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Nicole Wong, MSW, Director of the Sexual Assault & Violence Prevention (SAVP) Office at Vassar College

Nicole Wong (she/her) is the Sexual Assault & Violence Prevention Office Director at Vassar College. Nicole earned her Masters degree in Social Work at Columbia University in Advanced Clinical Practice with a focus on Health, Mental Health, and Disabilities. She earned her B.A. in Sociology and English from Vassar College. As the SAVP Director, Nicole provides survivor-centered support and advocacy to individuals impacted by sexual and interpersonal violence, coordinates on-campus violence prevention trainings and workshops, and works closely with the SAVP student interns on events and programming throughout the year. Previously, Nicole was the Violence Prevention Educator at Vassar where she developed and implemented sexual violence prevention events and programming for students and employees in the Vassar College community. She also worked in the anti-violence field at the Center for Victim Safety and Support (CVSS) in Poughkeepsie, NY where she held the positions of High Risk Case Manager and Coordinator of Advocacy. At CVSS, Nicole provided counseling, advocacy, and safety planning services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, supervised direct service staff, as well as coordinated daily program activities.

Number of years in management: 

3.5

Tell us about your path to management: 

In both of my positions in management, I had two wonderful mentors and supervisors who encouraged me to apply for the leadership roles, despite the fact that I didn’t necessarily think I was qualified for them. They pushed me to challenge myself and think critically about the skills I already had that would benefit me in my leadership positions. In my first move to management, I made the transition from providing direct services to survivors of domestic violence to providing supervision and guidance to my peers who were also doing critical work with survivors. This transition equipped me for my eventual move to my current position in management where I direct and coordinate an office dedicated to responding and preventing interpersonal violence at my alma mater! I like to think of my path to management as a continual process of growth and learning, as my approach to leadership is always changing. 

What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals? 

My core values in leadership are something that I’ve developed over the course of many years and are centered on my commitment to: compassion, authenticity, and ongoing learning. I have felt that these values have driven my work and my growth in my professional career by encouraging me to provide compassion to others as well as myself, remain genuine and authentic in order to show up as my true self in my professional work and life, and continue seeking opportunities for learning and growth. These values have allowed me to build effective and strong relationships with my colleagues and peers but also engage in continuous learning, because I know that my learning will never end and that this pushes me to be my best self. I think core values are incredibly important to develop as an early professional, because it also creates opportunities to understand and know when your core values may be jeopardized or missing from an organization or career. 

How do you motivate your team members?

I think it is critical to support, empower, and invest in my team members in order for them to feel motivated. It’s important that my team members feel valued, heard, and supported in their professional career and in their professional growth. I have valued when I’ve been given opportunities to grow a skillset, and I strongly believe in offering these opportunities to my team members as well. While I would never wish for a team member to move on or leave the agency, I also think it’s incredibly important to set my team up for their next step and their next position. Often, a big question I will ask my team members is, “How can I help you get to your next goal?” or “How can I support you in your professional growth?” These questions ensure that my team members know that I am committed to supporting them in their professional journey in whatever way I can. 

Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey? 

My first supervisor played an integral part in assisting me in my professional journey. She was a key player in encouraging me to apply for my first full time position before I even graduated from my undergraduate program, and later, she encouraged me to apply for my first management position. She also fully supported my desire to go back to school for my Masters in Social Work and was flexible with me as I navigated a different work schedule and competing responsibilities. I found it very helpful to have a mentor that believed so deeply in my dedication to the work, my skill set, and my passion for growth. It was invaluable to have someone so invested in my professional growth and development, as it got me to where I am today. 

How has networking impacted your career? 

If I’m being honest, networking is something that has always been a little intimidating for me! However, the partnerships and relationships I’ve built over the course of my career have certainly helped me in more ways than I can count. Networking has given me the opportunity to meet some impressive, passionate, and brilliant individuals who inspire me to do my work in different and innovative ways. I appreciate networking because it provides me with a space to model myself after others that I admire and also learn from their experience and progress throughout their careers. I also think networking is the best way to get involved in an industry or gain entry into an organization as a potential employee, ultimately, creating opportunities. 

What are you reading and/or following now (books, blogs, social media groups, etc.)?

I’m currently reading my LMSW study prep book! However, when I’m not studying, I’ve been spending some time re-reading The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, and Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?

Keep your core values in mind as you work through your professional journey and your leadership positions. Know that your values might change and morph as you continue growing and developing as a person and as a professional. And if you feel like you’re at a place in your professional career where your core values are absent from the work, it may be time to re-evaluate where you want to be or to make a change in order for your values to show up more. 

If you’re early on in your career, don’t be afraid to apply for a position that you think you might not be qualified for! You might surprise yourself and get the job! And if not, the application process will give you a better idea of where your areas of growth may be and what you might be working towards. Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback. 

Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?

I don’t think so, but this is giving me some good ideas for coming up with one! 

What do you wish you had known before you started your career?

Try your best to remain true to yourself and authentic with your colleagues. When I first started in my leadership positions, I was bombarded by messages about what type of leader I was supposed to be and given guidelines about what it meant to be in management. No one really told me that it was important to adapt those different techniques into something that fit me and my style as a person and as a professional. It was hard for me to feel like I lost myself for a bit, but ultimately a great learning opportunity to find myself again and solidify my own definition of what being a leader meant. 

Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.

A mistake that was pivotal for me in my career was when I realized that I was doing work that didn’t match my core values. I think this is something I often label as a mistake, but ultimately, a huge realization and learning opportunity for me to re-evaluate the work I was doing and make a change. This realization led me to switch my place of employment entirely and also take a step back from a leadership role. And while it was a difficult decision to make, it also led me back to doing work that felt meaningful and work that was in alignment with my values. 

Where can people reach you for questions (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail address)?

I’m happy to be reached at my LinkedIn page: Nicole Wong

The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.

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