Paola Montalvo Ayala believes if you are passionate about what you are doing, you will want to keep learning about it forever. She credits her mother with instilling this love for ongoing education in her during middle and high school, when they would spend evenings together studying – Montalvo for her classes, and her mother for various certificates in her career field, human resources.
“I make fun of her with all of the HR field certification initials after her name,” said Montalvo, with a smile.
This month, Montalvo will add her own hard-earned B.S.W. initials when she graduates from Georgia State’s Honors College with a Bachelor of Social Work. And this fall she will begin to add more when she attends Washington University in St. Louis’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work, which she is joining as a Masters Research Fellow for the Center for Dissemination and Implementation of Research.
She chose Washington over Columbia, where she was also accepted. “The thing that draws me to the Brown School is its values,” said Montalvo. “They use an ‘Equity Lens’ with themes of social justice and equity present throughout the curriculum.” Her experiences in the School of Social Work and her future MSW will prepare her well for a career in community-based social work, she feels.
Montalvo was oriented to social justice from a young age, she explained.
“My family and I are from Puerto Rico. My parents are proud to be immigrants. And focusing on social work was a matter of nailing down what I want to learn about forever – working with people, advocating for them and providing a voice for people who typically do not have one.”
A Goizueta Scholar at Georgia State, Montalvo and her cohorts worked on leadership training – meeting monthly to discuss topics such as community engagement, advocacy and diversity – with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, which is led by Andrew Young School alum Jerry Gonzalez. “In addition to supporting me financially, the Goizueta program has been a huge support for my growth here. I’m super grateful to them and the Latino Student Services and Outreach, which was also a great support.”
One of the big selling points of the Honors College for Montalvo was its student assistantships. She was interested in doing research, so when she heard an Andrew Young School economist was doing research on the concentration and suburbanization of poverty, joined clinical associate professor Glen Ross on his project.
Montalvo presented their research at the Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference (GSURC) last year, winning first place in social sciences for oral presentations, and later presented it at the Pi Gamma Mu conference in Kansas City. She presented their second project on gentrification in Fulton County at GSURC this year.
“I did not study economics, so Dr. Ross has been my sounding board,” she said. “It’s been very interesting approaching this economic problem with my social work perspective, and as someone who wants to address this problem. The research has oriented me on why it is happening. We need to know that to move forward. When we approach problems from interdisciplinary way, more holistically, we have a better shot of being impactful.