From an early age, Susan Silverstein-Knee had a passion for fashion. Artistic—and a bit rebellious—she applied to only one college, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), claiming she’d skip it if she didn’t get into her choice. Luckily, she was accepted at FIT where she studied fashion design and marketing, graduated and began her long-dreamed-of career in the fashion industry.
But here and there were inklings that maybe she was destined to do something less aesthetic and more altruistic. “My parents always instilled in me the importance of doing things to help other people,” she remembered. In the days after 9/11, those values came to the fore. “I was living in midtown Manhattan and would bring food and water to the local police and fire stations,” she said. Those traumatic times also inspired some soul-searching that would—eventually—lead her to graduate school at Adelphi University. “I started thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life and whether a career in fashion was the right path,” said Silverstein-Knee.
After many successful years as a fashion designer, the time was finally right to make a change. She applied to several schools to pursue a Master’s in Social Work, but chose Adelphi because she “felt at home there.” The student body included people similar to her—successful in one career but now looking to branch out into a new field. “I started with just two classes at night, while still working full time in fashion,” Silverstein-Knee said. The academic load was difficult and stressful, but she didn’t give up. In fact, last year she was awarded a Dean’s Award from the School of Social Work for her outstanding academic achievement. She also credits her advisers with allowing her to move forward at her own pace, postponing her first field placement until she was ready to commit to quitting her job.
Silverstein-Knee is currently working as an intern at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx—a place she would love to stay at after her graduation in May. Her job involves working with lower-income populations and minorities and is a collaborative effort with the Center’s doctors to integrate patients’ physical and mental health. “The doctors really appreciate the value we bring,” she said. “They treat the medical side and call us when they have a patient who is suffering emotionally.” In addition to counseling, Silverstein-Knee is able to provide practical services—such as referrals to support groups, organizations that distribute free clothing or food banks.
She has no regrets about leaving fashion to pursue this dream. “Before my life was just about making people look good on the outside,” Silverstein-Knee said. “Now I have the opportunity to make them feel good on the inside.”