All throughout her undergrad, Katie Dager ’14, was convinced that she would go into direct practice, providing one-on-one social work upon graduation. However, during field placements provided to her by the University of Findlay she realized where she would fit best in the profession was in community practice. By the end of her time at UF, she realized she wanted to practice social work on a larger scale.
And she is doing just that as the development coordinator for University Settlement, a neighborhood center located in the Cleveland’s Broadway-Slavic Village community. She serves as liaison to her agency’s board of directors and coordinates all volunteers for their weekly community meals. She also writes grants and plans fundraising events.
Dager’s decision to center her career around helping people came after the deaths of her grandmother and two classmates while she was in high school. Dager initially thought she wanted to major in psychology to be a therapist, but after encouragement from her parents, she did some research and found social work, “I was attracted to the variety in the field and the professional license,” she said.
While visiting the University’s campus during the College of Health Professions campus visit day, Dager was sold on the program after one conversation with Robin Walters-Powell Ed.D., M.S.W., LISW-S, assistant professor and chair of the social work program. “Walters-Powell’s passion for teaching, her students and the profession of social work is so apparent,” Dager said. “Her charisma, dedication and passion is unmatched.”
As part of her curriculum requirements, Dager participated in two fieldwork experiences at Tiffin Development Center and Bridge Home Health. She learned much about herself during that time, as well as direct practice social work. She found the work overall critical to social work learning.
Her placements taught her about true empathy for others, the importance of being a self-starter in the work place and not to be afraid to ask questions. “I learned the importance of encouraging self-worth, dignity and self-respect not only in clients but in everyone you work with,” she said. “Positivity is contagious and people take notice if you are an encouraging, open individual.”
In addition to her field placements, Dager also attended Ohio’s National Association of Social Workers advocacy day and volunteered and attended the National Bowen Symposium in Washington D.C.
For Dager, no teacher at the University could match the impact of retired professor, Anthony Wilgus. As her advisor, and first instructor, he set the standard to which she held every other one of her professors. Wilgus pushed her to be the best social worker, student and professional she could be. He oversaw and coordinated both of her field placements. He was the one who suggested Dager consider Case Western Reserve University for graduate school and she said it is the best school and career advice she ever received.
“Had I not gone to Case, I would not have the job I do now,” she said. “I cannot thank Professor Wilgus enough.”
Dager pursued a Master of Science in Social Administration at Case Western where she graduated in 2015. “The focus of my master’s was community practice, and it was the right choice. Now my work helps to find the funding that allows these amazing programs to operate and thousands of people to receive critical services. It’s all social work, just a different kind.”
As part of Dager’s master’s, she was required to complete a field placement each semester. She was placed in the community development corporation in Slavic Village. She enjoyed working in the community. Her current position as the development coordinator opened right when she was looking for a job.
As development coordinator, Dager handles a wide variety of responsibilities and has joked her job takes full advantage of the “other duties as assigned” bullet in the job description. In addition to her regular duties, Dager participates in monthly fresh produce distribution, assists with marketing, and supports special program events. Dager oversees all special holiday events the agency runs, such as an Adopt-A-Family program. “There is never a dull moment at University Settlement and I love the variety!” she said.
Dager is excited to work in Slavic Village and Cleveland and enjoys the diversity her job offers. She feels a sense of shared commitment to the community among her coworkers. “I am always learning and growing and being challenged,” Dager said.