When Jennifer Luna first began as a career services professional at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work after graduating with her MSSW, her office was just a room of modular furniture and a computer. Her supervisor walked her to the office and advised her to “Run with your dream!”
Still in that same office today but now the Director of the DiNitto Career Center and Alumni Relations, Jennifer Luna has dedicated 27 years to pursuing that dream—not only supporting SHSSW’s students and alumni, but also to building up the DiNitto Career Center to be a renowned resource and a model for other social work career centers in the social work world.
After she received her BSW from New Mexico State University, Jennifer worked in a treatment center with women and children. During this time she spent one hour per week running a career development group for the clients who were about to be discharged. They discussed and workshopped cover letters and resumes and learned what to wear on an interview. When Jennifer was offered the role of Career Development Coordinator at the SHSSW in 1995, it was this experience that she harkened back to.
Six months into her new position, Jennifer discovered career development in social work education and began maneuvering career services into that direction. Her focus became more honed as she assisted students with licensure, leadership skills, and their final field experiences.
Jennifer also began reaching out to and assisting alumni. Her next move was to help found the Social Work Alumni Network (SWAN) and create the SWAN Board. Then in 2000 she wrote a grant to the University Co-op to obtain the space that became the DiNitto Career Center. This paved the way for Career Services’ next milestone: becoming the first official social work career center in the country. Jennifer’s work at SHSSW has paved the way for other schools to develop their own social work career centers with the help of Jennifer’s consulting and the DiNitto Center’s example.
Looking to the future, Jennifer is excited about the upcoming release of her first book. Jennifer led this project along with two of her colleagues from across the country who together bring decades of experience in Social Work Career Development. “I really consider this my legacy,” she says. She is also excited to offer Clifton Strengths Coaching with students and teams, helping them unlock their full potential.
As a Latina woman, Jennifer knows how important it is for people of color to embrace their identity and culture no matter what. She also underscores how vital it is to lift one another up: “It’s important for us to mentor each other, and to know that we’re not alone.” She says that the faces of the clientele that social workers of color serve reflect their own. Before students and social workers can go out and make their clients feel seen and like they belong, they first have to experience that belonging. She hopes to facilitate this belonging and welcoming environment at SHSSW and specifically in the DiNitto Center. To students of color, Jennifer says with a smile, “We want to set you up for success in this program because we need you out there.”
Jennifer’s ultimate goal in career services is to help present and future social workers understand their value and fight for themselves: “Until we understand our own value, it’s going to be hard for employers to understand our value, so we need to understand and intentionally emphasize what our value is with employers.” With the help of the resources at the DiNitto Center, SHSSW students and alumni will be uncovering their strengths and understanding their value for years to come.
Click here to learn more about how the DiNitto Career Center can help you on your social work career journey.