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Alum Lillian Ortiz, Named Nonprofit Leadership Alliance Director

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August 24, 2020

(HOUSTON, TX) - The Graduate College of Social Work recently named Lillian Ortiz (MSW '07) to assume the role of Program Director of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (NLA). 

Aimed with the mission of "strengthening the social network with a talented, prepared workforce," the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance "prepares skilled professionals who will be tomorrow's leaders in America's nonprofit organizations."

Lillian Ortiz returns to the GCSW with abundant experience in the nonprofit sector, previously serving as Chief of Staff for The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. She also served as an Adjunct Professor at the GCSW.

We asked Lillian Ortiz to share a bit of what she hopes to achieve in her new role as Program Director of the NLA and reflect on how her time at the GCSW has prepared her for a full-circle career moment. 

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Name: Lillian Aguirre Ortiz
Preferred Pronouns: she/her/hers
Graduation Year from the GCSW and Program: MSW '07
Current Position: Program Director, Nonprofit Leadership Alliance

We're so happy to have you back at the GCSW in this role! What is it that drew you back to the GCSW?

Thank you. A few things made this position appealing:

1: I've been an adjunct professor for several years, so I've been lucky to keep a connection to the college that way. I've enjoyed the opportunity to work with students as they prepare for their careers, and this new position allows me to do that on a larger scale.

2: I've spent my career working in non-profit and public organizations in direct service and policy roles, so I'm aware of how much we need prepared non-profit professionals. What we all do is hard enough on the best of days. If I can use my experiences to help inform the next generation's preparation, then that is a great use of my skills and time.

3: I've been a big fan of Dean Dettlaff and his vision for the college since our first conversation right after he took on his role. He understands that the GCSW and its programs, including the NLA, play a vital role in the community. His investment in that, combined with the GCSW's mission and vision centered on achieving social justice, makes this a great time to further the NLA Program's potential.

What was it that made you decide to go into social work initially?

My career has provided me a lot of experience in the nonprofit sector. When I began to look at leadership roles and positions in more specialized programs, I knew of several people with MSW degrees who offered me their insight and greatly encouraged me to take the next step in my educational and professional career. It was then that I felt that I would considerably benefit from an MSW degree.

You're returning to the GCSW with the unique perspective of having been a student. How was that overall experience?

I had a great experience. Looking back, it feels like a blur because I was working and going to school practically full-time like so many other students. I remember the faculty and staff, some of whom are still here, as always being incredibly encouraging and supportive. For example, I'm the self-declared president of the Amber Mollhagen Fan Club. Jan Leger and Brené Brown also kept me going on more than one occasion. I hope I can continue that tradition for the students.

I also remember how I received a valuable scholarship. That scholarship made such a tremendous difference in making graduate school possible for me. I was one of the first five GCSW students to receive the Bilingual Social Worker Scholarship in 2005, which was primarily due to the efforts of Nancy Frees Fountain and the late Barbara Henley. I feel like this role will help me continue their efforts by supporting students in their education.

After graduating from the GCSW, what was your experience like putting your education into practice?

I'm a big believer in real-life experience, and I believe that having done direct service work allowed me to appreciate and process certain aspects of the program better. I was also fortunate to have participated in the GCSW's Austin Legislative Internship Program during my last semester with former State Rep. Jessica Farrar's office. Thanks to that opportunity to put my direct service experience and education into practice, she offered me the position as her Chief of Staff when I graduated.

Can you expand on how you believe your new role supports the GCSW's mission and vision of achieving social justice?

UH has a very diverse student body, and many of these students are working and have familial obligations while trying to further their education and professional opportunities. These students are now my constituency. My mission in this new role is to support them so that they can become the prepared and successful non-profit professionals we need to see making positive changes in the world--whether socially, economically, politically or environmentally.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I'm excited to be here and want to thank everyone for the beautiful welcome I've received.