Alex Simpson, MSW ‘08, says, “I wanted to be a donor the moment I received my MSW. I was so grateful for my scholarship, and I thought ’One day I will pay this back.’” And so he did, establishing the Tonya Davis Centennial Endowed Scholarship, honoring his mother’s years as a social worker in Detroit.
Tell us about the scholarship you received when you were earning your MSW?
Alex Simpson: I received the Arthur L. Johnson Endowed Scholarship, provided by Richard and Susan Rogel and named for the executive secretary of the Detroit NAACP. It had a huge impact. I would not have been able to attend without it, and once I was at the School, it allowed me to focus exclusively on my studies. Field placement and coursework are time consuming. The financial assistance allowed me to dive deep and immerse myself into the program.
Why social work?
My mom was a social worker at the Department of Human Services in Detroit. During my undergrad at Eastern Michigan, I took a career placement test, and it said I should consider social work. I guess you can’t escape what’s in your blood! At EMU, I found out social work was a very broad profession. I thought it was all interpersonal practice, but there is so much you can do with a social work degree.
You are a Michigander all the way, right?
Yes, indeed! I grew up in northeastern Detroit, Seven Mile and Greenfield, and I attended Oak Park High School. I went to Eastern Michigan University, then U-M. Today I work for Microsoft in downtown Detroit and my family and I live in Birmingham.
How did you decide on U-M for your MSW?
At Eastern, I interacted with a lot of great professionals who spoke highly of U-M’s School of Social Work, so I looked at U-M for my MSW. My favorite class was the child advocacy law clinic, which brought together students in law, social work and psychology. Each of our cases had a student attorney, a social work student and a student psychologist. We were able to provide well-rounded services to families. I thought that was such a cool thing.
And you in fact ended up going to law school.
Yes — at Indiana University; and later I earned an MBA from Northwestern. My plan as a law student was to take that child advocacy clinic model and open my own nonprofit. But my first summer internship was at Bodman PLC in Detroit, and that led to a job offer. I had no wish to work for a big firm like that, but it turned out I loved the work, and I would be able to pay off my student loans. But what really sold me was their huge emphasis on community service. My pro bono work counted as billable hours, which was unheard of elsewhere. I could have a bigger impact steering Bodman’s resources toward the community than if I had been a social worker in an agency. Today, working as an attorney for Microsoft in Detroit, I tell people that I am a social worker who practices law. I provide primary legal support for Microsoft.
Describe Microsoft’s community engagement opportunities.
Microsoft is super-engaged in the community, and they encourage all their employees to give back. It’s great that Microsoft, the largest market capital company in the world on any given day, is able to assist the community and the people of Detroit. That is a pillar of an outstanding company.
Why do you give to the U-M School of Social Work?
I wanted to be a donor the moment I received my MSW. It was a dream come true for a kid who grew up in Detroit to go to U-M. I was so grateful, and I thought “One day, I will pay this back.” I felt I had an obligation to support the students who followed me. I realized that I didn’t have to wait till I “made it” to do so; I could start with whatever amount was comfortable.
Tell us about your scholarship.
It is in my mom’s name: the Tonya Davis Centennial Endowed Scholarship. It honors her 30 years as a social worker in Detroit. We established the scholarship on her birthday. The development team created this beautiful plaque for me to present to her. The whole experience was so great.
Advice for alumni?
I interact with my fellow alums all the time. Many are doing well in their careers but are not giving as much because they underestimate the potential impact of what they could give today. One way I can encourage them is to lead by example. As I said before, don’t wait. Start right now, giving what is comfortable for you.