by Catherine Donnelly
A yearning for justice and equity drew Kelly Zaky to the social work field, but an interest in nonprofit management broadened her goals. She chose the MBA/MSW program at UB because it would take only one more year to earn two degrees and double her career options.
Zaky is an extraordinary multi-tasker. She completed a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, along with three minors in Statistics, Sociology, and American Sign Language & Deaf Studies, at Niagara University. In addition, she completed two internships in her senior year before moving to Arizona to volunteer at a not-for-profit shelter for pregnant and parenting women in need.
“I am from Buffalo originally. However, after completing my college degree, I wanted to take some time to determine my next steps. Volunteering at the shelter, I found a love for, what I did not realize at the time, was social work. I enjoyed connecting people with resources,” Zaky explained. “It was here that I also noticed the disconnect between staff directly working with clients and administrative leaders. I want to become a person who can bridge that gap. Social workers are needed everywhere, but especially in corporate America. Having the view of more than one person, of more than one discipline, allows for the development of better solutions. The year with the shelter gave me a wider lens to approach challenges and tasks moving forward. When I started to research graduate programs, UB was a natural fit as I knew many people who had completed their MSW here, and many of those individuals encouraged me to complete the dual degree.”
One of the unique aspects of the MBA/MSW degree at UB focuses on using business principles to impact social work practice. As Zaky notes, “There is always a cost to offering a service, and I saw that first hand at the nonprofit. What is great about the MBA portion of my degree is that my education goes beyond learning the fundamentals but instead focuses on effective management and how to be a great leader. What I love about this program is that it is equipping me with skills from both disciplines, helping me to be that much more prepared for my future career.”
Zaky started her dual degree program in 2019 with in-person classes in the School of Management. Then in 2020, the pandemic turned her program into an online experience. “I will not sugar coat it. Being a student during the pandemic was hard. I wanted an in-person experience. In the beginning, I made connections with my entire class that I am unsure I could have made otherwise. We all leaned on one another and saw each other more than we saw most of our families.”
Although classes had shifted to online-only, field placements continued. “Both of my placements have reflected my interest in macro-level social work, and I have been able to bring my MBA education into the field,” she continued. For example, Zaky was placed with the John R. Oishei Foundation’s Mobile Safety-Net Team last year, where she was exposed to collaborative community social work where teams work with Erie and Niagara coalitions to help strengthen existing safety nets for human services.
This year she is working with CCNY, Inc., using data analysis and program evaluation to help organizations close gaps and maximize their impact in the communities that they serve. “I am working on a project with High Fidelity Wraparound, ensuring the best care for clients following evidence-based practices. Being able to support the human side of analytics is exactly what attracted me to this placement.”
“Although last year was hard, all of my Social Work professors were incredibly understanding of the situation, and in particular, Peter Sobota and Brad Linn were by far the most supportive. Professor Sobota sees his students and is always gently encouraging us to be confident in our abilities. Professor Linn strives to make every student feel connected. He also uses hilariously cringy puns – in the best way! This year I am glad to be back on campus.”
When asked how best to maintain balance, Zaky shared that planning is key. “I find that checklists are very helpful for me, and for each week, I have a checklist for each day, but also each task. There are so many ways that one can stay organized, and you need to find the best choice for you.”