MSW@USC student elected to Lynwood Board of Education
By day, Briseida Gonzalez is a graduate student at the USC School of Social Work. By night, she’s the newly elected member of the Lynwood Unified School District Board of Education.
And she has some big ideas. The first-generation college graduate is determined to help the students of the Los Angeles suburb where she grew up.
“Often our [Lynwood] families face challenges navigating the school system,” she said. “They’re not familiar with resources, such as early education programs or education services for children with special needs.”
In her first four months on the board, Gonzalez has made it her job to learn anything and everything about the school district’s education system and the community’s needs.
“My role is to advocate for support services that help address the everyday barriers students face and support their educational experience,” she said.
So far, Gonzalez has helped the school district develop a partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services to provide free anger-management classes, clinical therapy and case management to at-risk students. She also is working with superintendent Edward Velasquez on a teen-dating violence awareness campaign for the district’s high schools.
“I take a holistic approach to education,” Gonzalez said. “I want to promote safe and nurturing learning environments to provide students with the opportunity to develop their maximum potential.”
Headway has been made, thanks in part to what’s she’s learning in grad school. The MSW@USC student, who is completing her master’s degree through USC’s Virtual Academic Center, is studying community organization, planning and administration (COPA) and taking courses in research and research evaluation, program development and policy practice that enhances the well-being of communities.
“The COPA curriculum is a very individualized project experience for students,” said Gokul Mandayam, clinical associate professor at the School of Social Work, who has worked with Gonzalez. “You get to know students by making the field assignments palpable to their real-world work.”
Gonzalez completed her field internship at the Human Services Association in Southeast Los Angeles, working alongside its chief executive.
“From financial analysis of organizations to the political, social and demographic contexts that influence policy, my placement has provided me the opportunity to sharpen my skills in board development,” she said, noting the parallels to her elected position.
Gonzalez also has utilized the skills she learned in courses that emphasized human behavior and therapeutic relationships, which have enabled her to further strengthen her connection to the Lynwood community and foster partnerships with community stakeholders.
“She’s been very effective, really putting into practice all that she has learned in being a community leader,” Mandayam said.
As part of her election campaign, Gonzalez, with the help of volunteers, canvassed the community, providing information about her platform. She said the door-to-door approach allowed her to share her personal background and knowledge of the community with residents while also allowing them to voice their concerns.
“Community connection was integral in making my campaign effective,” she said.
Mandayam exuded pride in sharing his student’s “nontraditional” accomplishments in social work.
“What social workers do does not always fit into the stereotypical sense –they can also be leaders,” Mandayam said. “Briseida is now a big voice in the community.”