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Rising Runner Michael Pawloski brings love of the arts to his social work

Michael Pawloski

Michael Pawloski in front of Hoffman Hospice.

Michael Pawloski is one of four 2018 Rising Runners, CSUB alumni of the last 10 years being recognized for their exceptional work post-graduation.  He was chosen by the School of Arts & Humanities.

Michael Pawloski, 34, has long incorporated his passion for the arts into his career as a social worker, believing things like acting, painting and crafting help people cope with grief.

Since 2014 he has worked as a medical social worker for Hoffmann Hospice, where he mostly helps terminally ill adults and their families face end-of-life issues but also runs a therapeutic arts camp for children grappling with loss.

Michael draws on his arts background, having graduated with bachelor’s degrees in communications and theater from CSUB in 2007. After commencement he decided that pursuing an acting career in Los Angeles wouldn’t provide the stability he craved and so followed a friend’s advice and took an extra-help job at the Kern County Department of Human Services. There he helped with the Act Out program, where at-risk youth performed scenes related to issues they were struggling with, such as teen pregnancy and bullying.

 “When we’re dealing with issues, we sometimes hide or isolate ourselves or express ourselves in negative ways,” Michael says. “(Theater) is a creative outlet to do something that’s healing.”

To do truly therapeutic social work Michael needed an advanced degree and so in 2011 he earned his Master of Social Work. During his last year of graduate school and for a year after, he worked at Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, creating therapy groups for men and teens who were domestic violence victims.

“We were teaching them about healthy relationships,” Michael says, explaining it helps break cycles of violence. “Sometimes people don’t know what a healthy relationship is.”

From there he moved on to Recovery Innovations-Freise Hope House, a residential care facility, and grew its number of education programs from four to more than 40. It exposed him to a wide variety of interventions, including skill-building, laughter yoga, drama and music therapy, and volunteerism.

Michael developed an affinity for grief counseling, saying people just aren’t taught how to deal with loss and doing so is personally rewarding.

“This is a very emotional time for people,” Michael says of those dying or losing a loved one, “and for someone to come into their home and help them … they’re just so appreciative.”

As a side project he took over and changed up Hoffmann’s summer Heart Art Camp, a four-day arts program for children who’ve suffered a loss, and developed a holiday version. Kids do things like make Thanksgiving centerpieces and snow globes incorporating characteristics of the person they’re missing.

“One reason I do this is to see the kids laugh and smile again,” Michael says.

When he’s off work, Michael is active with the Empty Space Theatre. He’s been on the board of directors since 2009, helping with the business side of things and directing and acting in shows that have benefited the Bakersfield LGBTQ community and Hoffmann.

Michael says people in social work need to set aside that work during off-hours, so not surprisingly he gravitates toward comedy theater.

“We have to take care of ourselves,” he says. “We need to practice what we preach.”


Now in its fourth year, the Rising Runner program recognizes CSUB alumni of the last 10 years excelling in their work and giving back to their community.

In consultation with faculty, the dean from each of the university’s four academic schools selects a Rising Runner. Rising Runners come back to campus to participate in an awards ceremony and panel discussion where current students can ask them questions about how they got where they are today.

This year's event will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 23 in the CSUB Stockdale Room.