Ximena Soto, MSW ’98

Ximena Soto, MSW ’98

Boston College School of Social Work (BCSSW) Assistant Director of the Latinx Leadership Initiative (LLI), Ximena Soto, MSW ’98, is the recipient of the Greatest Contribution to Social Work Award given by the National Association of Social Workers, Massachusetts Chapter (NASW-MA).

The award recognizes “a significant contribution to practice, education, or research issues within the profession” and is based on criteria including “leadership, innovation, professionalism, and advocacy for underserved and vulnerable populations.”

As the assistant director of the LLI, Soto works with the LLI team to train social workers to work with Latinx communities from an asset-based perspective, which places a strong focus on a community’s inherent strengths rather than its deficits. She works in collaboration with faculty and staff to ensure that students learn in an environment where their leadership and creativity can flourish—both in the classroom and in the field. In her work with BCSSW’s Field Education department, she fosters relationships with agencies that serve Latinx populations, learning and working with them to promote and develop best practices that support and engage student learning. Through this pioneering work, Soto has collaborated in the creation of a replicable model for training social workers to effectively serve the Latinx population.

In fact, it was an LLI community partner in Soto’s Seminar in Field Instruction (which Soto leads in Spanish) who nominated Soto for the honor. Cecilia Plotkin, LCSW, is the manager of Clinical Support Services for the Familias Unidas Outpatient Services at Casa Esperanza, Inc.—a bilingual and bicultural behavioral center that specializes in serving the Latinx community.

Plotkin considers Soto’s work instrumental in preparing future clinical social workers to support the Latinx population. “It was easy to nominate Ximena,” says Plotkin. “She exceeds all the criteria for the award and her contributions cannot be overstated. She has a true passion for the LLI program and works tirelessly to make sure LLI students are able to have meaningful internships. We value working with her and the LLI.”

Ximena is a trailblazer. She has created a new model for training social service agencies to work effectively with the Latinx community. Her innovative efforts are essential to creating sustainable, structural change.
Rocío Calvo, founding director of the LLI and associate professor of Global Practice

Soto’s BCSSW supervisor, Rocío Calvo, founding director of the LLI and associate professor of Global Practice, concurs with Plotkin’s view of Soto as a transformational leader. “Ximena is a trailblazer. She has created a new model for training social service agencies to work effectively with the Latinx community. Her innovative efforts are essential to creating sustainable, structural change,” explains Calvo.

Soto considers her award a celebration of the work of the entire faculty, staff, community partners, and students of the LLI. “I am honored that our program is recognized by colleagues in the community for bringing together all the elements required for a community to learn, grow, and expand the possibilities of what can be done when we apply a cultural perspective to social work.”

Soto (far left) with the LLI’s Class of 2019.

Soto (far left) with the LLI’s Class of 2019.

Nonetheless, Soto admits to one very personally moving aspect of winning this award. “When I got the call to let me know that I had received the honor, I was driving in the car with my 13-year-old son and answered on speakerphone. If I could bottle the look on my son’s face when he heard the news! It was a magical moment.”

Soto understands firsthand the need for experienced social workers to support Latinx communities. When she was 12 years old, her family emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. She arrived here unaware of cultural norms and remembers feeling like an outsider. “As a kid, I made a promise to myself that I would never let anyone feel so unwelcome. The LLI has given me the opportunity to bring that promise into my professional sphere,” says Soto, who joined the LLI five years ago as an adjunct professor and an assistant director for Field Education before becoming the assistant director of the LLI a year ago.

“When I used to contact community agencies to talk about an internship for a bilingual social worker, everyone expressed interest in them, but the issue was that a lot of the time, students were joining organizations as capacity builders and not as learners,” says Soto. “They were often the only Spanish speakers in a setting. The question became, ‘Could the organization support our students as they were learning to develop their professional identities of being bilingual social workers?’ The community of Latinx social workers in agencies that we have been able to recruit and work with has been a tremendous voice in identifying the unique learning supports that bilingual practitioners need in order to flourish. Together, we have been able to develop and grow best practices in supervision for bilingual students who are addressing complex problems in communities.”   

Soto will receive her award at NASW-MA’s upcoming spring symposium, where she is also co-leading a presentation. On May 1, she and Associate Professor of Clinical Practice Susan Tohn will present “Culturally Adapting Clinical Interventions: A 10-step process” for practitioners seeking to create an evidence-based, culturally appropriate clinical practice to help underserved populations.

The 2020 NASW-MA awards ceremony will take place on April 29 during the organization’s Voices of Empowerment and Social Justice two-day symposium at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel and Conference Center. Soto intends to bring her husband, three teenage children, and her mother to the ceremony. She hopes to see many members from the BCSSW community at the event as well. Calvo, for one, says she will be there “with pompoms in hand,” cheering on her esteemed colleague.