August graduate Elexis Hubbard applies social work skills, volunteer experience at UMSL’s Community Innovation and Action Center

by | Jun 11, 2024

Hubbard has been working with the Saint Louis Zoo to help develop a youth program for the WildCare Park opening in north St. Louis County in 2027.
Elexis Hubbard

In August, Elexis Hubbard will graduate from UMSL with a BSW after overcoming several challenges during her academic career. Since transferring to UMSL in 2021, Hubbard has excelled in the classroom and been deeply involved on campus. She served as the 2023-24 Newman Civic Fellow and as president of UMSL’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega and is currently finishing a practicum with the Community Innovation and Action Center. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

After a long road, Elexis Hubbard is more than ready for graduation.

“It feels amazing to be right at the finish line, practically,” she said. “It has been a long time coming since I first started school back in 2017. So, to finally be here at this moment feels amazing, and I’m ready to start doing things that I care about.”

Hubbard’s academic journey has included several challenges – briefly dropping out of school, transferring schools and switching majors – but she adapted and, ultimately, persevered. This August, she will graduate from the University of Missouri–St. Louis with a bachelor’s degree in social work.

During her time at the university, Hubbard was deeply involved on campus and in the community. She served as the 2023-24 Newman Civic Fellow and as president of UMSL’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity. In her free time, she regularly volunteered with organizations such as Gateway Pet Guardians and the Ritenour Co-Care Food Pantry.

Hubbard is currently finishing her final practicum hours with UMSL’s Community Innovation and Action Center, where she has put her social work education and community outreach experience to use. She’s working closely with the Saint Louis Zoo to develop youth programs for its new WildCare Park in north St. Louis County and with the Kinloch community to create a panel discussion event. After the completion of her practicum and graduation, she plans to pursue an MSW and MPPA at UMSL simultaneously starting in the 2025 spring semester.

Social work seemed like a natural career path for Hubbard given her history of serving others. She’s been immersed in volunteer work since childhood when her family would feed unhoused members of the community with various church groups. As a student at Ritenour High School, she also served as an officer for the Game Changers, a social justice club.

However, Hubbard also had an interest in science in high school and dreamed of a career with the FBI as a forensic anthropologist to help solve murders and give closure to families dealing with tragedies. In 2017, she enrolled at Truman State University as an anthropology major to pursue that dream.

Hubbard describes herself as a “Type A student,” and she had a certain vision of her academic career that didn’t quite go according to plan. After a year at Truman, she dropped out of school. A stint with Americorp helped her discover her passion for social work, and she started taking classes at St. Louis Community College, earning an associate degree in 2020.

Hubbard took another leap, transferring to UMSL in 2021. She was nervous about changing majors and her future career path, but the UMSL School of Social Work was an ideal place to continue her education.

“I have gotten to make so many friendships that I still have,” Hubbard said of her time in the BSW program. “I’ve gotten to meet amazing professors, who not only have a dedication to our field, but to the students and to their education.”

Teaching Professor Linda Wells-Glover and Associate Professor Sha-Lai Williams were particularly influential. Hubbard recalled the time she had to retake one of Williams’ courses and the support Williams provided to ensure she raised her grade. The two professors also continued to offer guidance as Hubbard began her practicum with CIAC.

She found the opportunity through a School of Social Work database that lists organizations with open practicum positions.

“I knew that my plan is to work with communities long-term and to do outreach and to do the type of things CIAC does,” Hubbard said. “Once I found them in our database, I was like, ‘I’ve never heard of them, so let’s look into them more.’ Once I got to see the research and the policy work that they do, and the community outreaching that they do, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is perfect.’”

During the interview for the position, Hubbard instantly connected with Rachel Goldmeier, CIAC outreach coordinator.

“From the beginning of her practicum experience, Elexis has been proactive, hands-on, and ready and willing to help in any situation where we needed assistance,” Goldmeier said. “Whether it was her response to the Heritage House housing crisis and helping to get services to displaced residents in need, or through supporting North County youth as part of a co-design project, Elexis takes her duties seriously. Through thoughtful discourse, evidence-based practice and working as part of a team, Elexis has made a positive impact in our practicum site and for the communities we serve.”

The primary task of Hubbard’s practicum has been working with the Saint Louis Zoo to help it implement a co-design process to develop a youth program for the WildCare Park opening in north St. Louis County in 2027. The new park will provide visitors with a unique outdoor adventure that sends them on a safari through herds of animals roaming meadows and native forests. It promises to be a popular attraction and boon to surrounding communities.

In light of that, the zoo intends to create a youth program that will connect the park to those communities, and a co-design process ensures community members have a say in what that program looks like.

“Sometimes when people are creating programs or trying to create something that involves the community, they do it for them in hopes that the community will like it or be interested in it,” Hubbard explained. “The whole point of co-designing is that you’re working with the community, whoever it’s for, to build something and not just assume that they would like it.”

Three potential programs will be showcased to community members on June 18 at the Delmar DivINe. The zoo will collect feedback and then work toward finalizing a concept with which to move forward.

Overall, the experience was eye-opening and challenging, though in a good way. Hubbard noted that she was welcomed onto the team immediately and said it was instructive to see how a preeminent local organization like the zoo works behind the scenes. She was also encouraged that she could apply her social work education concretely on the project.

“Everybody comes from different backgrounds, and it helps that there are some social workers in our organization,” she said. “It helps to see things from a different lens and offer a different perspective, making sure that everybody’s being seen at the table. Having that perspective from the School of Social Work has been pretty great to bring to the table.”

In addition to that project, Hubbard has also worked with the community of Kinloch, the oldest incorporated African-American community in Missouri, on a panel discussion scheduled for July 27. The panel will include local officials, business owners and residents to offer a variety of perspectives on life in Kinloch. The aim is to dispel misconceptions about the city, which has faced a variety of challenges including disinvestment and population loss.

That work is personal to Hubbard, who previously volunteered in the community as a member of Alpha Phi Omega. In collaboration with other local APO chapters, she participated in service projects to pick up trash, move out invasive species and cut down trees.

“I want to give them that opportunity to really tell their story and tell their truth and really change their narrative,” she said.

Ideally, Hubbard would like to stay on at CIAC in a full-time role after graduation. She doesn’t know if that will be a possibility yet, but she’s also exploring options with organizations such as Youth in Need and the Ronald McDonald House.

However, Hubbard is certain about pursuing an MSW and MPPA at UMSL. She knows that it might seem “a little crazy,” but it’s actually less daunting than it appears because many classes required for both degrees overlap. Plus, she knows the dual degrees will give her the tools necessary to truly make change in the St. Louis community.

“I have a really big heart for a lot of different things, for the homeless population that we have in St. Louis, for the LGBTQIA+ community that we have here, women of color, women’s rights,” she said. “Even with my own background of autoimmune diseases, I have a lot of interest in health in the community. Where that’s going to take me, I’m not for sure, but I know that I want to stick with working with communities and working on the mezzo and macro level, which is communities and organizations.”

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe