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Black at the Isabella County Restoration House

From classroom to capital

Student involvement leads social work alum to seat on state juvenile justice panel

Contact: Gary H. Piatek


​Jessica Black was destined for social work and public policy.

The Central Michigan University social work major graduated in May, and her momentum as a student has propelled her to an advising role in state government as a member of the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice. The committee advises Gov. Rick Snyder on issues, policies and substance abuse prevention programs.

"I'm really excited to help set policies that will impact young people," Black said.

"This is a big-time opportunity for her and a big thing for the department and CMU as well." — faculty member Marty Malcom

Driven to make a difference

Black has been making an impact on young people and others throughout her time at CMU:

  • She worked with Patrick Shannon, chief judge of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, and CMU Master of Public Health students in bringing to the governor options for substance abuse treatment.
  • She volunteered for two years at the Isabella County Restoration House shelter and recently completed a 400-hour internship created just for her.
  • She received the National Association of Social Workers' Michigan Social Work Student of the Year award.
  • She was keynote speaker during the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Recovery Month in September.
  • She held several executive board positions within the Student Social Work Association.

"Jessica is driven by her goals," said Marty Malcom, a faculty member in the School of Health Sciences in The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions. "She was very active in my substance abuse and prevention classes and impacting the substance abuse world.

"This is a big-time opportunity for her and a big thing for the department and CMU as well."

Witnessing the effects of substance abuse

The road that brought Black to this point began in Milford, Connecticut, where she grew up with a sister who was fighting a heroin addiction.

Black had been offered a scholarship to CMU after high school but was initially reluctant to leave home. She enrolled in a community college.

But her sister's battle took a toll on her and her family.

"I wanted to get away from there. I needed to live my own life and start over."

That year, she and her mother flew to Florida to visit a relative. While in the Tampa airport, her mother saw someone wearing a sweatshirt with Central's "action C" logo. She nudged Black and said, "That could've been you."

That nudge was all she needed. They both came to CMU for a visit. She and her mother fell in love with the campus, which put her on the path to the state capital.

"This is a big, beautiful step toward what I want to do in my social work career."

Black will continue to live in Mount Pleasant as she applies to graduate schools. She meets with committee members in Lansing quarterly and works on policy throughout the year. Her term expires Dec. 31, 2019.


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