Kate McCarthy, '20

December 20, 2019
Senior discovers innovative solutions to homelessness during internship

Thinking outside the box often leads to the best outcomes when promoting social change. It also just might help land a rewarding summer internship.

“My interest in the nonprofit and public policy sectors connects to my major in leadership studies, my minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies (WGSS), and my desire to effect positive social change,” said Kate McCarthy, ’20. “I was particularly interested in completing my Jepson internship with a nonprofit working on reproductive justice.”

But the senior from Albany, N.Y., wasn’t having any luck securing an internship with a reproductive justice nonprofit. Associate dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies Kerstin Soderlund encouraged her to think more broadly about nonprofits dedicated to social change. Soderlund connected her to Allison Bogdanovic, ’01, executive director of Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH) in Richmond.

Bogdanovic, who majored in business administration and minored in leadership studies and WGSS at University of Richmond, created an internship position for McCarthy. To support that internship, the Jepson School awarded McCarthy a Burrus Fellowship.

Learning about how to make social change was one of the big take-aways from her internship, McCarthy said. She was particularly impressed with two innovative ways VSH addresses homelessness.

“Housing First is an evidence-based way of ending homelessness,” McCarthy said. “Rather than follow the traditional model of providing housing as a reward for good behavior, it provides housing with no strings attached. Housing is the essential component that enables people to stabilize their lives and begin working on finding a job, overcoming an addiction, or other issues.” 

In particular, she said VSH’s use of permanent housing and wrap-around social services for as long as needed struck her as another highly effective, efficient strategy. 

“It is cheaper to keep people housed than it is to pay for needs such as homeless shelters and ER visits when they are in crisis,” she said. “VSH subsidizes monthly rent so that low-income people are paying no more than 30 percent of their income or $50, whichever is more.

“My internship opened my eyes to policy," she added. “If you ask someone who is homeless, how can we help you, they’ll say they want somewhere to live. The answer is there—we just have to market VSH’s approach and create effective policy.”

After completing her internship, McCarthy is continuing to work for VSH on a part-time basis and to learn about the role of innovation in creating positive social change.

Similarly, she said she now understands how innovation in college classes can improve learning outcomes. “Unlike more traditional lecture classes,” she said, “my discussion-based leadership studies and WGSS classes are more engaging and exciting.”

The argument mapping and simulations used by leadership studies professor Javier Hidalgo in his Critical Thinking and Leadership in International Contexts classes helped her learn and retain concepts. She practiced applying academic theory to real-world scenarios in her will Colloquium class taught by WGSS professors Holly Blake and Melissa Ooten.

“You are interacting with the information in a different way,” she said, “in a way that makes these classes more memorable.”

Classes like these will prepare McCarthy for a nonprofit or public policy career where innovative thinking is key to solving pressing social issues.