Kris Tower: educator, advocate, filmmaker

3/20/2008 - By: Jill Stockton

The late Kristine Tower, former School of Social Work professor at the University, often referred to herself as a “serial social worker.” Others referred to her as a force in the classroom, an enthusiastic and compassionate instructor.

“Kris was a passionate spokeswoman for the profession of social work,” said Denise Montcalm, friend, colleague and director of the school. “She truly personified the values of social work: service, social justice, respect and dignity.”

Tower, who passed away in 2005 at age 54, will be remembered at a special event Friday, March 21 from 5 until 7:30 p.m. at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno.

The event, “A Legacy of Inspiration: A Tribute to Kris Tower” will honor the professor’s contributions to social work by endowing a memorial scholarship in her name at the school.

“This scholarship will be awarded to students and faculty in social work who share Kris’ passion for innovative teaching, technology and advocacy — as a champion for people with disabilities,” said Kendall Hardin, the College of Health and Human Sciences’ development director.

Tower was a tireless advocate for the disabled community.

“After being diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 25, Kris had more than 30 surgeries throughout her life and often felt she had an invisible disability,” Montcalm said. “She was passionate about working with people to improve their quality of life because of what she had experienced herself.

“Even early on in her career Kris was an advocate,” Montcalm added. “Soon after Kris received her master of social work degree she began searching for solutions for individuals with disabilities.

“Kris learned of people receiving Medicaid in her community (who were) without transportation to get to the pharmacy to receive their medication. As a result of this, Kris consulted the Medicaid Manual and found a policy stating that Medicaid would pay for a common carrier where no common carrier exists.

“After giving serious thought to how to facilitate the transportation, she went to the Department of Health and Human Services and pointed out the Medicaid policy. As a result the department agreed with her and soon began issuing ‘paid for’ cab calling cards to individuals needing transportation to and from their local pharmacies to get the medications they needed.

“This is just one example of how tenacious, thoughtful and committed Kris was to finding solutions to the challenges people faced,” Montcalm said. “Whether it involved helping people access services or overcome obstacles, Kris always considered the power of possibility.”

Tower, who joined the University in January 1991, was also an educational innovator and pioneer.

She developed the first course in the nation examining disabilities and social work. The “Disabilities in Health” course provided students with an opportunity to understand the culture of disabilities in order to transform how they perceived people in this group.

After a few years on campus, Kris became too ill to teach in the classroom. She began using innovative strategies like Web CT and other emerging technologies to engage her students.

“Kris worked tirelessly to build an online community where students could share ideas,” Montcalm said.

Early in her career Kris also recognized that social work is a misunderstood profession. She spearheaded a public education campaign called “Faces of Change” with University social work professor Susan Chandler to communicate the different elements of social work in the community.

Tower also produced an award-winning trilogy of films that helped disabled people from a variety of cultural backgrounds tell their stories. Her vision for the films was to inspire people and focus on what is possible. Film titles included: Mending Spirits: Native Americans with Disabilities; Pathways: Latinos with Disabilities; and Full Circle: African Americans with Disabilities.

“Kris and I were colleagues and friends,” Montcalm said. “She was just a marvelous person, and brought amazing energy and determination to everything she did. It was incredible to be able to share in that. I miss her dearly and think of her often.”

About Kris Tower:

Kristine Tower (1951 - 2005) worked in a variety of settings and special populations, including child welfare, mental health, hospital and home health social work, senior citizens, and a brief stint with homeless families.

Her favorite field of practice was medical social work. She worked for Renown Regional Medical Center in the rehabilitation unit and emergency room. Much of her training and experience was with clients with traumatic, congenital and acquired disabilities. In private practice, she also worked with people who were newly injured or diagnosed with serious medical problems, and provided expert witness testimony in legal cases involving medical issues.

She was named “Social Worker of the Year” in 1994 by the Nevada Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. Tower was also honored as “Disabled Employee of the Year” in 1990 by the State of Nevada for her work at Renown and “Mentor of the Year” by the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Human and Community Sciences. She was appointed by the governor to the State of Nevada Independent Living Council, where she served as chairperson.


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