Rachel Graber, a native of Iowa City, earned a master’s degree in the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa. As a graduate student, she took a public policy class and realized working in public policy was for her.
Since 2015, Graber has been a public policy manager at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C. She helps promote legislative and administrative issues identified as priorities for the domestic violence field.
Graber believes she would not have followed this career path without the guidance of faculty and staff at the University of Iowa.
Q: Why did you pursue graduate school/become a researcher?
A: I spent the first several years of my adult life as a school counselor. Working in a school, I only had twenty minutes a week to do individual counseling with my students; a lot of my students needed mental health services I was unable to provide. I left school counseling to pursue a master’s degree in social work with the intention of becoming a mental health professional working with young people whose parents were hospitalized with life-threatening conditions. However, as part of my MSW, we were required to take a public policy class, and I realized public policy was my calling.
Q: Describe your research in non-expert language?
A: I am a registered lobbyist for a national domestic violence organization. I work with Congress, the Executive Branch, a variety of stakeholders, and other organizations with similar and/or overlapping interests to promote and implement policies that protect and serve victims and survivors of domestic violence and to block harmful legislation.
Q: What impact has your work had on the field/world? What impact do you hope to have on your field/world?
A: I work primarily in concert with others, so I cannot claim to have single-handedly influenced legislation and regulations. However, due in part to my work and the work of my colleagues, funding to victim services is at an all-time high. With our feedback, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Administration for Children and Families released regulations about Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) housing and Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) implementation respectively.
Q: What programs or resources (on or off campus) have influenced or supported your academic goals?
A: The director and staff at the Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC) and the members of the Johnson County League of Women Voters supported me in one very key way—they bolstered my confidence. Without their support and the support of the people listed in my answer to the next question, I don't think I would have followed the academic path I did. Many thanks, also, to Jennifer Teitle at the Graduate College for helping me with my resume.
Q: Do you have any role models, mentors, or inspirational people who have encouraged you to pursue your work?
A: I owe a debt of gratitude to the entire School of Social Work faculty, particularly Mercedes Bern-Klug and Stephen Cummings, who encouraged me to follow my dream, even though there was an element of risk in moving to Washington, D.C. without a job or relevant employment experience. Also, my internship supervisor at WRAC, Linda Stewart Kroon, always told me to “own my awesome”, which was sometimes difficult for me as a self-effacing Iowan. My parents and husband also supported and encouraged me throughout my career transition.
Q: How has your graduate experience shaped your career goals?
A: The melding of the emphasis on social change and the introduction of public policy as an accessible tool to affect such change as part of the social work curriculum made me realize this was a legitimate and realistic aspiration. From a young age, I have been passionate about public policy, politics and community organizing.
Q: If you could go back to a time at the beginning of your graduate career, what advice would you give yourself?
A: If I could go back in time to guide my younger self, I would tell myself to pursue certain potential opportunities for independent study internships more aggressively. Although much of the credit for my current employment goes to the people listed above and wonderful D.C. advocates who are grooming the next generation of public policy professionals, I also benefited from simple luck. Independent study summer internships would have helped me to build a resume that would have been more attractive to potential employers.