Eric Johnson, MSW '14

eric johnson.
“The breadth of UBSSW curriculum not only gave me the knowledge to prepare me for the field, but it also challenged me to think critically about my role in my field placement agency. ”

A dual major in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine’s Epidemiology MS program and the School of Social Work’s MSW program, Eric Johnson knows how important health is --for both mind and body. The West Side Rowing coach, along with Coach Tom Jakiel, piloted the salubrious Adaptive Rowing Program at West Side in Summer of 2013.

“The program aims to provide adults with physical disabilities the opportunity to enjoy the sport of rowing,” Johnson explains. “Over the past decade, boat makers have been innovative in creating equipment that makes it possible for virtually any individual to row on the water, regardless of the type of physical disability. Individuals who have a certain disabilities are often the last to let it get in their way, or let it be a point of concern. Instead, it is our built environment that places limits on them.

“It is our hope that this program opens the door to a host of new experiences. Rowing is a great way to get into shape, enjoy the outdoors and build social connections. For some, being able to do something they once never thought would be possible builds confidence and perseverance.”

The program currently has three athletes with a range of physical limitations. Johnson proudly recalls one of the athletes’ first time on the water: “Following practice I went over to him on the dock, and with a big grin on his face, he said, ‘I’m hooked!’”

Johnson’s multifaceted, proactive approach to public health issues is informed by his experiences in epidemiology and social work, giving him the tools to evaluate issues with an understanding of the numerous factors that can affect an individual’s health.

“In an effort to better understand the receiving end of various public health initiatives and policies, I chose to enter into social work as a complement to my epidemiology studies,” says Johnson. “I knew earning an education in social work would provide me with a perspective that goes beyond examining demographic factors, which is common in public health, to acknowledging the cultural factors that influence public policy.”

Now a recent graduate, he was a social work intern in the research unit at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and development intern at the Coalition for Economic Justice, Johnson aspires to a “macro-oriented career that examines how public policy influences disadvantaged communities and develops reforms that better serve them.”