An Ode to Our Project Team
By Catherine Hinrichsen, Project Director
This time it’s different.
Every time graduation rolls around, we say goodbye to a student project assistant. But never before has our entire team of students graduated all at once. Perry Firth, Lindsey Habenicht and Amy Phung will get their diplomas this weekend and move on to new and exciting adventures.
Making it even more difficult is the impending departure of our brilliant Center director and founder, Prof. Barry Mitzman.
I’m the last one here. Not for long. I’m in the process of hiring some great new students, and our project will soon be moving over to a new home: the Institute of Public Service, led by Prof. Larry Hubbell, Ph.D. I’m excited about this new opportunity and the prospects of working with the impressive faculty and staff there. That’s the “happy hello” part.
But today, two days before graduation — as the campus quiets down, the “Lynn Lounge” is empty and I find myself alone in the office I will soon be vacating — it’s time to reflect on this passage and honor three delightful and remarkable young women.
Goodbye #1: Amy
Our Digital Design assistant Amy Phung told me in her first few days on the job that she was excited about all the “cool stuff” our project had done. I was psyched to hear this, given that Amy herself seemed like one of the coolest people I’d ever met. Thanks to Amy, we’ve added a lot more cool stuff to the list.
Amy joined us in December 2015 and quickly jumped into one of our most successful projects ever: the One Night Count infographic for All Home, with our former project assistant McKenna Haley. This infographic is an important storytelling tool for many nonprofit partners and other leaders in King County. It took extensive work and she handled it with creative problem solving and the utmost professionalism. Amy wrote about the experience of creating it here — and no fair, she’s also a great writer! Give her post a read and learn how this extremely gifted young designer tackled a complex data visualization project with widely praised results.
Amy followed that up with striking work for Affordable Housing Week; she designed the logo that all the nonprofit partners and cities used, as well as the poster for our campus event. That’s just a sample of her great output; she’s done so much for us and for our nonprofit partners. She’s also leaving us a gift. She and Lindsey put their heads together and decided our project blog needs to be revamped into a portfolio of all our work over the years. So please come see that later in June. (I can’t wait!)
Amy hopes to relocate this summer to some lucky city. Till then, she’ll work on temp status for us for a few more weeks. Thank you, Amy, for being such an awesome designer and warm, wonderful and fun person, and for creating such a huge impact in a short time. And, of course, for making us more cool.
Goodbye #2: Lindsey
Strategic Communications and Humanities for Leadership senior Lindsey Habenicht came to us in March 2015 with an insider’s knowledge about how things work at Seattle U, having worked for Student Government and marketing campus events like the Dance Marathon. It was a no-brainer to make her our go-to person for event management, and it was always a big relief to know the logistics were in her hands.
Having presented a paper on social media at a national student research conference, she was a natural on social media about our project and homelessness in general, tweeting at @lindshabenicht (You should follow her!).
She also wrote about homelessness with compassion and insight. My favorite piece by Lindsey is her Firesteel post, “Two Worlds Collide: Inequality in America,” in which she described the culture clash between her daytime unpaid internship with the street paper Street Sense and after-hours job at Nordstrom to make ends meet, all in the setting of an out-of-control housing market.
Lindsey’s culminating project for us was for Affordable Housing Week. This campus event, which she planned with Amy, started off as a screening of the American Refugees films. Then it expanded into a frank discussion about the role of our campus in the affordable housing crisis — how we are affected, and how we contribute to it.
Lindsey has been accepted to the public relations and corporate communications graduate program at Georgetown University, and will be relocating to Washington, D.C. in a few weeks. D.C. friends, I will be contacting you to connect you to this outstanding young strategic communications professional. Thank you, Lindsey, for your grace and poise under pressure, your maturity and leadership, your empathy and humanity and for always figuring out how to make things work.
Goodbye #3: Perry
Sometimes grad school can take many years longer than you planned, so somehow I kind of pictured Perry Firth being around forever. She is, after all, one of the first students we ever hired and the student who has served on our project for the longest time. But sadly for us, and fortunately for her, she is about to graduate with her master’s in school psychology. We can now officially call her a School Psychologist.
