advocate on behalf of their own rights and the rights of their communities. I decided to pursue a dual degree in Public Affairs and Social Work in order to learn how to tackle this injustice and implement broad scale, systemic change.

You recently landed an internship at the Liberty Hill Foundation. Tell us about how you became interested in their work and what you hope to learn while there.

I was extremely privileged to have the opportunity to participate in a fellowship with the KDK-Harman Foundation this past summer. Through my work with their incredible team, I realized the impact a foundation with visionary leadership can have on a community and a region. I found Liberty Hill by researching foundations in the Los Angeles region who were making a similar impact by working to correct inequities in education, criminal justice and health. Liberty Hill is a very special foundation because it is also a nonprofit. This designation allows them to fund grassroots leadership and social justice movements throughout the L.A. area and other parts of California. I am excited to learn more about the work being funded and supported by Liberty Hill and how progressive grantmaking and system-building can be bolstered by foundation support.

Liberty Hill describes itself as “L.A.’s social justice epicenter since 1976”. Is there a specific social justice mission you are passionate about?

In my opinion, the definition of social justice is the profound belief that everyone deserves equal access to economic, political, and social rights and opportunities. To be a social justice advocate is to fight for justice in whatever way you can, for every individual, in all of these areas. That being said, there are so many inequitable systems in our society that the fight for justice can be exhausting. Sometimes it helps to focus your efforts on one particular cause. Right now I am a strong believer in the idea that every single child deserves a high-quality education with a curriculum rooted in the foundations of justice and equity. By that I mean that every child should have the ability to learn about their own histories and the histories of their communities while surrounded by safety, love and support. Many other injustices we see on a daily basis might be addressed as a result of achieving this singular vision.

Talk more about your participation in the RGK Center’s Summer Foundation Internship Program with the KDK-Harman Foundation. What project(s) did you work on? 

I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent the summer as a fellow at the KDK-Harman Foundation. My boss allowed me to become certified in a cutting edge assessment tool designed to observe extra-curricular STEM programs and improve the quality of those programs for students of all grade levels throughout Central Texas. During my time with the Foundation, I conducted observations at over 25 grantee sites and participated in region-wide community meetings to discuss ways to increase the access and quality of these types of programs for all Central Texas students. In addition, I was part of a national call for applications to create a STEM ecosystem in the city of Austin. This was a successful application and Austin is now the premier city in Texas that is piloting this type of ecosystem work.  My work at the KDK-Harman Foundation showed me the exciting impact a Foundation can have on a community and a region.

What value has the Nonprofit Portfolio Studies Program added to your graduate education?

The Nonprofit Portfolio Studies Program has introduced me to some of the most amazing and dynamic professors at the LBJ School and the School of Social Work, including one of my own mentors and current Director of the RGK Center, Dr. David Springer. The staff and faculty have so much knowledge about the nonprofit sector, social justice and equity and community-based programs and research. In addition, the portfolio program has given me the opportunity to interact with leaders from outside of the UT system and has exposed me to many resources that I did not know were available to me as a graduate student.

Where did you complete your volunteer service requirement for the Portfolio?

My largest volunteer commitment has come from my field internships at the School of Social Work. The most meaningful internship was my placement working with adults with mental, physical and learning disabilities at Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. I helped clients secure work and other resources as well as conducted a re-entry support group for formerly incarcerated Goodwill employees.

Any advice for current/future Portfolio students on how to customize the program to meet their needs?

The Portfolio Program is designed to support students and their learning. If there is something that your education is missing that you think could be supported by an event, speaker or conversation organized by the staff of the RGK Center, then you should definitely reach out to Program staff. The staff and faculty have so many connections at UT and throughout Austin that the program can serve as an awesome professional development and networking resource if students take the time to explore all of the opportunities available to them.