Social Work: Miriam Suss OAM

Miriam Suss OAM (BA 1972, GDip Social Studies 1972) was determined to become a social worker from the age of 16. With of over 30 years, experience as a social worker and community development professional Miriam is still giving to the community in her role as a Board Director.

What led you to study at the University of Melbourne?

During my year 12 I visited both Monash University and the University of Melbourne to “suss out” the campuses and get a feel of the atmosphere. I just loved the character of the University of Melbourne, the stately buildings and the gardens. I was sold immediately. Some of my fondest memories of my time at the University include the long hours happily spent in the Baillieu Library, lunchtimes in the upstairs caf in the Union building, the feeling of being at home in the Social Work building, a self-contained shopfront in Royal Parade where my future career was to be born.

What/who motivated you at University and what motivates you now?

I found the Social Work faculty members extremely encouraging. Our Psychology lecturer Frank Knopfelmacher was eccentric, but erudite, learned and inspiring. The opportunity to have four practical placements in a number of community services settings was invaluable. My four supervisors in those placements were all inspiring and each one is fondly remembered as a mentor, teacher, and role model.

Presently, the need to still give back, to contribute to the community, to still utilise the values and principles I learnt in Social Work school to inform my voluntary and professional contribution are my key motivations.

What advice do you have for current students and recent graduates?

It’s a well-worn cliché, but I advise you to make the most of your time at University, enjoy every minute by balancing your academic pursuits with fun social and cultural activities.  Becoming experienced takes time. Life experience is invaluable, and cannot be learnt in a classroom.

Are you a donor to the University and if so, what motivates your gifts?

Yes, in a small way, motivated by the invaluable gifts my University of Melbourne education has provided me. I feel the need to acknowledge those gifts by assisting current students to pursue their dreams just as I was able to pursue mine.

I was fortunate enough to have been an undergraduate at a time when Commonwealth Scholarships were available and I was privileged to receive a free education. Things are not so easy for undergraduates today, and this situation partly motivates my gifts.

What drew you to your area of expertise and what do you love about it?

As the child of migrants who had been survivors of the Holocaust, I felt a particular need to “repair the world” after the suffering my family had known. Social Work, with its opportunity to work with people experiencing problems across a range of age groups, social strata and situations, afforded me a chance to do this. I loved the interaction with my clients and the fact that I could in a small way, make a difference.

What are some of the highlights of your career so far?

Being Director of Social Work Services at Jewish Community Services for 11 years was a true privilege. Later on in my career I became the CEO of the Melbourne office of an international fundraising organisation for eight years. This was another highlight, building on my Social Work training and my knowledge of Development, PR and Fundraising learnt early in my career and achieving high value monetary targets with an outstanding professional team.

What do you most love about your career?

My Social Work education provided me the most wonderful platform for pursuing wide-ranging activities at the conclusion of my social work career.  Learning psychology, social biology, legal studies, social policy made me, I believe a well-rounded graduate able to apply myself flexibly to the many challenges my career would bring. I love most of all, the fact that armed with the strategies and tools provided by my education, I always felt encouraged to take on roles which were outside my comfort zone.

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life so far?

Being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2013 Queens Birthday Honours is truly the pinnacle of my achievements in terms of career and professional pursuits. It came after a 40-year career working within the Melbourne Jewish community and was in recognition of that work. But personally and always more importantly, the family I have built is the greatest achievement: my husband and I have two wonderful sons, their wonderful wives and five precious grandchildren.

What is your most treasured memory?

I fondly remember my graduation at Wilson Hall, in 1972, two weeks before my wedding, attended by my parents, fiancé and my overseas aunt whom I met then for the first time. I was the first member of my family to attend University, and the graduation was a dream come true for my family.

What do people thank you for most often?

Many years later, I still receive acknowledgement from former clients for my efforts in trying to assist them. I feel very lucky to have worked in a career in which I was paid to do good deeds. I keep in contact with a number of adults whom I first met when they were children placed in the family group home I managed. Their continued friendship and willingness to allow me into their lives is not taken for granted.

What does being successful mean to you?

Having integrity, being recognised for being honest, having solid achievements and having fulfilled the career goals I set myself at the outset of my social work studies. Being a good role model for my children and grandchildren is another measure of success.