Alumni Spotlight: Bourin You '16

Social worker earns state award for leadership and mentoring
Bourin You with Secretary of Health and Human Services Sudders and DCF Commissioner Linda Spears

Always move forward, lean into any opportunities, and network.

Bourin You ‘16 has seen a lot in his five years of service as a social worker with the state Department of Children and Families, but he was still nervous when he got a call that his state-level boss, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, was looking to get in touch with him.

“I asked if I needed a union steward with me,” he recalled. No, he was told, it was good news.

Indeed it was. What Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders wanted to speak about was presenting him with the 2022 Governor Paul Cellucci Award for Leadership & Mentoring in State Government.

The accolade was presented in December 2022 in Boston. The nomination cited You’s contributions to mentorship, leadership and morale during his time with the Greater Lowell Area Office. “Bourin believes strongly in giving back to his office to strengthen staff retention, increase knowledge of case practices, and to boost morale and wellness,” the nomination stated. “Bourin continues to strive to learn and expand his knowledge and competency in trauma informed practice to ensure he is able to not only provide the best case management he can, but also to share this with his colleagues.”

His service co-facilitating a new worker support group in his office was cited, along with his work to mentor colleagues. 

The son of Cambodian immigrants who started a new life for their family in Lowell 30 years ago, You was grateful for the sense of community and support he received from the wider community and services he received through his public schools.

When he was looking to further his education in college, he considered education and social work. “I wanted to immerse myself into campus life and do a little bit of everything,” he said. “Sociology was very broad and offered me opportunities to do social work or work on campaigns.” 

At Fitchburg State, You joined the Dance Club and served in student government, among other pursuits. In his academics, he was appreciative of his advisor, Associate Professor Patricia Arend from the Behavioral Sciences Department.

“She definitely challenged me,” You recalled. “She was interested in everything I was doing, would go to my dance shows, and ask about things beyond academics.” They’ve kept in touch in the years since he graduated.

“While I am elated and proud of Bourin for receiving this award, I am not surprised,” Professor Arend said. “When he was at Fitchburg State, I often thought of him as a glue that held our classes together. His presence was calming in the way he often took in the comments of the more vocal students during class discussion and then posed thoughtful questions or offered new perspectives that shifted the conversation in important directions for his peers. We are a small program that benefits from a strong community; Bourin certainly did his share of the work in fostering that community.”

Arend said You’s leadership experience and artistic sensibility from the Dance Club informed his sociological work and interaction with fellow students. “As I think about these dark winter days of early spring semester, I am reminded of Bourin's joie de vivre and am inspired to bring his sensibility to my classes this semester,” she said.

You is a big believer in the importance of networking. While working part-time at Head Start, he met a DCF caseworker with whom he shared a client. That relationship led to his moving to DCF himself. “After that, it’s taken off,” You said.

His work is challenging, engaging with children and families in difficult circumstances and trying to help them find a way forward. “Initially it was very hard. Who was I as a 20-year-old to tell a parent what to do? I’ve come to learn that I can have children or not have children and still be in a role where I can be a protective social worker. Everyone is going through something.”

You said he was gratified by the recognition from the secretary’s office, and is looking to continue his career evolution with a master’s degree in social work.

Reflecting on what he’s learned so far in his career, You said his advice to today’s students is to keep an eye on the future. “Always move forward, lean into any opportunities, and network,” he said. “Networking is the biggest thing; if I didn’t have the personality I demonstrate in my office, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”