Meet our 2023 BSW Alicia Martinez Spirit of Social Work Award Winner: Josie Pooler
As a student who prides herself in promoting diversity and inclusion, it is no surprise that Josie Pooler’s life has been incredibly diverse and unique as well. Growing up in Waco all her life, Josie said she truly considers it her home.
“I deeply identify with my race and gender as well as my identity as an adoptee,” she said. “All these intersections have shaped how I see and interact with the world and how it interacts with me. I have a deep passion for advocacy and justice, and I see myself pursuing that for the rest of my life.”
For most of her life, Pooler has called the Garland School of Social Work her second home—both of her parents are professors at Baylor and both have PhDs in social work. But, social work was not Pooler's major when she entered Baylor as a freshman ... it was political science.
“I have known about social work for as long as I can remember. I have always admired my parents and the work they do, and I have also always had a strong sense of justice and advocacy. As a person with oppressed identities, I have been extremely aware of issues like racism and sexism that affect me on a regular basis and as I grew and matured, I felt this blossoming calling to make the world a better place for all people in whatever means I could," Pooler said. "For a long time, I assumed that politics was the only way to get this done, but I soon realized that politics is not always interested in advocacy, but social work is. I realized that social work had everything I was looking for and more, and I am so glad I also realized my parents are pretty cool."
Pooler, in her journey to achieve her degree, has seen many needs around her and in the community that she wants to address. Some of the needs she considers most pressing are around racism and classism.
“I would say that most societal issues come back to these as well as being connected to each other. The world was built by the white and wealthy to further benefit the white and wealthy. This only further subjugates any group considered different and widens gaps in wellbeing,” Pooler said. “For centuries, the effects have compounded to the world we see today. I feel it is so necessary to work to meet the needs of people who have been cyclically and systemically abused so that we all can live happy and fulfilled lives. After my undergraduate education, I feel equipped to begin that work. That paired with my passion and drive make me well suited for lifelong advocacy.”
Pooler has been deeply inspired by Valarie Kaur, who says this: “There are no bystanders. In this time of astonishing moral crisis, silence is complicity. Because in the palm of our hand we have the ability to respond – to speak, to post, to organize, to act, online and on the ground, and in the voting booth. Speak, even if your voice trembles.” And that is just what Pooler has done. While at Baylor, she has found herself advocating on behalf of herself, other students and her communities, especially around the pandemic as many Asian Americans faced extreme discrimination, and Waco and Baylor were not immune. Pooler helped organize a campus demonstration in protest of AAPI hate.
"This demonstration was attended by many Asian Americans in the community and on campus, as well as allies," Pooler said. "It was an amazing show of solidarity and an inspiring event that I also spoke at as well as helped organize. It can be difficult asserting that you belong and that you matter, but we did it and I am so proud!"
For her GSSW internship, Pooler worked at Greater Waco Legal Services where she worked with the Medical Legal Partnership they have with Waco Family Medicine.
“I performed intake and assessment with patient referrals with health-harming legal needs. I also assisted with relevant research and facilitated training for the staff,” Pooler said.
Those who worked closely with Pooler had this to say about her: “Josie would be the perfect candidate for either social work award. She is the only undergrad I've met who really embodies the 'spirit' of social work and goes above and beyond even outside class. What she does for student involvement, engagement, and advancing the program at Baylor is just fantastic. She has the best attitude and heart, and you can just feel her enthusiasm for what she does. She really does walk the walk.”
As for advice that Pooler would like to leave students that want to pursue a social work degree, she said that it is ok for students to feel like things are hard and have a variety of feelings around that.
“Not every aspect of college is perfect, and there is still so much time to explore and learn and not have everything completely figured out. I hope they take the time to enjoy the different things college has to offer while letting themselves feel whatever they need to feel without guilt or shame,” she said.
Pooler will continue her education with the Garland School, beginning her master's degree in social work this fall.
Congratulations, Josie! We know you will continue to do great things for your communities and the social work profession. Sic ‘Em!