Translating Your Internship into Social Leadership Skills
Recent MSW graduate, Patricia Waltz, completed her final field placement during the spring 2023 semester with Disability Rights Florida. While searching for an internship, the organization was recommended to her due to her interest in developing her advocacy and social leadership skills at the macro level.
“I had never heard about Disability Rights Florida until I had my placement interview,” she recalled. “I had never considered working with the disability community.”
Patricia, a Tallahassee native, earned her bachelor’s degree in criminology in 2021 and learned about social work when she selected a Minor in Social Welfare, offered by the FSU College of Social Work. The courses for her minor opened her eyes to the profession and led to her pursuing her master’s degree.
On the cusp of completing her degree, an internship with Disability Rights Florida proved to be the perfect capstone to her social work education. “I was interested from the beginning because their team participates in the legislative session.”
Disability Rights Florida (DRF) is a nonprofit in Tallahassee, Florida providing legal advocacy and rights protection for persons with disabilities since 1977. DRF is the State of Florida’s Protection and Advocacy Agency (P&As) serving all individuals with disabilities in the state, with 57 P&As in the United States and its territories.
Patricia’s internship with the public policy department of the organization had her at the Florida Capitol regularly attending committee meetings and taking notes during the 2023 Legislative Session. Not only was she preparing documents, researching and writing blogs for the organization, but Patricia also coordinated and participated in meetings with legislators.
“Legislative advocacy involves a large amount of strategy, learning how to strategize in order to get amendments adopted and bills passed,” she emphasized. “You have to get to know the background of the Senators and Representatives you are going to be speaking with, so you know what motivates them.”
She even participated in a “Board Day,” a day when the board of directors convened in Florida’s capitol to meet with the legislators on the topic of Medicaid Buy-In (HB 61), to ensure Florida’s persons with disabilities maintain or gain access to healthcare and services. Even though the bill did not pass, Patricia noted the continued dedication of the organization’s team to keep fighting for the people they serve.
“The most enjoyable part of this internship has been seeing the passion of the employees and stakeholders,” she emphasized. “They’ve hired a number of people with disabilities who are able to speak from personal experience. Translating their experiences into advocacy efforts is a process that has many layers.”
New to Patricia, was the challenge of learning and navigating the legal terminology, formatting and writing style for the legislative process. Although the jargon proved challenging, she noted that the experience taught her the most about the legislative process since she’s been in higher education.
On top of graduating this year, Patricia is also in her fourth, and final year, of the FSU Army ROTC program. At the end of this summer, she will be commissioned into the U.S. Army Reserves as a 2nd Lieutenant, an officer role with high managerial and problem-solving skills that place them into positions of leadership.
She is also interested in continuing her education. “I hope to go to law school,” she added. “This internship has shown me that I definitely want to do this for underserved and at-risk populations.”