A photo of Johanna Lynch

Johanna Lynch, MSW'21, recently received a prestigious fellowship to work for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Courtesy photo.

It was 2019, and Johanna Lynch was working at a food bank in Oakland, California. She was helping low-income residents in the area secure free food from a federal program, but was having trouble.

“I was overseeing sites that were serving people directly and kept running into barriers,” Lynch recalls. “I noticed this disconnect between what was happening on the ground and those who were making policies.”

What, she wondered, could she do to improve the relationship between nonprofits and the federal government? How could she help roll out federal programs in fair, equitable ways?

She decided to get a master’s degree in social work from Boston College. “I thought a lot about different degrees,” says Lynch, now a second-year student at BC. “But I decided that a social work degree would give me a human-centered lens to improve federal programming.”

Lynch moved one step closer to reaching her goal earlier this year, when she was named to the Presidential Management Fellows Program. The program, run by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, places outstanding graduate students in jobs at federal agencies for two years. 

About 550 graduate students were named fellows out of a pool of more than 6,800 applicants, and Lynch was one of 10 students in social work programs to be selected.

“I have a lot of weight on my shoulders to represent the field of social work,” she says. “I’m very excited to show other scholars and people in government what social work is all about. I have a lot of pride in this field, and I can’t wait to share that with my future colleagues.”

I’m very excited to show other scholars and people in government what social work is all about. I have a lot of pride in this field, and I can’t wait to share that with my future colleagues.
Johanna Lynch, MSW'21

Lynch will work for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as a social science research analyst. Over the next two years, she will figure out how to best distribute grants to nonprofits that help people obtain health insurance. The grants will support the work of insurance counselors who will help people navigate, shop for, and enroll in coverage online.

Lynch says she plans to create a formula to ensure that the grants are distributed equitably, noting that nonprofits in communities that have limited access to health insurance will be a top priority. 

“I’m excited to think about how we can put people first,” she says. “Receiving this fellowship is like a dream come true.”

Lynch believes her focus on research at BC helped her land the gig. Last spring, she helped assistant professor Praveen Kumar write a paper that argued for the use of solar energy in rural India. Now she’s helping assistant professor Cal Halvorsen analyze the habits of donors who give up to $10,000 to nonprofits. 

Lynch is using a program called Stata to help Halvorsen find relationships between variables in his data, a skill she picked up in one of three classes she took to earn a certificate in advanced research. 

“BC gave me the chance to explore my interest in research and I found that I really love it,” she says. “My supervisor thinks my statistical background will help us do a deep dive to figure out how to disburse the grants.”

Kumar and Halvorsen describe Lynch as “smart,” “strategic,” and “entrepreneurial.” They say she can learn things on the fly and pays close attention to details. 

“She shows a hint of a future change-maker in social work and social justice,” says Kumar.

Lynch, for her part, hopes to parlay her fellowship into a full-time position. She urges her peers in social work to consider the benefits of doing research.

“It’s important for us to make sure that the work that we’re doing is backed by evidence,” she says. “We want to ensure that we are giving our clients the best services possible.”