For Taja Towne, leaving the familiar comfort of home is part of a bigger plan.
Towne, a student in the advanced standing Masters of Social Work program in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, says “I firmly believe that a person will grow the most when they leave where they are most comfortable.”
Born and raised in Tucson, Ariz., Towne grew up in a family of veterans. She light-heartedly refers to herself as the “black sheep,” because she decided to pursue a different path, choosing academia over active duty military service.
In 2013, after graduating with a bachelor’s in social work from Arizona State University, she worked in the field for a year and applied to graduate schools across the country that would take her to an unfamiliar place.
Towne has always felt the need to help others. Now, as part of her field placement at the School of Social Policy & Practice, she’s helping people in what she calls a “macro” kind of way with a focus on advocacy and policy.
“It is important to not lose focus of the people you are trying to help or let them fall through the cracks, but there are larger systemic issues at hand. It can be incredibly disheartening when working with populations, but there are policies working against you,” Towne explains.
“For me, ‘macro’ means preventative work: Going for the heart of the issue to fix the problem, so that more aren’t hurt by it, and then helping those who already have been hurt.”
Towne’s field placement is at the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, a network of many organizations and individuals advocating for immigrant rights in Pennsylvania. After being there for just a few weeks, she’s already deeply involved.
“I have helped register new Americans to vote at naturalization ceremonies and attended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival information and clinic sessions, and I’ve participated in protests,” she says.
“I have been working on projects regarding immigrant health insurance through the marketplace, as well as immigrant health literacy and language access rights.”
Towne works with clients as part of a team. At meetings and in information sessions, she is a part of a singular voice that makes decisions and creates strategies for systemic change.
“I am helping by advocating for immigrants and by encouraging them to advocate for themselves,” Towne says. “It would be unrealistic to want to see the Dream Act passed in Pennsylvania by the time I graduate in May 2015, but I would like to see us on that track and definitely a lot closer to seeing it pass.”
As an advanced standing student Towne will complete her degree in one year. She says she hopes to take advantage of her time by participating in as many organizations of interest as possible. She’s planning to be active in the International Social Workersgroup and Social Work Advocates for Immigrants Rights group and to volunteer with the Crisis Text Line, which serves youth in crisis.
After Commencement, she is hoping to get involved in international social work and addressing human rights issues. Towne says the sky’s the limit.
“You don’t need to be realistic in your dreams or goals. You just need to be realistic in your plans to achieve them,” Towne says.
“Aim high and start figuring out how you’re going to get there.”
This article was originally posted here http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/penn-grad-student-taja-towne-has-sights-career-international-social-work