New Touro College Graduate School of Social Work Attracts Diverse, Well-qualified Students Who Are Making a Difference

Date: March 07, 2008
Leah Berlin Davidowitz and Estee Manela, students at Touro College's new Graduate School of Social Work.
Leah Berlin Davidowitz and Estee Manela, students at Touro College's new Graduate School of Social Work.
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New York, N.Y. - Nearly two years ago, inspired by a mission to help bridge the divide between society’s haves and have-nots, Touro College’s Founder and President Dr. Bernard Lander decided to launch a graduate school of social work. In September 2006, the new school’s incoming class of 45 students began their journeys to become social workers. This May, they will become the first graduates of the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work.

“We are committed to producing social workers who are dedicated to the profession, qualified to provide the highest quality services, and are advocates for effective services for the most underserved in our society,” said Dr. Lander.

The School, which now has 125 students, expects to enroll no more than 200, according to its founding dean, Dr. Steven Huberman. The School is located at 43 West 23rd Street in Manhattan, with a satellite branch in Brooklyn on King’s Highway. The School’s 65-credit program, a portion of which must be taken in Manhattan, meets all academic requirements for both Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

“When you consider the growth of New York City and the metropolitan area, and the massive number of diverse populations who are trying to make their way, there is a desperate need for social workers to help them integrate into society and to lead happy, successful lives,” said Dr. Huberman. He continued: “The School was created to solve some of the underlying ills confronting the population of our city. Even in this wealthy area, there is poverty, a public high school dropout rate of 50 percent, unemployment and serious health disparities. Touro has a tradition of helping the less fortunate in our midst.”

Dean Huberman said the average student is in their thirties, so there is a “wealth of life experiences” and, in many cases, previous vocations. There is also a wide diversity of cultures, religions and nationalities.

All students have at least two internships, choosing from among 75 agencies that work in cooperation with the School. Some of the agencies include COJO (Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush); JCC of Greater Coney Island; Jewish Board of Family & Child Services; FEGS (Federation Employment and Guidance Service, Inc.); Ohel Family Service; AHRC (Association for Help for Retarded Children); Cancer Care; the Salvation Army; Partnership with Children; and NYC Municipal Hospitals.

Four of the graduating students were eager to describe their feelings about the School of Social Work and explain why they chose Touro:

- Dina Ilyadzhanova, 23, graduated Queens College with a degree in psychology and had several choices for graduate school. She said she choose Touro because she was impressed with the small classes and family-oriented atmosphere.

“I am so happy here, I am sorry to graduate. I will miss my classmates and professors,” she said.

Ms. Ilyadzhanova noted that reasonable tuition and the School’s central location were also factors that weighed in her decision. She emigrated to the United States from Russia in 1993 and is part of an observant family. Her first year she interned at the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, working with the Russian community in the area of domestic violence and children’s services. Currently she is interning with Partnership for Children, in a public school. Her long-term career goal, she says, is to practice in the legal system.

- Rabbi Alan Taub, 38, studied computer science as an undergraduate and practiced in that field until he found himself out of work post-9/11. After some soul searching, Rabbi Taub said he decided he wanted to become a social worker.

“I wanted to have real value in my life’s work. I was an older student, and found the other [Touro] students were mature. The topics we discuss in class are real life,” he said.

Working within such a diverse student body, Rabbi Taub said he has learned a lot about different cultures, and found that he works well with cultures other than his own. Currently he is interning with a mostly African-American population at a mental health clinic at the Interboro Community Developmental and Counseling Center. His long-term career goal is to work in a hospice setting.

- Estee Manela, 32, is a mother of four young daughters ages three to 11. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology soon after having her second child. There were times, Ms. Manela recalled, when the challenges of motherhood and being a fulltime student and intern seemed like too much to handle. She credits her professors for keeping her going.

“They were always understanding and flexible with deadlines, and kept encouraging me even when I thought the coursework was overwhelming. I saw this flexibility demonstrated with my classmates, too, when they had conflicts with school in their lives,” she said. Ms. Manela’s first internship was at a girls’ day school, and her second was with Bikur Holim, where she expects to work after graduation.

- Leah Berlin Davidowitz, 25, is a work-study student who is serving as director of Connect 2, (, a project of the Holocaust Survivors Friendly Visitation program in Brooklyn. She said choosing a graduate school was easy.

“I’m a Touro fan,” said Ms. Davidowitz. “I looked at other schools, but the locations and scheduling didn’t work out.”

At Connect 2, her job entails locating Holocaust survivors and overseeing about 70 clients, ages 73-101. She assesses their needs, matches them with volunteers who visit, and also plans parties, dinners, and transportation. She also solicits volunteers, speaking at high schools and colleges and writing articles for local newspapers.