News - "Beautiful Collision" of Spanish and Social Work Yields Rewards for Alumni

"Beautiful Collision" of Spanish and Social Work Yields Rewards for Alumni

By Carla Morris

Though they've never met, Marcia and Rebekah might have formed a fast friendship had their GU years overlapped. 

  • Both pursued double majors that included Spanish.
  • Both say learning Spanish changed them. 
  • Both are licensed social workers.
  • And, both serve others from the heart. 

Rebekah Friend, Class of ’12, marvels at how these dual passions have opened doors. “It’s as if the Spirit whispers ‘for such a time as this,’” she says.

Likewise, Marcia Brown-Medina, Class of ’94, cherishes instances where the practical and divine intersect. In one moment, she acknowledges “by career and license, I am a social worker,” and in the next, she links that ordinary-sounding job to inspiration and calling.

Celebrating the Advocate

Last September, Hispanic Heritage Month, State’s Attorney Jim Rowe of Kankakee Marcia_Brown_MedinaCounty (IL) presented Marcia with the El Humanitario Award. The honor underscored her leadership in the Hispanic community. It included her service to migrant workers through the Community Health Partnership and nearly 20 years with Catholic Charities, where she coordinated Hispanic/Latino Services and served as a bilingual case worker. 

“She speaks up and calls attention to issues and fights for social justice,” said Rowe. “She fights the good fight when no one else will.”

For Marcia (at right), the “good fight” sometimes means bringing others along, like familiarizing aspiring social workers with the many avenues for advocacy or helping school administrators understand that federal statutes require no Social Security numbers for immigrant students. It means speaking with elected officials about improving communities and coordinating all manner of services to do just that.

Accolades are not new for Marcia. A local chapter of the NASW had previously named her “Social Worker of the Year,” and the Kankakee County Hispanic Partnership presented her with its “Make a Difference” Community Award. Community Health Partnership named her a “Collaboration Partner,” and The Immigration Project honored her as an “Immigration Hero.”

But Marcia is not inclined to mention these. Instead, she talks about the satisfying work of helping immigrant children make it to their doctors’ appointments on time and ensuring that Spanish-speaking medical interpreters make the appointments too; she talks about improving the quality of life for schoolchildren. 

Spanish and Social Work: A Beautiful Collision

About the time the state’s attorney showered Marcia with praise, Rebekah, 460 miles away in Kansas City, Missouri, conducted a memorable home visit as part of her child welfare caseload. She encountered an immigrant schoolgirl from Mexico, who struggled over her Spanish homework. 

“They were learning about Spain’s civil war [and] the vocabulary and grammar from that part of the world,” recalls Rebekah. The young student, who learned her mother tongue in Mexico, struggled with the difference in language usage between the two regions.

Rebekah_FriendRebekah (at left) took a seat next to the girl, and together they conducted a Google search for Picasso’s art. In no time, conversation flowed as they covered the historical significance of the Spanish master’s work and compared differences in language usage between Mexico and Spain. 

Also certified to teach English as a second language, Rebekah drew on past experiences that fit her for this task. For a time after college, she taught in a bilingual school in Mexico. She had also developed and run an inner-city reading program for children in Nashville, Tennessee. 

“It was a unique moment in which all the effort I put into my own education paid off, and the beautiful worlds of social work and Spanish collided,” says Rebekah.

Her current work in child welfare affords few bright moments. “Because of that, I cherish and notice good days, moments, and interactions all the more,” she says.

Different Eras, Same Story

Neither Rebekah nor Marcia began college with plans to pursue dual majors. For Marcia, conversations with then professors Jane Sanders (Spanish) and Rick Stephens (sociology) set the stage. 

“They were very encouraging to me and helped me see a vision for my future career,” she recalls. “They really cared about me personally, and how I was doing and learning and applying the course materials.”

Rebekah planned to major in social work. Then, her high scores on a required language proficiency test drew attention from Spanish instructors. Her prior training in Spanish—guidance from a tutor during an extended trip to Mexico—landed her in an advanced Spanish composition classKathie Filby, then professor of Spanish, noticed Rebekah’s excellent work, pulled her aside, and asked, “Why aren’t you majoring in Spanish?”

In no time, at the professor’s urging, Rebekah took on a second major. Today, she echoes Marcia’s sentiments about caring professors.

“All of my professors were caring people who made me feel seen as a person and worth investing in. I also found other students who had an equal passion for the subjects we studied, and those students became my close friends.”

Timeless Advice For Students

Though 18 years separate Rebekah and Marcia’s class years, their advice for today’s students is the same: seize opportunities to grow and keep an open mind.

“Always look for new opportunities for a new skill or to serve,” says Marcia. She recalls the rich experiences cultural immersion provided her via study abroad in Costa Rica and, back on campus, living with other Spanish-speakers in Women’s Spanish House. 

Rebekah credits her growth as a person to chapel speakers, field trips, research projects, friends, and an overall “atmosphere that promotes unique experiences and depth.” She urges students to make the most of their four years with professors who are poised to mentor them: 

“There will be a day that they are not a five-minute walk across campus, and you will not have a built-in support network. This is a safe place designed for you to explore your talents and interests. Take advantage of that to ask the hard questions, to challenge yourself, to ask for help, to build friendships.” 

Learn More

GU Alumnus Dr. Todd Stephens ’85 Named 2019 Kansas Humanitarian
Selfless: Lady Panthers Score Unexpected Rewards in Costa Rica
A Year of Adventures For World Outreach and Missions
Pope’s New Book Features Cover Art By Alumnus

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This story was published on December 12, 2019

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