Graduating Student Spotlight: Gabriela Leskur

Gabriela Leskur holding a certificate and flowers

In honor of commencement this weekend, we're spotlighting some of our graduating students. Read more about MSW candidate Gabriela Leskur below.

Class Year: May 2022

Program/Major: Master of Social Work with a concentration in Direct Practice with Adults

Hometown: Euclid, OH

Before beginning at the Mandel School, what were you doing?

I was working as a consultant and researcher for federal agencies: the Office for Victims of Crimes, Veterans Health Administration and Health and Human Services. I worked as a graphic designer and design strategist trying to understand people and figure out how to serve them. It was an accidental stepping stone to social work!

Why did you choose to enroll at the Mandel School?

Raised in Collinwood and Euclid, Ohio, I have a deep commitment to Cleveland stemming from my family's immigration here from Croatia in the 1960's and 1990's. When I began looking at social work schools, I was happy to realize that the Mandel School was so close to home and that it could provide me access to a trauma-informed care lens for working with the community and individuals.

Tell me about your field placements.

At the Community Innovation Network in my first-year field placement, I had the opportunity to learn about and participate in community-based efforts for connection, healing and justice. At Baldwin Wallace Counseling Center during my second-year field placement, I was able to serve college-aged clients through individual counseling. It was important to me to bridge community practice and direct practice whenever possible. Our service to our clients should always have the tender heart and individual connection we associate with private counseling and the spark of justice and collective action we associate with community work. In truth, tenderness, connection, justice and action are across micro, mezzo and macro social work. I believe many of the borders we create between them are artificial.

What organizations were you involved with during your time at the Mandel School?

Coming onto the Mandel Council as the director of programming in late 2020/early 2021 as we navigated the shifting realities of the pandemic was a challenge for everyone, but it taught me valuable lessons on accessibility. I learned that our virtual offerings allowed for more accessible programming and provided a wider reach. I learned that virtual options and clear delineation of EST times made our IW and Online students feel more connected and part of the Mandel community. I hope we will continue to consider these lessons even into the later stages of the pandemic. It was an honor to advocate for and with our community through periods of hardship while on the Mandel Council. I was grateful to be able to serve the community in that capacity.

Our Stories is a community healing and action project that I proposed last spring to be brought to CWRU and University Circle. It was ultimately greenlit and funded through a Social Justice Institute Fellowship. The project collects anonymous stories of lived experiences from campus and Cleveland community members on topics of identity and social justice that are then performed by others in the community via live, free performances. It brought together undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff and community members to give a platform to the stories of our community, rooted in tenets of social work and theater. Its contributors intend for it to continue to be an annual production for the community due to the positive impact the first year had.

What is your favorite memory of CWRU?

I can't choose just one! But right now, one moment stands out. As we were putting Our Stories together, my classmate and friend, Fei Han, volunteered to attend every performance and created an adapted Loving Kindness meditation that they led the entire audience and cast through before each performance. Their compassion, kindness and generosity were and are such a gift to those around them. I admire them and how they embody social work ethics. Every tender kindness I have seen from Fei and so many other classmates and professors while here at CWRU has been my favorite memory.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I plan to continue working in Cleveland, serving my community and working in private practice with emerging adults. I look forward to bringing social work into all my endeavors because we need the heart of social work across all disciplines.

What is the one thing you’d like to share with our incoming students?

Be interdisciplinary. Make good trouble. Dream big and try. Social work needs people who think outside the box, it needs you and your unique experiences and gifts, to become the best it can be for those it serves.