The Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service and Catholic Charities are proud to announce Liliana Espinosa Otero as the 2021 Centennial Scholarship recipient.
The Scholarship, created in 2018, honors the two institutions’ 100-year collaboration to help New Yorkers in need.
“Catholic Charities has been an important partner in the mission of the Graduate School of Social Service from its inception in 1916,” Debra McPhee, dean of GSS, said in a past interview. “The Centennial Scholarship is a wonderful representation of our historic and shared commitment to service and community building throughout New York City and the region.”
Talia Bernal-Lockspeiser, Associate Executive Director/COO at The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of NY, said Espinosa Otero earned the award through her dedication to staff development.
“The Centennial Scholarship reaffirms our collective commitment to the professional development of our staff — those whose commitment and dedication are essential to fulfilling our mission of helping the most vulnerable and needy among us,” Bernal-Lockspeiser said. “Ms. Espinosa Otero exemplifies that commitment and we are honored to present her with this year’s Scholarship award.”
Espinosa Otero is the fourth scholar selected under the five-year program. The Scholarship provides full tuition for a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree to a Catholic Charities agency staff member.
“[Receiving the scholarship] is a great honor,” Espinosa Otero said. “It means, to me, that when you work hard and you do things well, you achieve your dreams.”
Espinosa Otero, who works as a director of operations in the Special Projects Division at Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS), emigrated to the U.S. from Colombia in 2009. She began her career at CCCS in 2015 as a Migration Assistant for the Unaccompanied Minors Program.
CCCS Executive Director Beatriz Diaz Taveras nominated Espinosa Otero for the scholarship. Taveras described Espinosa Otero’s time in the organization as a “unique trajectory” from an entry-level position to a director role within the Division.
However, Espinosa Otero did not always know social work would define her career. She completed her undergraduate degree in industrial engineering at the Universidad de La Guajira, Colombia. While in school, Espinosa Otero lived with her aunt — a social worker — and said that’s when her interest in the profession piqued.
“I used to work with her and saw how you can impact the lives of people through this profession,” Espinosa Otero said. “[When I got to CCCS], I had the opportunity to see the problems of the immigrants closely and how important professional social work is in helping them be a part of society.”
She said her transition from engineering to social work was only logical.
“Social workers are engineers of society,” she said. “They help defeat society’s problems.”
Espinosa Otero said her path was not an easy one, but that the immigrants and refugees she works with on a daily basis experience even more difficulties.
“A lot [of immigrants]are coming [to the U.S.]because they are escaping something,” she said. “If you don’t help them integrate into society and give them a legal path, at some point it’s going to be a problem for you, too. Every action has a reaction. We need to care about others.”
Espinosa Otero hopes an MSW degree will give her the knowledge and skillset necessary to provide these immigrants with better service.
“A master’s degree will help me advocate for immigrants and have an impact on their lives,” she said. “A lot of them have trauma because they suffered persecution or they were abused. They need help, and they need to be treated like humans. We need to be involved in that. We cannot just ignore that and think it’s not our problem. It is our problem. They live here.”