We hired Perry as a writer but she quickly established herself as so much more. She is on her way to becoming, as Barry put it during his campus lecture April 13, one of the leading experts in the country on the impact of homelessness on child development.
Here is Perry on one of her first days on the job, as a Community Counseling grad student in January 2013. On that day, I learned about Perry’s work ethic and her vast potential. We got up early to head up to Snohomish County north of Seattle to visit two Point in Time Count sites and shoot a video about their volunteers. Perry helped us all day, till she had to leave for an evening class. Then that night she did the One Night Count in King County from 2-5 a.m. A few days later she wrote her very first post for Firesteel, “Everyone Counts: Walking Through Bedrooms as a First-Time One Night Count Volunteer.”
Wow. This post was not only beautifully written. It had a distinct voice. Because of her background in counseling — including two years volunteering at the Crisis Clinic — Perry approached this from the angle of the psychological and emotional impact of homelessness on the people who experience it and the people who care for them. It was a huge new direction for us, and where Perry has carved out her niche.
Soon, she would enter the Firesteel blogging pantheon as she penned the post that is the site’s most-viewed ever, “Why We Keep Walking: Dehumanization and ‘Feeling Good About Feeling Bad.'” This is the quintessential Perry piece. She got excited about research she had come across; she asked me if I thought it could be a Firesteel piece; our Firesteel editor Erin Murphy agreed to it; Perry researched some more and then some more; she “translated” brain science for us; and she produced a post that is provocative, enlightening and so very memorable, with her outrage over the inhumanity of entitled tech people and even Hollywood celebrities toward people who are homeless.
She left us after a year for a research assistant position in the College of Education, then came back in summer 2014 when our half-time project coordinator position opened up (when Graham Pruss moved on to grad school and eventually co-founding WeCount).
As I said, her writing is just one of her strengths. While she is Firesteel‘s most prolific and most popular blogger (just search for her name and see the phenomenal body of work there), she has become an important researcher. Along the way she shifted her major to School Psychology, and since then she has taught us all so much about the intersection of homelessness and psychology. Not just here at SU, or among our partners, but around the country.
Among the other highlights of her work:
- Her seven-part series on homelessness in public schools for Firesteel;
- Her infographic on toxic stress, nicknamed “The Big Brain,” created with our then-digital design assistant Krista Kent;
- Her national conference presentation last fall for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (post still to come! My delay!)
Even more exciting is that Perry will teach a Professional Development course for school and social service professionals on Poverty and Toxic Stress in Children, with an emphasis on educational implications, Aug. 9-23 at Seattle University. Registration is open through June 24 for the class; the fee is $315. Please read more about the class here and recommend it to the teachers, counselors, social workers and others you know.
As I write this, Perry’s last post for Firesteel — at least, as a student of SU — just got published. Read it here. (Sniff!) It is the end of an era.
Perry will be working with us on temp status for a few more weeks, then will teach her class in August, and this fall she will enter the School Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Washington. From there, world fame! Thank you, Perry, for your endless enthusiasm for even the most complicated academic studies, your ability to take a huge stack of reports and articles and make it understandable and relevant to all of us, your dedication, your excitement for learning and for everything you’ve taught us. For withstanding the heat and the ants with a smile. For your current and future accomplishments in an exciting and promising area of research. And for all those memorable, beautiful images you wove with your words.
One Last Goodbye To Come
I also need to come to terms with the goodbye to the person who is the reason why our project exists: my boss, Prof. Barry Mitzman. I will save that for later this month. Unlike our students, Barry is not graduating this weekend, so I have a little time before his last day with Seattle U at the end of June.
For now, it’s a time to celebrate the great achievements of the awesome students on our team and wish them huge congratulations as they graduate this weekend. We are so grateful to you, Amy, Lindsey and Perry. Go out and make the world a better place with your amazingness!