Social worker alumna continues to learn about her work, and herself
By Shari Kiple
When Rachel Bobren ’04 came to Winona State University, she never imagined she’d travel to four countries in two years.
“I had no interest in study abroad,” says the Schaumburg, Illinois, native, “until I saw pictures from a friend’s trip and thought, ‘I want to travel, too.’”
Travel she has. Bobren toured New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji through WSU’s Pacific Challenge course. She also studied social welfare in Bangladesh with six other students and Ruth Charles and Cathy Faruque, professors with whom she still connects.
Touring Bangladesh schools and neighborhoods, Bobren found herself face-to-face with real poverty. “When you’re in a situation like that, all your senses are overwhelmed by your experience. That’s what I appreciate about being in places that are so different.”
Maybe that’s why she volunteered as a social worker at an Alabama homeless shelter for a year after her graduation. Or why she served children in Nicaragua. Or why she spent two summers teaching English at an international peace camp in China.
“You learn about yourself when you stretch beyond your comfort zone,” she says.
When pursuing her master of social work degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Bobren realized Winona State had instilled a strong education and inspired confidence to strive for lofty goals.
After interning in Chicago, she landed her dream job as the social worker for nearby Schaumburg Public Schools – a suburban district with students representing 77 countries.
To help children develop positive identities and learn about one another, she launched Multicultural Week, inviting students, families, and community members to talk about their cultures, share food from their countries, and display artifacts from their homelands.
Festivities have improved awareness at her school and allowed Bobren to connect her passion for different cultures with her pursuit to help others.
“I’ve wanted to be a school social worker since I was fifteen, and I’m grateful Winona State helped make that possible,” she says. “Now I’m always trying to improve. I’m still volunteering, exploring new places, and giving back to the world.”
A world she knows first-hand because Winona State challenged her to explore it.