Notes From The Workfront: FSU History Alumna Katie Shapiro (BA 2020)

Katie Shapiro

What do you tend to think of when you think of a history major? Archives? Libraries? Museums? Yes, but also no. The skills developed in the study of history are so flexible you can apply them almost anywhere. As a student of history, you’re taught to be constantly curious, to look for patterns, and to think of the big picture. An understanding of history and the skills related to historical study are transferable and needed in any career!

I took a less traditional path with my history degree and found myself as the Reception and Placement (R&P) Case Manager with a resettlement agency in Silver Spring, Maryland. The R & P program is managed by the Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and administered through nonprofits. I worked with newly arrived refugee and SIV (Special Immigrant Visa; cases under special United States programs who are eligible for permanent residency and resettlement) individuals and families for their first 90 days in the United States. As a Case Manager, I was responsible for everything from coordinating airport arrivals, to finding permanent housing for the family, to applying for public assistance, scheduling medical appointments, to enrolling children in school, to enrolling adults in English classes, to general case management needs, and most importantly helping someone become self-sufficient in their new community.

Challenges and Successes

Needless to say, there were some challenges as well as some amazing successes. An R &P Case Manager position is a direct service role, meaning I worked one-on-one with multiple cases to meet their immediate needs. Due to COVID, this meant there were added health risks and other service obstacles. With most government agencies working remotely came a whole new host of challenges for my clients and myself.  Navigating the new COVID landscape was at times frustrating, but with creative thinking and the support of our team, we managed to find new ways to deliver our services. Success was seen in many ways like finding additional rent money for a family, watching a client start their new job, and hearing about the success a client is having in school.

Additionally, while working both in Tallahassee and Silver Spring, I realized there are huge inconsistencies when it comes to the community support of refugees. This all depends on the history of the area. Places like Maryland, DC, and Virginia have long histories of resettlement, so the overall community has greater knowledge of and support for refugees. Other areas that are fairly new to resettlement need a greater push by the community at large to support our new neighbors. Skills developed in the study of history like, the ability to see the bigger picture, think creatively and, engage with the community are integral to the success of resettlement programs and allow someone to identify and address these inconsistencies.

How did I end up here?

I knew I wanted a job where I would feel like I was helping someone or making a difference. Plus, I'm a workaholic and I figured that if I am going to do something 8+ hours a day, it should help make the world a little bit of a better place. As a freshman and early sophomore, I started taking classes purely because I was interested in them, and I found the subject of human rights. By the end of sophomore year, I started working at the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights (CAHR) and I found that I was passionate about working in human rights advocacy. From there, I started to tailor my academics to fit my new passion.

I went on the study human right abroad in the Czech Republic, work on an Honors in the Major Thesis, and did my senior seminar with Dr. Scholz in his “Refugees in History" class. In addition to tailoring coursework, I tried to hone my skills and knowledge of human rights through working in the community.

By working with the Reception and Placement program at the Tallahassee International Rescue Committee (IRC), I gained first-hand experience working with newly arrived families, advocating with them, and helping them meet their immediate needs. This direct-service work took the policies and histories that I learned about in the classroom and gave them a face and a name. Even more so, while serving with Darasa as an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) tutor. Darasa is an organization founded at FSU which partners FSU students with refugee or migrant students in Leon County for additional one-on-one English tutoring and mentorship. Along with tutoring, Darasa actively advocates on behalf of our students on FSU’s campus and the Tallahassee Community. While working with Darasa, I learned how to organize and engage the greater community in supportive efforts for our newly arrived families. After these engagements, I grew to understand the actual needs of our newly arrived families and was constantly challenged to think creatively about client-centered solutions.

On the Horizon

I am working towards applying to law school and will focus on human rights and civil rights law. I am planning on building off what I began at FSU by opening a small non-profit office of my own which will focus on human rights protection efforts on the community level, like education support and reform.  For example, I would like to expand on Darasa’s mission by working with local schools and students to provide supportive ESOL programs during a child’s resettlement. By focusing on meeting human rights standards at the community level, like the right to education and learning (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26), we can create supportive environments for our new neighbors and strengthen our commitment to global human rights. In the end, I am guided by the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home... [s]uch are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere..."