From adversity to advocacy: Maddi Mahar named 2024 NASW-Michigan Social Work Students of the Year

April 8, 2024 - Brandon Drain

Content Advisory: This article mentions suicide and mental health issues

Maddi MaharThe Michigan State University School of Social Work would like to congratulate Maddi Mahar, a senior majoring in social work, on being named as one of the 2024 NASW-Michigan Social Work Students of the Year.

Annually, one BSW and one MSW student from each accredited social work program in the state is nominated to receive the NASW-Michigan Social Work Student of the Year Award. Each student is recognized at a special regional awards ceremony for outstanding academic achievement, commitment to the Code of Ethics, leadership on and off campus, political and legislative engagement, and contribution to a positive image of the social work profession. 

Mahar’s journey as a social worker was spurred by a series of traumatic events she endured during her upbringing. These range from witnessing mental illness in her family, suicidal ideation and, “Observing racism and discrimination towards my sisters, which created a rage inside of me and led me to become a racial advocate,” said Mahar.

In 2018, during Mahar’s sophomore year in high school, she lost her mother. “For the next five years, I would struggle with homelessness, food security, support, physical, mental and emotional abuse, and poverty,” said Mahar. “Everything I experienced led me to social work. I wanted to be the advocate who would listen to their clients, no matter their age. I will fight for racial justice for the rest of my life. I will be the social worker that I needed when I was younger.”

Community has played a vital role in Mahar’s integration and success while at MSU. Battling poverty and homelessness prompted the Battle Creek, MI native to join the MSU FAME Program. Joining granted Mahar a chance to learn from, teach and connect with students with similar backgrounds. “I created a family here -- with classmates, coworkers, friends and mentors,” said Mahar. “Without their love and support, I probably wouldn’t have made it here.”

Mahar uses her lived experiences and passion to help others in every aspect of her life. This is evident in the myriad ways she’s involved in programs on and off campus. Mahar is a part of the MSU Adaptive Sports and Recreation Club – a club which seeks to establish a space where athletes with physical disabilities and able-bodied volunteers can come together to create an integrated community of peers that serves to eradicate negative stereotypes about disability by highlighting the abilities of individuals with physical disabilities. She is also a part of the African Languages Center on campus as well, where she strives to “educate about breaking down stereotypes people perceive of African countries.”

Mahar also interns at AmeriCorps where she operates as the LeaderCorps representative. “I represent five different AmeriCorps organizations for the Ingham County Health Department,” Mahar explained. “As the leader, I try to influence program directors to provide more funding for my organizations, which will benefit all the communities we interact with. I lead in hopes to help all my fellow co-workers, programs, and communities.”Maddi at her internship

As a Fulbright-Hays Scholar, the then 20-year-old Mahar was awarded the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa, where she would meet the U.S. South African ambassador at the embassy. This meeting and experience served to refine Mahar’s focus in the field of social work. “While I was there, I was allowed to ask questions about equitable education in South African communities, especially when comparing urban and rural areas,” said Mahar.  “Many of my ideas prompted the ambassador and my classmates to think, especially when I questioned the access to resources and language teachings.”

After graduation, Mahar plans to join the Peace Corps, a long-standing dream of hers. She will be living in South Africa, working as a Primary English School Teacher, as well as “advocating and providing resources in rural areas.”

Mahar’s journey as a social worker stands a testament to how adversity forges the human spirit. Her drive, compassion and will to move forward stems from everything she’s walked through and triumphed over. Her late mother will forever remain at the heart of passion. “Another thing that helps me overcome everything, is dedicating all of my work to my mom,” Mahar explained. “I do everything to make sure she will always be proud of me.”Maddi and her late mother