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Finding Her Calling in Central New York

Pursuing an art photography degree developed Genevieve Marshall’s listening and observation skills—and led to a career supporting Syracuse’s refugee community.

Two people unloading diapers and baby wipes from the back of a minivan
InterFaith Works collaborates with the CNY Diaper Bank, which has donated millions of diapers across the Syracuse area. Genevieve Marshall has fostered this partnership, helping to connect refugees with needed supplies and services.

When Genevieve Marshall ’12, G’17 was thinking about colleges as a high school senior, her goal was to follow her passion for photography. A few days after Christmas, Marshall and her mother made the drive north from her hometown of Baltimore to look at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. What she found out on her tour inspired her to apply. “I loved that I was able to start photography my first semester and I didn't have to complete two years of fine arts,” she says.

The art photography program was also flexible enough for Marshall to pursue interests in sociology and women’s and gender studies. “One of the most interesting aspects of art for me was being able to integrate it as a tool in working with others and working with the community,” she says. As an undergraduate, Marshall contributed to the Photography and Literacy Project, where University students work alongside local high school students to tell stories with photos, videos, recordings and writing. “I learned a ton and really loved that aspect of the work more than anything else,” she says.

A Rare Opportunity

Marshall began an internship at Light Work, an artist-run nonprofit on campus, but her plans took an unexpected turn when a sociology doctoral student she’d worked with previously reached out with a rare opportunity. The graduate student was working on her dissertation in Cambodia, and her research assistant had canceled at the last minute. She asked Marshall to fly to Southeast Asia to fill in. Marshall’s internship supervisor was immediately supportive. “My professor said, ‘You are going to learn so much more doing that than you are going to learn with me. Take a camera, go and we will figure it out later,’” she recalls.

One of the most interesting aspects of art for me was being able to integrate it as a tool in working with others and working with the community.

Marshall set out on her first trip to Southeast Asia, spending a month in Phnom Penh assisting with interviews. “It was definitely a great opportunity to really immerse myself in a totally different way of living and eating and language than I had ever been exposed to before,” she says.

Integrating Two Passions

After graduation, Marshall decided to stay in Central New York. She worked at a series of jobs while she struggled to find a well-paying photography job. “I ran the gamut, I did everything,” she says. “And then I started thinking about the moments that I really liked best about photography, and how I could integrate that with other interests that I felt really strongly about.” Marshall reflected on her experiences working with the community and decided to pursue a graduate degree that blended her creativity with practical application. “I have a huge place in my heart for artists and doing gallery work, and that is still very important for me,” she says. “But I felt like I also needed to be out there doing something else, too. Social work felt like a way that I might be able to integrate everything.”

In August 2015, Marshall began pursuing a master of social work degree at Syracuse University. One of her field advisors noticed her previous experience in Cambodia and suggested a foundation-level field placement in refugee resettlement with the local agency InterFaith Works.

Two people working together at desk with map projected on screen in the background
Genevieve Marshall has learned there is no typical day in the field of social work, particularly in refugee resettlement. “I'm very lucky because I think I am somebody who would get bored easily,” she says.

Her first day at InterFaith Works, Marshall was handed a set of car keys and told to pick up a newly resettled family of 15 individuals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While overwhelmed at first, she found the experience was like her first campus tour at Syracuse. “I just felt like this is exactly where I'm supposed to be,” Marshall says. “I took the internship and just absolutely fell in love on the first day and never looked back.”

After graduation she contacted InterFaith Works for a job recommendation, and instead she got a request for an interview. Today Marshall is InterFaith Works’ mental health and wellness manager in the Center for New Americans. Her days are rarely routine, as she supports families from countries like Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and Ukraine, in addition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Every case and all the service plans that we come up with are very individual,” she says.

The Perfect Niche

Marshall feels that in many ways her art background has made her an effective social worker. “The families we work with have incredible internal resources, and our job is to support them,” Marshall says. “The number one thing that photography taught me is how to be someone who listens—because you're also listening with your eyes and seeing what's going on.” Another benefit of her art background is knowing how to be part of a collaborative process. “No one is an island—no social worker is an island—and that's something that art taught me very early on,” she says. Learning from and building on constructive input from peers has influenced how she relates to others on her team. “I want to cultivate spaces that are very collaborative in nature because I think that that's really important,” she says.

The pandemic has presented some challenges, but through creativity and cooperative spirit, Marshall says InterFaith Works has found ways to support the refugee community. A partnership with the CNY Diaper Bank since 2018 has provided an estimated 155,000 diapers to over 200 refugee and immigrant families in Syracuse. Interfaith Works has also offered virtual meetings with chaplains from several faith traditions and backgrounds, as well as mental health professionals to support refugees and seniors who are struggling.

Despite the current crisis, Marshall feels at home and says she’s never regretted following her intuition after visiting Syracuse University. “I felt the entire time I was in the program and to the moment where I am now that this is exactly the place I'm supposed to be.”

Brandon Dyer

This story was published on .


Also of Interest

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  • Syracuse Stories

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