West Virginia University student Matthew Witt knew early in his college career that he wanted to dedicate his life to helping people navigate through challenges.
“Social workers are real-life superheroes, and I knew I wanted to be one,” Witt said. “Social work has always been one of the most essential and under-appreciated professions. Even before the pandemic, they held together communities, families and individuals. They are keeping families fed, improving mental health, working in overcrowded hospitals and connecting folks to resources that they never would have found on their own. Even when they are tired and mentally exhausted, they continue to fight for others.”
Growing up, Witt recognized the daily superheroes who helped his family overcome challenging health and financial situations.
“I grew up a die-hard Mountaineer fan and saw how WVU athletes and coaches represent the state of West Virginia, and I wanted to have that kind of influence to bring positive things here. Then I began to notice superheroes who worked with them to help get them on their feet,” Witt said. “I grew up in a lower income, blue collar household, and at a young age my parents developed permanent health issues that would limit their work. They were superheroes to me as well as the healthcare and social workers who supported them. My parents were selfless, and the social workers were a light during that dark time. I want to be there for other West Virginians, and I strive to find work that will be beneficial to people like my family.”
That example showed Witt how he could make a difference through a career in social work.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work from WVU in 2019, the next step in Witt’s journey is a dual master’s degree in social work and public administration to support his future career in state policy, which he will complete in May 2021.
“During my undergraduate work, I loved learning about policy and the administrative aspects of advocacy. When choosing a graduate program, I combined public administration, which focuses on policy and administrative work, with social work and the humanistic side of assisting individuals, families and communities. I thought both programs complemented each other well with their emphases on nonprofits, advocacy and policy,” he said. “I aspire to stay in West Virginia and work with nonprofits as a policy data analyst, program coordinator or executive director, so the combination of these degrees is valuable because I get to see both sides of the process.”
As an intern with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy this year, Witt has tracked proposed bills during the 2021 session of the West Virginia State Legislature. He assists with data analysis and researches tax and budget issues within West Virginia and other states.
“What continues to surprise me is that the data I collect, such as income tax information, and the graphics I make end up in the hands of legislators and community leaders,” Witt said. “The most important lessons that I have learned from this experience are to appreciate the little wins and to be patient with change. It is important to make efforts to appreciate little spots of hope. Those enable us to continue fighting for the amazing citizens of West Virginia.”
In addition to his data analysis work, Witt is also helping to plan the Center’s 2021 West Virginia Summer Policy Institute for college students across the state.
“WVU has given me opportunities to network with important community leaders around West Virginia. I have also connected and worked with a lot of nonprofits throughout the state and learned of their diverse missions,” Witt said. “They motivate me to stay and fight for better policies and services for others.”
This article is part of a series highlighting WVU School of Social Work students during National Social Work Month.