Social Work Alumna Earns Coveted Spot on Defense Council

May 20, 2013
by Cursta McCullom
Kristen Kavanaugh

When Kristen Kavanaugh, MSW ’12, started the Military Acceptance Project, a website used to promote the equal treatment of all military service members, veterans and their families, she never really gave the idea of working in politics a second thought.

But as the USC School of Social Work class project grew bigger and gained national attention – MAP was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House last year – Kavanaugh realized that she could use her advocacy skills to achieve something on a larger scale.

That’s when she decided to join the Truman National Security Project, an organization that prepares the leaders of tomorrow to advocate for progressive national security policy. Kavanaugh is now one of fewer than 50 in the United States chosen to become part of the project’s 2013 Defense Council, a competitive leadership development program for those who honorably served in the military and defense communities and who understand what it means to serve at home and abroad.

Defense Council members are selected based on their desire and ability to influence policy, politics and public opinion. They must demonstrate potential for ongoing public leadership and the desire to engage in the community throughout their professional lives.

“I feel honored to bring a social work perspective to the Truman National Security Project,” said Kavanaugh, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and former Marine Corps captain. “The organization makes the connection that social policies affect people, and that can affect national security.”

R. Paul Maiden, vice dean of the USC School of Social Work, assisted Kavanaugh during the application process and commended the 2012 National Association of Social Workers’ Up and Coming Student of the Year for her accomplishment.

“Kristen demonstrated exceptional leadership when she was an MSW student and continued to do so after her graduation from USC,” Maiden said. “Her military experience, advocacy in the LGBT community and advancement of LGBT acceptance in the military make her an exceptional Defense Council member.”

Kavanaugh recently attended an orientation for her new role where she was taught the values of the organization, communication skills, writing formulas and other tools that will be essential during her year with the Defense Council. As a member, Kavanaugh will focus on how social policy impacts national security and will promote social justice issues through the media and community involvement.

“It’s all about people and the importance of empowering them,” Kavanaugh said. “Having a social work background that has already developed that perspective has been a blessing.”

Kavanaugh is already preparing ways she can use her new position to make a difference in the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court rulings on California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, both of which, if upheld, would affect the marriage rights of same-sex couples. Advancing policies that support equality complements Kavanaugh’s past in the military, present work with MAP and future goal of becoming a political figure. 

“This allows me to take what I learned in the military and what I’ve learned at the School of Social Work and make it into another opportunity to serve,” Kavanaugh said.