A spare minute with the CEI: Stephanie Odera, associate director, Graduate RVA
Stephanie Odera is the associate director of Graduate RVA in the Center for Community Engagement and Impact. Graduate RVA is a college access network that seeks to right educational inequalities in the Richmond region by significantly increasing postsecondary completion rates, with a special focus on underrepresented minorities.
A social work practitioner, Odera has more than 10 years of experience in the field, including working as a school social worker in Richmond Public Schools and in child protective services for the Virginia Department of Social Services. She’s also a former assistant professor in the VCU School of Social Work, where her teaching and research interests include educational equity, the promotion of racial and economic justice and social work in school settings.
Q: What brought you to working in the community engagement field? Why do you think your work is meaningful?
Odera: As a social worker, I've always identified as working in community engagement. All of my professional jobs have been in collaboration with and in service to community advancement/justice goals. Most of my work involves the intersection of social work and education and the support of academic success, particularly for the most marginalized student populations. Graduate RVA provided an opportunity for me to continue my work in this area at a more macro system level across the region and state.
Q: Give us a day-in-the-life picture of your job. What do you like the most about what you do?
Odera: No day is the same in my job, which I sincerely appreciate. Many of my days are spent preparing for or facilitating meetings with local partner institutions of higher education to advance our regional attainment goals. These meetings include the sharing of systems building frameworks, clarifying our shared understanding of equity as relates to designing initiatives and programs and outreach to community and business stakeholders involved and invested in improving educational access within the region. And let me not forget the reporting, training and supervision consultation provided by the Lumina Foundation who sponsors Graduate RVA's work.
Q: Tell us about a recent work accomplishment or program/initiative that you’re working on that really excites you.
Odera: I am really excited about Graduate RVA's partnership with the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) through the Transfer Virginia initiative. We are collaborating with Transfer Virginia in the creation of a statewide toolkit to promote Reverse Transfer and the use of regional two- and four-year institutional partnerships to support student attainment.
Q: Best piece of professional advice you’ve received:
Odera: The best advice I have received and what I would give to anyone else exploring career options is to figure out what is your passion issue or area of interest and then explore career paths that will keep you rooted in that area. Though my jobs have looked very different over the years, the root issue of educational equity and access has remained consistent and that helps sustain/energize me when I need it most.
Q: How do you engage with the community outside of work?
Odera: You can find me all around town outside of work. From community lectures, forums, children’s events, music events, coalition meetings...I'm there. One of the professional organizations I am a member of - the Richmond Chapter of the Association of Black Social Workers - keeps me busy and is substantially involved in many social action and accountability initiatives through the city particularly involving mental health and youth development.
Q: Book/show/podcast that you’re loving right now and why:
Odera: I love fantasy/science fiction/escapism media content. My son and I are currently reading the Shuri series of the Marvel Black Panther comics. “For All Nerds” and “The Read” are my favorite podcasts.
Q: When you’re not in the office, where can we find you and what are doing?
Odera: Creating pinterest boards, spending time with family and friends and pretending to be a momager/personal stylist.
In September, the VCU Center for Urban Communities and VCU Division of Community Engagement merged to create the VCU Center for Community Engagement and Impact.
The new center aligns vital resources to build on the university’s legacy of community engagement while expanding community-university partnerships and cross-disciplinary collaboration to further influence student success, scholarship and the public good.