The Science of Help
LAS Psychology major and Poli-Sci teacher uses politics to serve the underserved
Healthcare is inexorably entangled in state and federal politics. Consequently, compassion and dedication to treating underserved populations is only half the battle. The other part involves understanding and getting in between the red tape that determines how resources get distributed to those in need. Dina Kupfer has always grasped this symbiosis implicitly. After graduating from Touro’s Lander College of Arts and Sciences with a psychology degree in 2009, the Brooklyn native coupled that with a Masters in Political Science from Brooklyn College. Today, she splits her time between the classroom—Kupfer is an adjunct professor in LAS’s Poli-Sci department—and legal work and government liaison for Yeled V’yalda, a Brooklyn-based social-services agency that assists children and their families.
“It relates to everything in life,” she says of political science. “In any profession, it always goes back to, as a citizen, how you navigate the system on a federal, state and local level. Our everyday life encompasses government in official and unofficial ways…. I don’t have one decisive event that pushed me in this direction. Everything came together, and political science is a very spicy subject. My first day coming into class, I always say [to students], ‘Political science has something for everyone, because it involves philosophy and history and current events and ethics and analysis. It has such variety and appeal and application.’”
While no singular experience compelled her down the road where social services and bureaucracy intersect, Kupfer does explain, “I always had this interest toward psychology, but I wasn’t sure where I would go with that. I came to Touro eager to learn and wanted flexibility, so I ended up majoring in Psychology and minoring in Political Science. What got me hooked was an American Politics class. It was fascinating, and I loved the analytical bent.”
While completing her studies, Kupfer explored a myriad career possibilities, including volunteering at a laboratory, doing observations at a pediatrics office, teaching and assuming a post as Editor-in-Chief of the Touro student newspaper. “I was considering all of this,” she explains. After taking a semester off post-graduation, she continued investigating her interest in both journalism and teaching, which, as she remembers, “helped me refocus and think, ‘What do I really enjoy and want to go back to school for?’”
Now, having earned her B.A. and M.A., in addition to splitting her time between Touro and Yeled V’yalda, Kupfer’s next challenge is to make a real-world impact by applying her interdisciplinary approach to helping struggling families. “It has become very complex,” she acknowledges of her ultimate, altruistic goal. “Government is wide and deep, and as citizens, it would be nice if we all knew our rights. But because life is busy, and many times we’re just under-educated in this area, we don’t really know. In the one slice of work I deal with, I see parents come in… and they’re not armed. I don’t know how much of the Constitution your average American knows, let alone all these intricate workings. When you have some background in American politics, you can really push your way through….. We should be better-equipped to defend ourselves if need be or to know what we are allowed and entitled to and not.”
For Kupfer, that necessitated years of varied-but-interconnected immersion in psychological and political frameworks. But the gratification comes on a daily basis via her interactions with people struggling against the odds. “There are growing pains raising any child,” she says. “A family that has a child with special needs is a blessing, and yet it’s emotionally draining and difficult for a parent to come to terms with, and it’s very overwhelming to understand what’s out there that could help them. So it’s very rewarding to be here in this little way and help support parents to make sure these children can grow up to be functioning, contributing members of society.”