Their peers have spoken. Classmates of Gabriella Lopez, BSW 2023, and Beth Wagner, MSSW 2023, selected them as the Steve Hicks School of Social Work (SHS) 2023 commencement speakers. Both Gabriella and Beth have actively participated in several campus- and School-wide initiatives during their time at the SHS, and they embody the SHS mission to “provide national leadership to promote social and economic justice, alleviate critical social problems, and enhance human well-being.”
BSW Speaker: Gabriella Lopez
Since arriving at UT, Gabriella has been part of the First Generation Living and Learning Community (LLC), the goal of which is to “build a peer and faculty/staff network for first generation students so that they can get academically and socially integrated into the college setting.” As a first-gen college student, Gabriella has found the group essential to “transition to college, access resources, and have a community,” she says. She now serves as an LLC peer leader with 10 mentees, four of whom are social work majors.
Her leadership also extends to the SHS. She is currently the BSW president of the Social Work Council and its only BSW representative, and prior to moving into a leadership role, she served as its Service & Social director. She has also been active with Socks for the Sole, a student-run non-profit that collects and donates socks to Austin’s homeless community.
During her time at the SHS, Gabriella has most valued the compassionate SHS community. “I had some major unexpected losses in my family this year, and I just wanted to stay home, but everyone back at school was so supportive,” she explains. Post-graduation, Gabriella hopes to extend that same kind of care within the juvenile justice system while she pursues an MSSW and LCSW.
MSSW Speaker: Elizabeth Wagner
Elizabeth “Beth” Wagner had planned to go to law school after getting her undergraduate degree in Political Philosophy, Philosophy, Law and History at the University of Virginia. But after working in the Federal consulting practice at Deloitte, at a health care start-up, and on a political campaign, her interests shifted to social work.
At the SHS, Beth found affinity with FED UP, the local chapter of P4P (Payment for Placements), a national organization that seeks financial support for social work internship placements. Last February, Beth became interested in alleviating heavy financial burdens for social work students. Since then, Beth and other active members have successfully collaborated with the School administration to reduce the number of required field placement hours and to find new financial funds to support students.
Currently interning at Goodwill, where mental health services are offered to employees “completely for free, which feels so good,” Beth says, she will finish her internship hours in May. Looking further ahead, Beth hopes to do individual and group counseling with adults, perhaps incorporating her love of nature and interest in spirituality. But first – she is taking a breather because as she says, “I am so tired!”
Regardless of what is next for both Gabriella and Beth, one thing seems certain: they will continue the work they started at the SHS and make a difference in the lives of others.