Nilvio Alexander Punguil Bravo is an Advanced Standing Student in the Mental Health Focus Area. He was born in Esmeraldas and raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He’s a former gymnast, musician, artist, tutor, TA, and owns a carpentry business. He plans to graduate this spring and he recently passed the test to become a U.S. Citizen.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to choose social work:
My friends and acquaintances call me Alex. I was born in Esmeraldas and raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador. While living in Ecuador, I practiced gymnastics for several years representing and competing for my high school and province. After an injury to my lower back, I moved with my father to the United States for a comfortable life. I came to this country with a low English proficiency; I basically was not able to comprehend and speak English at all. It was not easy to adapt to this culture at first. However, I found music and art to be my medicine for adjusting to this society. In Ecuador, I learned to play the guitar which led me to my circles of friendship. I applied the same idea to my new home in Madison. Through music I met many people and found my way into the Brazilian music group, the Handphibians in 2010, and later I formed my own band, Los Chechos, in 2012. In both bands I was the vocalist, which I enjoyed very much, and it led me to play at multiple festivals and local bars in the Madison area.
My decision to pursue graduate school began while I was an undergraduate student in the Rehabilitation Psychology school at UW-Madison. While interning, memories came back from my childhood when I used to help my father in marginalized Ecuadorian communities, which were predominantly made up of uneducated and poor families. This childhood experience introduced me to the social work profession and the importance of helping and advocating for others in need. These memories sparked my interest in pursuing the Master of Social Work program, which I am now completing my final semester in.
Why did you choose the MSW program?
I chose the MSW program because I have experienced the struggles that oppressed groups face, as I am part of these marginalized and oppressed groups. I understand, on a deeper level, the subjugation of those families back in Ecuador. The stories of discrimination, social disadvantage, and difficulty communicating in the dominant language had shifted and become my own after moving to the United States. Experiencing various social positions throughout my past and present and being bilingual empower me to be a social worker who can both amplify marginalized voices and capably navigate the systems in the social work field.
How would you describe your experience in the program so far?
I absolutely love the program. The experience in the program has been a 10/10 or 20/20 or an A. The instructors are down to earth. The instructors and the staff members in the program are well prepared and give their best to the students. The instructors are always there for me and have been accommodating to my needs if I do not understand a topic or I am feeling down, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. In my whole career as a student, from Madison College to UW-Madison, the social work program has been, without a doubt, excellent.
Regarding the field seminar, both years have been a good experience for my growth as a social worker. If at first, I felt I was lost, the support from my instructors and supervisors has been instrumental in driving me forward and progressing in my professional and academic development. The collaborative team has been greatly helpful with their involvement in my education.
Have you worked in the social work field to date? If yes, how has this prepared you for an MSW?
I have not directly worked in the social work field, but as part of my first-year internship, I volunteered at Forward Solutions and now with UW Health Adolescent Alcohol/Drug Assessment and Intervention Program (AADAIP). Apart from this internship opportunity, I have been volunteering and assisting people in Madison since my arrival in this country for almost 20 years ago.
I have volunteered at Madison College as a tutor for the English-as-a-Second-Language program and tutored children with learning disabilities in the Dane County’s after-school program. I also served as a co-chair for the Madison Neighborhood Association, focusing on culture and art in the community. Since 2012, I have owned and operated a carpentry business. I enjoy entrepreneurship because of the high level of responsibility and self-accountability. Aside from being a student and a carpenter, I paint and play music. Several times I have donated my artistic talents toward fundraisers.
I have also had the opportunity to be a Spanish TA for the Spanish and Portuguese department here at the UW-Madison, which I enjoyed a lot. The interactions and the learning experiences with students and faculty members are particularly rewarding. These interactions with people have given me the opportunity to grow internally, gain new experiences, and shape my understanding and passion of who I am, allowing me to provide new ways of aiding others.
What do you hope to do after receiving and MSW?
After receiving my MSW, I am hoping to begin my PhD in the School of Human Ecology this coming fall. I am ready to start a new chapter in my academic career. As a part of this chapter, I want to work with underrepresented communities here in the United States as well as in my native country, Ecuador, to help people cope with the trauma of generational oppression.
What’s one effective (or ineffective) strategy you’ve used to study and work during the pandemic?
One effective strategy I have used to help with studying during this pandemic has been to play the guitar, go for walks, meditate, and occasionally make a special dinner with a glass of wine.