Congratulations to Amy Ortiz, who has received the 2022-2023 NASW Foundation Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial MSW Scholarship!
Ortiz is currently a part-time MSW student at the Lincoln Center Campus and works full-time in the fashion industry. She is a Fordham undergraduate alumna, is a Fordham GSS student ambassador, and has founded multiple Bronx-based fitness groups for women focused on running and cycling. We spoke about her time so far at GSS, living in the Bronx, and what makes a successful scholarship application.
What does receiving this scholarship mean to you?
I mean, it’s a great recognition. Not that I didn’t think that I would get it, but I thought it was a long shot. I don’t come from social work. I work in the fashion industry. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, I was on my own journey with mental health, and I realized that there was a huge gap in finding therapists that look like me and understood the nuances of being an Afro-Latina.
It’s also very taboo to talk about mental health in my community. So, within my journey, I’m hoping to change that conversation. I also live in the Bronx, and I just feel like—within the Bronx itself—we don’t talk enough about mental health.
Receiving the scholarship helps with paying for school and being able to afford it. I don’t have that added stress of how am I going to pay for school because I am going to pay out of pocket. So having the scholarship is really nice to not have to worry that much more.
Also, to be recognized as a masters in social work student at Fordham University I just think is pretty amazing. I realize that I am a really small percentage, and that makes me super proud. I’m proud to be part of the Fordham family and to be a part of this program.
Can you talk a little bit about the decision to change from the fashion industry to social work? What was the motivation?
I graduated from Fordham University in 2006, and I have been thinking about becoming a social worker for 10 years. It’s something that I actually thought about in my undergraduate program, but when you’re young, making these decisions is difficult.
For me, I think to help people feel good, they also have to feel good on the outside. So it kind of works in the way of how people view themselves and also working from the inside out, so I feel like the worlds sort of collide.
How has living in the Bronx since 2006 had an impact on who you are?
The Bronx was the one place where I felt at home because of how mixed it was. I find it to be incredibly diverse in terms of the people in the community, and it also allowed me to see some of the stigmas that were happening, and some of the things that are taboo to talk about. It made me acknowledge that even the city can be segregated.
I find myself to be super privileged. I live next to parks and not everyone has that privilege in the Bronx so it just opened up my eyes to the disparities that I see within my own community. So I want to figure out how I can change that. How do you represent people that weren’t as privileged? I want to do anything I can to narrow that gap.
I started my program in 2021, so I did all my classes virtually, but I will be at the Lincoln Center campus this fall. I’m in the three-year part-time program. I’m working full time and doing my field placement and I’m really grateful.
Why did you choose Fordham for your MSW experience?
Already having graduated from Fordham as an undergrad, it felt like home to me. It was a very easy decision.
I did look into social work programs around the city, and Fordham ended up being the most flexible. And through experiencing orientation and Q&A sessions, I realized OK, this is why I chose Fordham the first time around — that big focus on social justice, which is really big for me. and having that background. Also, GSS’s program is not so heavily focused on clinical work; it really offers a lot of opportunity for macro experience, and I wanted to have that experience in both worlds. I don’t want to just be clinical — I do want to do macro work within my own community.
Fordham is like my home, and I’m coming back after so many years.
And how has your experience been so far?
It’s been great. I love it. I’m so happy I made this decision. I know that it took so long, but I haven’t regretted it. And I’m a GSS ambassador now, as well.
I think having some years under my belt and being older, I have a greater appreciation for being back in school and challenging myself. I find myself questioning the professors and getting my money’s worth! I’m much more mature, so I can appreciate the experience and I can absorb it. I love it so far.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in the program?
How interconnected human rights and policy is, and how much work goes into the policies that are in place. Learning how everything is connected, and how so many times there isn’t a voice of a social worker in those rooms.
What do you think are some tips or advice you would give to someone applying for a scholarship to help them stand out?
Follow your story and own your story. Be really authentic and genuine in what you’re sharing. I think that people are not looking for the cookie cutter experience. In my application, I talked about what I’m doing within my own community and how that brought me here, I also talked a little bit about my own history. If you don’t talk about your own experience and how it led you to where you are now, it’s hard to communicate that passion through the computer screen to the person reading it.
Also, don’t worry if you don’t have a social work background, and don’t worry if you’ve stepped away from school and you’re coming back. What matters is you’re telling that story and you’re sharing it in the most authentic way. I know that that’s why I got this scholarship.
Also, think about the communities that you want to impact. The Bronx happens to be one of the unhealthiest counties in New York. How can I affect change within my own smaller community? For me, if I can impact one person’s life, I have done the work I was meant to do.
Could you explain a little more about the community groups you’re involved with?
I love running. I’m a runner. I started to run when I was in the home-buying process because I wanted to do something free. Let me tell you, running is not free.
I became part of running groups in the Bronx. Myself and another woman within the running community realized that we wanted to create a running group just for women.
We would become the path to other running groups in the Bronx. It would be building a safe space for women to get together, regardless of where they are in their running journey, so we co-founded Bronx Femme Run in 2019.
I have since stepped away because I am also the founder of Bronx Girl Bike Gang, which is a cycling group in the Bronx. So, it’s the same idea, but I think cycling is just easier — but it’s also scary. So, the group is building the space for women to get together to bike together, because a lot of women are scared to bike.
It’s also bringing to light the lack of bike lanes and the promise of protected bike lanes in the Bronx, and showing people that there are other ways to be active without constantly pounding the pavement. I love the cycling community in New York; everyone’s so supportive, and it’s very big — but for me, it’s important to show Black and Brown women also do these sports. Whether it’s running or cycling, I want to make sure I’m constantly highlighting women that look like me, and that there isn’t a certain body that does this. It’s open for everybody, whether you’re runners, cyclists, whatever — you just own it.