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I Want to Change the World by Studying Health Disparities

Kiah Williamson

  • Practice Method:
    Social policy and evaluation
  • Practice Area:
  • Scholarship:
    Vivian and James Curtis Endowed Scholarship for Hospital Social Work
  • Field Placement:
    Community and Home Support (CHS), Detroit, MI

Inspiration from family led Kiah Williamson to the U-M School of Social Work and to the Vivian A. and James L. Curtis Endowed Scholarship for Hospital-Based Social Work. The Illinois native grew up visiting her mother at Rush Oak Park Hospital in Chicago, where she was a registrar. “The hospital atmosphere became part of me,” Kiah says. “I knew my future was to work in a hospital. I applied to work with my mom as a registrar. She introduced me to a couple hospital social workers. They let me shadow them. It confirmed for me that this was what I wanted to do.”

There was also Kiah’s aunt, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. Her research involving HIV/AIDS motivated Kiah. “I wanted to do something related to what she does,” says Kiah. “She talked to me about her research, and it made me interested in people with HIV/AIDS. I also have a cousin who has HIV. My cousin is strong; she’s dealing with it head-on, so listening to her story and her plan of action inspired me.”

Kiah explains why she chose U-M as the place to act on her inspiration: “Whenever you hear ‘University of Michigan,’ you hear about strong academics and the pride students have in their school. When I visited the Social Work School, I got a sense of community. Everyone was so proud of their school. I knew the School would set me on the path where I wanted to go in my social work career. I wanted to be part of whole community, that family-oriented environment.”

Kiah’s School of Social Work field placement is with Community Home Support in Ann Arbor, providing resources for the homeless and educating clients about mental illness. “I have applied a lot of the knowledge from classes to my field placement,” Kiah says. This summer she will conduct research in Tanzania, East Africa, in an HIV/AIDS clinic. She adds, “Ultimately I want to become a global medical social worker, studying HIV and AIDS and health disparities.” She has also taken on some special roles here at U-M, including ombudsperson for the Student Union. “It’s a great way to gain skills and meet people. Everyone can contribute, like one big family. I like being a leader. It is definitely a skill that will carry over to my career.”

Kiah is the first in her immediate family to pursue an advanced degree. “It was always my goal,” she says, “because I knew what a Master’s in Social Work could do for my future.”

The Curtis Scholarship, named for Vivian Curtis, a graduate of the U-M School of Social Work, and for her husband, James, a graduate of the U-M Medical School, “is more than money” to Kiah. “When I first found out how much tuition would be at U-M,” she says, “I didn’t think I’d be able to come. I loved the school, but I didn’t think I could afford it. Getting this scholarship has put my mind at ease, knowing that now I’ll be able to do what I want to do. I am very grateful for the Curtis Scholarship, now I can be the social worker I always wanted to be.”

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