Caitlin Mello is living her passion every day as a senior in the Social Work program at UVM.
Her passion and hard work yielded a very special honor recently when she learned that she was the recipient of a Fulbright Award. After graduation, she will be going abroad for a year-long English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) at a higher education setting in Poland. In this role she will also serve as a cultural ambassador for the United States.
“I'm really excited about it. The Fulbright experience can inform what I’m learning in the field, and how that’s going to impact teaching later on," says Caitlin. "With the Poland Fulbright, I’ll have an opportunity to do community engagement work, along with the chance to experience a different culture.”
Suzy Comerford, an Associate Professor of Social Work at UVM, is impressed by Caitlin’s ability to see the strengths in people. “She will be an exceptional representative of the United States as a Fulbright. She is committed to human rights and social justice, and the ability to explore the underlying assumptions, language and power relations in ambiguity,” says Comerford. “This is the territory of social work. She blends these skills with sensitivity to culture and context.”
The Call of Social Work
“My path to social work was roundabout,” she explains. “Growing up, I always wanted to be a lawyer. My mom said that I could get paid to argue, so that’s what I wanted to do.” During her junior and senior year of high school, she was looking for something that would inform her work as a lawyer, but she wanted to bring something different to the table. “With social work, you get that social justice and direct practice experience that can inform work with clients.”
After her first year in the Social Work program at UVM, Caitlin felt a change of heart about her future. She knew that she wanted to be a social worker rather than going to law school. “I fell in love with the work, and the belief in the inherent dignity, respect, and worth of human beings. That resonated with me.”
When asked about the most rewarding aspect of her experience as a UVM student, she doesn’t hesitate with a response. “I love the field placement experience, spending a full year doing something you want to do. It feels like I’m already doing the work as a professional in the field, but I also have the support system from my professors and mentors in the field. It’s incredibly rewarding. I’ve made so many connections.”
“My senior year internship with NASW-VT (National Association of Social Work – Vermont Chapter) involves policy and advocacy work in the Statehouse, and I’ve found that’s really my passion,” she says. Recently, she and her fellow NASW-VT interns coordinated Social Work Advocacy Day at the Vermont State House in Montpelier. “I love organizing and everything that goes into macro social work. When I return from Poland, I’m planning to do policy work and enter politics.”
Equal and affordable access to health care is a paramount issue for Caitlin. “There are huge gaps in health care,” she says. “I think we really can’t get to a socially just society unless we’re all on an even playing field with health care.”
Her long-range plans include the pursuit of a Master’s of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree, and she’s looking at dual programs that will allow for a Master’s in Public Health as well.
Connections with Faculty Mentors
“All of the social work professors are amazing and supportive,” Caitlin says emphatically.
As a first-year student, she took a class called Poverty and Social Justice with Ann Pugh, who is also a Chittenden County State Representative. “She immediately took me under her wing. We would get coffee, talk about policy, and she set up meetings for me with lawyers in the area who do work related to social justice. That was very impactful.”
During her second year in the program, she started developing a strong relationship with Suzy Comerford. “Over the past year, she provided valuable support and assistance during my application for the Fulbright. She’s been a person that I’ve always been able to go to and talk with about whatever is going on in my program.”
Caitlin is also very grateful for her faculty advisor, Corey Richardson. “She’s brilliant, incredible, and so supportive.” As an added benefit, Caitlin and her friends also enjoy going to see Corey’s stand-up comedy routines at local venues in downtown Burlington.
“I love my social work cohort. There are 32 of us, and some of us are in very challenging experiences in the field,” she says. Having these unique connections and bonds with one another is important, she feels. “They really get what you’re going through.”
“For both semesters during the senior year, we do consultations as a cohort, where every week gather as a class to discuss what’s going in our field placement internships. It’s a chance to share and exchange ideas and advice with peers and our professors.”
Service, Leadership and Research Experience
Caitlin was a Resident Advisor in the Wellness Environment during her junior year, and this year she’s serving as a Lead Resident Advisor. She feels that her community of fellow RAs is another unique cohort of support within the University. “We’re very close with each other, and we can talk about what’s going on in our various situations.”
Last year she served as co-chair of the DREAM program, and still enjoys volunteering with the program, which serves disadvantaged youth in the Burlington community. “That’s been one of my best experiences in college.”
For the past year, Caitlin has been working as research assistant for the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families. The project is funded by the Larner College of Medicine, and aligns well with her minor in Behavioral Change Health Studies and her involvement with the Wellness Environment at UVM.
Adding to an already impressive resume, Caitlin is also Crisis Worker Certified in the state of Vermont, and just recently received her First Aid in Mental Health for Adults Certification. “Even though I’m focused on policy work, it’s important to have that background in direct service and how to work with people in crisis.”
A Very Special Place
“I love Burlington,” says Caitlin. “I don’t think there’s any other place like Burlington.” As a trombone player, she’s enjoyed playing a few gigs in town. She also takes advantage of what Vermont has to offer. “I love hiking, swimming, and I just learned to ski this year.”
Beyond the fun and natural beauty of the area, what stands out most of all to Caitlin is the unique culture of the community.
“The support you receive from this community, this University, and this College… there’s such a focus on social justice and helping people.” These values mesh perfectly with Caitlin's core beliefs and her calling in Social Work.