Bridge to SSA: Connecting NEIU students to University of Chicago.

Luis Badillo, Writer


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Professor Marius Dancea was once a student at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), just like most reading this article. He too roamed the halls in between classes and worried about finals. But when he graduated from the school in 2002 with a Major in Political Science and a Minor in Social Work, a professor named Stanley Ramos convinced him to continue his education at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration (SSA).

“He told me, ‘Marius, This is the place for you; you have to feel the aura of this place, and I think you should go here.”

Graduating in 2004, with a Master’s in Social work, Dancea later came back to NEIU as a professor in 2009. During that first semester, He began a program to encourage students to seek out the same opportunity afforded to him; The Bridge to SSA Program.

“What [Ramos] did for me, I wanted to do for as many students as possible.”

The bridge to SSA is just that. Every year, Dancea rounds up any interested NEIU students and the group heads out to visit the University of Chicago. The daylong event includes a tour of the university, and a lunch for the participants to interact with SSA personnel. Students meet up with members of faculty, chat with current graduate students from NEIU, as well as students that have graduated from the SSA.

“Mentorship is a huge piece there,” says professor Dancea. Having students experienced in transitioning from NEIU to University of Chicago matters to him. “The students that participate in Bridge to SSA themselves later become the mentors.” Dancea explains how students in years past who become accepted, return to aide in the bridge program. Students who decide to apply through Bridge to SSA can also have their application fees waived.

Aside from a networking opportunity, Dancea also stresses the importance of having students actually visit the University of Chicago campus. “Sometimes you have to see the goal or vision right there,” said the professor, “And if you are not in that environment, it’s kind of hard to see it.” He says that having prospective students physically there helps to let them envision a future with them studying there.

Dancea is passionate about giving back to the places that helped shaped who he is. Aside from creating the Bridge to SSA, Dancea is actively attempting to create a transcontinental bridge program. In his native country of Romania, Dancea is in talks with the University of West Timisoara to create an exchange program. Not only does he hope to create new opportunities to provide students here, but as well as to advance Social Services studies in Romania.

All this is in an effort to create the world’s best social workers. “He’s broken that intimidation,” says Luis Ortiz, colleague and officemate. Ortiz has also had a hand in helping Dancea and students in the Bridge to SSA, citing prestigiousness, financial issues as well as academic issues. When asked about his motivations, Dancea replied “when you start believing in [students] more than they believe in themselves, that’s when change starts to develop,” adding “that’s when they start developing in a way you never thought possible.”

Any students interested in participating in the next Bridge to SSA in the fall can contact him via email [email protected]. Walk in visits to his office are also encouraged at his office at CBM 139.