Dear Friends and Alumni of the School of Social Work,
I hope you are all keeping safe and healthy as we move through the fall. Autumn is always viewed as a season of change and transition, but this year it seems to be especially so. September proved a very busy month for the School of Social Work and the University as a whole. Now that we are a little more settled, I want to provide an update on the last two months, beginning first with updates on two prominent University members.
You likely heard that the NSHE Board of Regents has selected the 17th President of the University of Nevada, Reno. On October 5th, we welcomed former Governor Brian Sandoval, an alumnus of the College of Liberal Arts, back to the University. His selection was particularly exciting for the School of Social Work given the role he played in bringing social workers into Nevada’s schools. I look forward to working with the President’s Office further to connect the School of Social Work to the local and state community as a resource.
Earlier this month also marked the passing of Ellen Frances Pillard. She earned her BSW from Antioch College and MSW from the University of Washington before joining the School of Social Work in the late 1970s, helping to build a new school as part of the national wave of social work school creation. Her professional background had been in supporting children with developmental disabilities and their families, which she dearly loved. However, her first major research project focused on women in prostitution, which became a cornerstone of her academic career. In 1986, she received the Alan Bible Teaching Excellence Award and was the 1992-1993 Chair for Faculty Senate. She was also a major supporter for the creation of the Women Studies Department. However, she is truly remembered as an educator who worked hard to support and guide her students.
Beyond her professional work, she was President of the Sierra Club and a board member for the national leadership. She loved the desert in all its forms and exploring the history of the land and its indigenous peoples. She not only advocated for the environment, but also Native America communities, women’s rights, and particularly the LGBTQ community. She was very politically active, but also more personally made sure to have a kind word for anyone who needed one, particularly her students navigating the complexities of their identity. Ellen’s legacy of social justice shows this has been a guiding value for the School of Social Work from its earliest years, and her example is one that can guide us as we continue to advocate for a more just and equitable society in our role as social works. She will be dearly missed by all who had the privilege of knowing her. The School of Social Work faculty and staff will be making a donation to her alma mater, Antioch College, and her family has also advised that donations in her memory to the Sierra Club would be welcomed too if anyone would like to contribute.
On September 2, our undergraduate students hosted their second SPEAK UP webinar on DACA and Undocumented students. The event’s guest speakers were Jahahi Mazariego, LSW, a Social Services Coordinator at UNR’s Equal Opportunity and Title IX office; Mayra Sierra-Ruiz, a Coordinator in the UNR Office of Admission & Records; and Mariana Sarmiento, MSW, Resource Coordinator for Diversity Initiatives at UNLV. They presented on topics related to difficulties and barriers students face in continuing and access educational and financial aid support when pursuing their education as well as updates to DACA. It was an incredibly informative event, which allowed the sharing of information and best practices between two universities, and resulted in an additional workshop about how to write testimonials for advocacy purposes. I cannot say enough how inspirational our students are as they not only strive to provide educational opportunities on matters they care about, but also take action in the community.
The third SPEAK UP event was held last Thursday on October 22. Our own Amanda Cuevas, MSW, LSW and the Vice President for the Board of Directors of the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence was joined by Rica Andrade, Project Manager for Bamboo Bridges’ Project Resilience, Vanessa Rios, a domestic violence and sexual assault advocate, and Rita Imus, a Safe School Counselor and SART Advocate for Crisis Support Services of Nevada to discuss their experience working with survivors of domestic violence.
School of Social Work Alumnus of the Year
Last week was Homecoming, and though we could not gather in-person for the usual festivities, the Nevada Alumni Association hosted their Alumni Award Ceremony virtually. We are very pleased to recognize Frank Cervantes ‘94 as the 2020 Alumnus of the Year for the School of Social Work. He is the Director of the Washoe County Department of Juvenile Services, a position he has held since 2013, where he oversees operations and staff at the Jan Evans Juvenile Justice Facility. In his current role, he is leading the conversation on how social work values and the juvenile justice system can work together to truly support children and their families in difficult circumstances. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Frank is also working to ensure that the youth in his care are kept as safe as possible from the disease. Additionally, he has supported the community as a former board member for the Children’s Cabinet and as a current member of our Community Advisory Board. Congratulations, Frank!
As part of a mission to create a more unified School and educational experience for our students, our BSW Coordinator, Mariana Dubose, has held monthly meetings with our LOA faculty. These are professional members of the community who teach on a semester-to-semester basis. This is an opportunity for this group to get together with the regular academic faculty to discuss developments at the University or School and goals for the curriculum. In a year marked by such rapid transition, the need to ensure unity between our instructors has never been more clear, and we pleased with this new development.
Phi Alpha Honor Society and Dean’s List
While the School of Social Work focuses on supporting students through these challenging times, I do not want to lose sight of also recognizing their achievements. I had students approach me about a local chapter of the Phi Alpha Honor Society. The School had been a member several years ago, but our membership had lapsed with leadership transitions. We are in the process of rejoining Phi Alpha to provide our students the opportunity to have their academic achievement recognized on a national platform.
I am also pleased to announce that our social work students will be recognized as part of the Dean’s List for students who earn a 3.75 GPA. Now that we are an independent unit, I have felt very strongly about starting this initiative to recognize students for their superior academic achievement amongst their peers. We look forward to announcing our first Dean’s List for Fall 2020.
School of Social Work Accreditation Update
Every few years, the School of Social Work, like all academic units of the University, must go through an accreditation process to ensure that the School is meeting national standards for preparing our students at the BSW and MSW level. Our Accreditation Committee has been hard at work undertaking our self-study to review our curriculum and set goals for the coming years. Our self-study will be submitted in April and we are well on track to meet that deadline and prepare for the on-site visit. I am very appreciative for the work the committee is doing on top of teaching and research during an unusual year.
Student Advisory Committee
These newsletters have shown how engaged our students are both on- and off-campus. Several student leaders have joined together to form a Student Advisory Committee, who I meet with monthly to discuss developments for the School. I think it is important to have a platform for students to bring ideas and concerns just as we have our Community Advisory Board to keep us connected with community and professional needs. The Student Advisory Committee is in the process of registering with the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN) as an official student club, but they have already sent student representation to our faculty and community advisory board meetings.
School of Social Work Alumni Chapter (SSWAC)
Similarly, the School of Social Work Alumni Chapter has been approved as an official chapter of the Nevada Alumni Association. We are very pleased to have this formal organization for our alumni to gather and keep in touch with each other and the School. Please visit the SSWAC Facebook Page (linked here) to join.