MSW/MNO student Janette Kautzman brings 24 years of military experience to her work as a Change Leader

Janette Kautzman in her Army uniform with two other women in uniform

Janette Kautzman, a dual degree MSW/MNO student specializing in Community Practice for Social Change, brings 24 years of military experience to her studies. Deployed as a civil affairs officer in the Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq, her work inspired her to attend the Mandel School. She's currently applying her expertise at her field placement, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), and aiming to continue her journey as a change leader beyond the military.

Learn more about Kautzman this Veterans Day.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Describe your military background.

In 1993, I enlisted in the military as a combat medic; in 1994, I had the opportunity to attend West Point; and in 1999, I was commissioned as a military police officer. I remember the world changing on 9/11 when the Twin Towers fell, and the next twenty years of my life were consumed with deployments and training around the world. In 2007, I was selected to become a civil affairs officer in the U.S. Army, which is a conduit between the military and civilian organizations. During my career, I focused on areas of instability during crises—I worked on stability in Afghanistan, displaced civilian movements in Iraq, and provided training throughout Asia for military support to natural disaster reliefs. In 2021, I retired from the military, purchased an RV and traveled around the States for a year.  

How did your deployments influence your decision to pursue a master’s degree in social work? 

Janette Kautzman in her Army uniform squatting and talking to children

During my deployments, I focused on areas of instability. Working with the communities, we would identify potential areas to assist and promote a sustainable and stable environment. I supported vulnerable populations throughout my military career, something many social workers do. I chose the Mandel School because it’s one of the top 10 social work programs in the country, and is close to my aging parents.

What unique perspectives do you bring to the social work field?

My international travel and deployments have provided me with a unique perspective to apply to problem solving and supporting social change.

Can you share a memorable experience or story from your deployments that had a profound impact on your desire to make a difference in the lives of others?

During my deployment to Iraq, I remember working with various organizations—the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Development Programme, the government of Iraq, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and various non-governmental organizations—to ensure the protection of displaced civilians escaping from ISIS' control of the city of Mosul. The coordination and effort of all organizations was critical in the liberation of Mosul and inspired me to see that planning and coordination are keys to change. 

What specific aspects of social work are you most passionate about, and how do they relate to your military experiences? 

I plan to specialize in Community Practice for Social Change focusing on policy to affect change—my military experiences have made me realize the impact policy has on a greater scale. I like that the professors at the Mandel School have a continued focus on ensuring we get the best education and also inspire us to demand more in making social change. 

Are there any organizations or initiatives you are currently involved with that align with your mission to affect positive change in your community or beyond? 

My current field placement at USCRI has inspired me to focus on refugee and immigration policy. As a caseworker, I am working with the resettlement and placement of refugees in the Cleveland area, focusing on community outreach to build strong communities and support those who have newly arrived. I work with an incredible team dedicated to allowing these refugees to become self-sufficient in the area. I am also in-training at the VA Hospital as a volunteer with the Compassionate Contact Corps to provide an empathetic ear to support homebound veterans seeking connection.

How has your transition from military life to student life been, and what advice would you give to other veterans considering a similar career path? 

My transition has been very productive and I am gaining a lot from the program. The one piece of advice I would give to other veterans is to find your purpose and continue to give back to society. Every day is a day to make a difference in someone's life.