May 2012 Features

Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research

Maggie Eisen’s Encore: The one-time professional ballerina has cast herself in a new role in a Bryn Mawr program that combines social service and law.

 By Diana Campeggio

Photo by Josh Mindlin

Photo by Josh Mindlin

When she retired as a professional ballet dancer at age 19, Magrielle “Maggie” Eisen’s greatest challenge was finding a new career that would inspire her as much as dancing had.

“When you’re a young artist trying to establish yourself, you must be completely absorbed in your profession—it envelops your entire life,” says Eisen, who danced professionally with the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Oregon Ballet Theatre. “I was worried that it would be impossible for me to become nearly as committed to anything ever again.”

But Eisen needn’t have worried. As a student in the Master of Social Service (MSS) and Master of Law and Social Policy (MLSP) dual-degree program in Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR), she has identified a new passion: using the law as a tool for social justice. She is especially interested in the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) model, in which interdisciplinary teams of health-care providers, legal staff, and social workers collaborate to make preventive legal assistance part of good patient care.

Eisen’s interests led her to an internship at the Health Federation of Philadelphia (HFP), an organization that provides network support for federally funded community health centers (CHCs). She recently partnered with the HFP to figure out how to apply the medical-legal partnership model in Philadelphia CHCs. This project garnered Eisen a prestigious Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellowship, aimed at funding recent graduates who are committed to dedicating their professional careers to social policy and public service.

Eisen’s next step is assessing the types and volume of unmet legal needs among pediatric patients in CHCs and researching best practices and lessons learned from MLPs elsewhere. She will then conduct a feasibility study and develop a plan to pilot a pediatric MLP in an area health center as well as seek funding sources for long-term sustainability.

“I’ve landed in exactly the right place,” Eisen says. “I plan to dedicate my career to furthering social justice, especially for children and vulnerable families, and I cannot imagine a more inspiring group of mentors and colleagues with whom to work.”


A Search for Better Treatment: Doctoral student Jessica Schaffner Wilen is identifying the best treatments for survivors of childhood abuse.

 By Diana Campeggio

Photo courtesy of Wilen.

Photo courtesy of Wilen.

During the course of her research on childhood sexual abuse, Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research doctoral candidate Jessica Schaffner Wilen has come across some staggering findings: one in three girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused before turning 18; 80 percent of survivors do not report victimization until adulthood; and childhood sexual abuse has been linked to increased risks of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance use, and anxiety.

Although a variety of psychosocial treatment options are available to adult survivors of sexual abuse, few studies have assessed whether some approaches are better than others. Wilen hopes to help fill this gap in knowledge as she begins her dissertation research, which will employ “network meta-analysis,” a method that allows researchers to compare experimental interventions, not just to control conditions, but also to each other.

This past spring, Wilen was named a Doris Duke Fellow for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and will receive $50,000 over two years to fund her dissertation work. Awarded by the Doris Duke Foundation and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, the fellowship is designed to identify and develop leaders across disciplines who are devoted to advancing child-abuse prevention practice and policy.

Wilen became motivated to enter the field of social work as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, where she worked with social-service agencies while volunteering for a student-run rape crisis hotline. “Social work has a global perspective and acknowledges larger societal factors that contribute to a person’s circumstances,” Wilen says.

She subsequently became a clinical social worker, working with children whose mothers were living in a domestic-violence transitional housing program. “I quickly found that interventions with children were not sustainable if they continued to live in unstable or unsupportive family environments,” she says. “So I began focusing on interventions for adults.”

Wilen hopes her research will help guide decisions on how to fund experimental interventions, and assist survivors and their clinicians in making the best treatment decisions possible. “Without a doubt,” she says, “I am most rewarded by the thought that my work could help improve the lives of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their children.”