Smiling head shot photo of Austin Ezzard.
Austin Ezzard, a junior B.S.W. student minoring in public management, will be Virginia’s sole representative at the 2023 College Student Congress this month. (Courtesy photo)

College Student Congress invitation is one of many recent honors for social work student

A junior, Austin Ezzard will be one of 51 participants in the national public policy program in Kentucky and Washington, D.C.

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Awards season rolled in like a blizzard for Austin Ezzard, an undergraduate student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work.

“I have yet to process it all,” he said of the number of awards he received this semester.

And those awards come on top of his selection earlier in the semester to an exclusive national program. Ezzard, a junior Bachelor of Social Work student minoring in public management, is Virginia’s lone representative and one of 51 participants for the 2023 College Student Congress, a summer public policy program hosted by the Henry Clay Center at the University of Kentucky. 

“I saw it as both a challenge and an opportunity to learn and grow as a young professional,” he said of the program. “Though daunting, I knew that if I didn’t put my name in the hat, there would be no chance of me being selected; I had nothing to lose.”

“Nothing to lose” was also an apt description of the honors that rolled in from late March through the first weeks of April. First came news that the School of Social Work had named him the B.S.W. recipient of the David N. Saunders Legislative Internship Fund award. His own personal awards week followed, with honors including: receiving VCU’s First Year Experience/Second Year Experience’s inaugural Student of the Year Award, being selected one of two student representatives to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and earning the VCU Fraternity and Sorority Life Outstanding Chapter President Award for his leadership with Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.  

Trying on new perspectives

For the College Student Congress, participants will split time between Lexington, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., starting this week. They will research and develop a bipartisan solution for a relevant policy topic, according to the program website. Previous projects focused on subjects such as health care, the national deficit, national security, immigration, criminal justice reform and net neutrality.

“I just hope to learn and try on new perspectives through this experience,” Ezzard says. “With regard to social work, policies created in the macro setting directly affect the ability of social workers at both the mezzo and micro levels, so I see this experience as an opportunity to further understand the process of policymaking, as well as the aspect of inclusion and equity in this process in ensuring policy alternatives are carefully and thoroughly considered.

“I’m so excited to be representing the commonwealth in this program and hope that through this experience I have inspired my peers and other colleagues to learn from each other and be their authentic selves.”

Kaylynn Hill, assistant director for engaged learning in VCU’s Office of Student Leadership and Engaged Learning, praised Ezzard, who is in his second year in the VCU Transform Living-Learning Program

“He is an inspirational leader in our program, having created pathways for service for fellow students, as well as leading in our office diversity, equity and inclusion committee,” Hill says. “Austin is a student that stands out to me – for many reasons. He is unrelenting in developing an equitable world. He is a systems thinker – and constantly seeking out opportunities to expand his knowledge of issues he cares about and how they all interconnect and impact our world.

“Austin cares significantly about the betterment of Virginia and the diverse peoples that make our commonwealth thrive. This opportunity highlights the advocacy and communication skills that Austin excels at. This is a significant moment that a student from VCU is bestowed this experience. I know that Austin is the perfect candidate, and I am excited to see how he uses this experience to carve his legacy at VCU.”

'Values relationship-building and humanity'

In addition to his work with Hill and VCU Transform, Ezzard has served as president of Pi Lambda Phi’s Virginia Omega Rho chapter; a presidential student ambassador in the Office of the President; a VCU cultural ambassador; an appointed student representative of the B.S.W. Program Committee; and a member of both the National Association of Black Social Workers and the Queer and Trans Social Workers at VCU.

Scheduled to graduate in May 2024, he says he still has time to determine his next steps after VCU. 

“I know that I’d like to either work in a macro social work environment, preferably in local or state government, or join the military, possibly the Army or Air Force,” he says. “Before graduating, I’d like to take part in the Boren Scholarships program, which provides undergraduates with the opportunity to travel abroad and explore aspects of language, culture and public service, which seems very intriguing.”

Participating in the College Student Congress is just the next step in a bright future for Ezzard, Hill says.

“My hope in this experience for Austin is that he will continue his path of advocacy and care for people – but that he will make a diverse network of students who also care about the same or similar experiences as him,” she says. “Austin values relationship-building and the humanity we all have. This opportunity will be excellent for Austin to bridge connections with students across the nation.

“For Austin’s senior year and beyond, I hope that he continues to seek experiences that broaden his knowledge base. I have no doubt that Austin will continually find ways to make his mark here at VCU – and we are all better for it.”