Posted May 4, 2012

Mortensen connects dots between social work and planning

Christina Mortensen has an uncanny knack for seeing the connections between things.

As an undergraduate, she connected social work with Spanish as a dual major to ensure she could help the broadest range of people. While completing her master’s degree in social work at the Temple’s Harrisburg Campus, she quickly saw the connections between her program and the Master’s of Community and Regional Planning, also offered at Harrisburg, linked up through distance learning initiatives with Temple University Ambler.

“I was always a bit of an oddball when it came to social work — my concentration was in community organizing and public policy. When I was choosing electives, I decided to take a regional development course in (Temple’s) planning program, and it just made so much sense to me — in social work, city functioning and city design has a direct impact on your clients,” said Mortensen, who will graduate with her master’s degree in community and regional planning on May 10.

“Social work and community and regional planning, I view in many cases as one and the same — the goal in both is to help people function at their best capacity,” she said. “In social work, you’re meeting individual needs, while in community and regional planning you’re focused on community needs. The two together give you a very well-rounded perspective.”

Mortensen, who is 26 and currently living in Harrisburg, said she prides herself on providing a unique viewpoint on how a policy or a plan can impact individuals. It’s a perspective that she wants to use to help affect positive change and ensure social justice.

“Since I was a 19-year-old undergraduate, I always wanted to work for HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) in program management and functioning — not the typical dream for a 19-year-old, I know,” she said.

For Mortensen, who is currently working as director of research and communications for the National Association of Social Workers, that dream HUD job might be just around the corner.

Out of a field of more than 9,000 applicants, Mortensen was among the few hundred selected this year for the Presidential Management Fellows program, a prestigious two-year paid government fellowship that provides her with the opportunity to work with a variety of United States government agencies, such as the departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Defense, Homeland Security and Housing and Urban Development. The rigorous selection process includes hours of interviews, tests and assessments in Washington, D.C.

Mortensen is the second Presidential Management Fellow from Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program in two years — only one other planning program in the country can boast going two for two in 2011 and 2012. Mortensen said she hadn’t even heard of the program until her close friend and 2011 recipient Brandon Porinchak told her about it.

Having two Presidential Management Fellows in as many years “clearly says something about the quality of Temple’s program,” Mortensen said.

“I think the planning program is designed in such a way that you gain skills that are essential for any profession,” she said. “You’re taught not just how to be a planner, but how to be a planning professional. At Temple, our professors have taken the time to invest in us as individuals; the confidence to be aware of what we can do and the ability to truly go in prepared for any situation. Throughout the Presidential Management Fellows process, they constantly stress the importance of adaptability — that’s exactly what Temple gives you.”