Alyssa Linvell Headshot

Alyssa Linvell

AM '22
Fields of interest
Immigrants and Refugees, Global/International Social Work

Alyssa Linvell’s clients show her how to become a better social worker

After earning her bachelor’s degree in international studies in 2015, Alyssa Linvell, AM ’22, took a job at a Chicago marketing firm. She remained for five years. But the volunteer work that Linvell did led her to seek graduate study at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

“I knew I wanted to work in a different field doing something more helpful and supportive of making our world a better place,” she said.

Linvell’s volunteer experience included weekly stints as a health outreach bus volunteer for The Night Ministry, which focused on ending poverty and homelessness while building meaningful and supportive relationships with people in the community. At the bus stop locations, people ate dinner, picked up their mail, got help from a social worker or nurse, and shared stories over coffee.

 “Spending time with the people I met on the bus showed me that I really enjoyed building relationships with clients and that social work is so much more than just connecting people to services and resources,” she said.

Her first-year field placement was at Adult Redeploy Illinois (ARI), which funds prison diversion programs. In the state agenchy’s Vital Voices program, she worked with participants and graduates of state-funded diversion programs. Linvell’s work included organizing speaking events for graduates to share their stories with the community. She also co-facilitated discussions for participants and graduates to connect with each other and provide feedback on the program.

“The graduates generously shared their knowledge and expertise to bring Vital Voices to life. Wherever social work takes me, I want to help ensure that our organizations and programs are driven by the people most impacted by them.”

A clinical concentration student, Linvell entered the Crown Family School’s Global Social Development Practice Program (GSDP Program), partly because of her undergraduate work in international studies, global health, and nonprofit management at the University of Iowa.

 “My values for human rights and my family’s immigrant background also cultivated my interest in working with immigrant and refugee communities, she said.

For her second-year field placement, Linvell worked at the Survivors of Torture program at the Marjorie Kovler Center, a Chicago-based program of Heartland Alliance International. A part of an integrated case management team, she provided therapy to refugees and immigrants who had experienced torture and political violence.

“The relationships I formed with clients at Kovler will always stay with me. They showed me what kind of social worker and clinician I want to be,” she said.

While challenged by witnessing the harmful impacts of the U.S. asylum system and resettlement on her clients, she felt supported by her colleagues and her GSDP cohort.

“Surrounded by the smartest, most creative and compassionate people I have ever met, I learned how to put my values into practice. I was incredibly moved by their work and feel inspired knowing they are trying to change these systems with me.”

“Alyssa engaged in what could potentially be incredibly difficult work taking on secondary trauma from her clients who had experienced political violence and torture,” said Jessica Darrow, coordinator of the GSDP Program. “I continue to be struck by how skilled she is in attending to her clients while not seeming to be damaged herself by their experiences, an essential skill in the clinical work that she was doing.”

The work required Linvell to make people who have experienced an acute lack of safety feel safe and feel heard.

“She understood that that's her key role as a clinician. And she's very, very good at it. She's going to be an incredible clinician,” Darrow said.

Linvell took two classes from Darrow, including one on refugee resettlement policy.

“Jessica Darrow is amazing,” she said. “She’s thoughtful and intentional in the way that she designs her classes. I felt a strong sense of community, doing work in classes with other people who cared deeply about understanding the intimate ways in which refugee resettlement policy impacts people.”

Linvell also valued the class on Clinical Practice with Survivors of Torture and Political Violence, taught by Leora Hudak of the Center for Victims of Torture. The class coincided with the time that Linvell and some of her classmates spent at Kovler, working with survivors of torture.

“She was a great person to go to with our clinical questions,” Linvell said. “In Leora’s class, we developed a deeper understanding of the impacts of trauma, how trauma is compounded by experiences of displacement and resettlement, and how to support survivors.”

In August, Linvell began a post-MSW fellowship in college counseling at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also looks forward to getting involved again in supporting local immigrants and refugees. But the engaging conversations she enjoyed with classmates still echo in her mind.

“Those are the times that I felt this motivation and eagerness to get out there and do things,” Linvell said.