After graduating in the top four percent of her class from Trinity University, Taylor Woodard (MSSW ’14) landed a lucrative banking career at JP Morgan Chase. She was living what many would perceive as the “American Dream,” yet she soon realized that something was amiss.
“I moved to Manhattan with great hopes of continuing my personal campaign of spreading hope and making a difference from within the corporate world,” Woodard says. “However, once inside, those opportunities simply were not there.”
When she found herself stranded on her scooter—for the third time that week—on the platform level of Grand Central Station due to elevator outages, she realized that she needed to make a change.
“That situation forced me to see that not all public policy was effective public policy. This, and other situations coupled with my dismay at the prevailing values of the financial industry, drove me to acknowledge that I was in a field for which I had no zeal.”
With the goal of making the world a more accessible place for people with disabilities, Woodard researched graduate schools within the realm of social work. After some research, she found UT Austin had the most to offer. In 2010 she pursued dual-degrees in the School of Social Work and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
“My time working for a prestigious Wall Street firm taught me that, fairly or unfairly, being associated with a highly regarded entity often paves the way to greater opportunities,” Woodard adds. “Earning a master’s from UT Austin’s School of Social Work will unlock doors of opportunity that may otherwise not open.”
During her time on the Forty Acres, she focused her studies on advocacy, program development and leadership. In 2012, she and staff members in Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) co-founded the Disability Advocate Student Coalition, the university’s first cross-disability advocacy organization that advocates accessibility policy and supports education and awareness across the campus. Looking back at her career change, she’s happy she returned to her home state to follow her passions.
“More than anything, I wanted to live my values,” says Woodard, who graduated with honors in both of her fields with support from SSD. “I knew then my career would be in public service, advocating for the marginalized, primarily people with disabilities.”
After graduation, she accepted a Paul Marchand Internship at The Arc, the oldest and largest advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Later, she was hired by The Arc as a program associate. Now in a career that is both rewarding and challenging, she is leading communications efforts for The Arc as an assistant to the senior executive officer of communication, and to the senior executive officer of individual and family support.
Posted December 20, 2016. This story appeared first in the magazine of The University of Texas at Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.