To be a social worker has not just become the profession in which I find myself, but rather a personal adjective that I am proud to append at the end of my name. An adjective which elicits as much pride in me, as being a father, husband and foody. However, my path to the social work profession conveniently mirrors my progressive journey to becoming a functioning human. They have both been non-traditional and wrought with incredible uncertainty, excitement and happenstance.
Because the guiding philosophy of my life is that educating ourselves and others is the key to enriching our communities, of course I would accept the privilege of serving on the UConn SSW Alumni Board of Champions. I endeavor to pay homage to my alma mater by assisting my fellow journeymen on their quest to change the world. I want to aid the institution which vows to support their students curiosity through scholarship, mentorship, community engagement and academic excellence.
Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro is from New York City, and is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, class of 2016. Most recently, completed the Educational Leadership Program at Sacred Heart University in 2020. Mrs. Cristofaro continues to grow through one of her passions which is outreach. She is the founder and owner of Ends2meet LLC, creating awareness on social justice issues, providing resources, and counseling services in English and Spanish. Mrs. Cristofaro is a graduate of Hartford Public Schools and has dedicated her adult years to education. She has worked for Hartford Public Schools since 2008 and is currently employed as a school social worker with the district. She has a special place in her heart for English learners and recalls how difficult it was to manage her native language in Spanish while learning English. In addition to the many years in the Hartford school system, she has many years’ experience working in the community, namely in Hartford with outreach, community engagements and collaboration with community-based organizations while working in education. She extends her knowledge to interns from the Springfield College of Social Work as well as for the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work.
Mrs. Cristofaro sits at the board of directors as an ambassador for Interval House, the largest shelter in the state for victims of domestic violence. Mrs. Cristofaro was once a resident there and being a part of the development committee provides her with the opportunity of giving back to the community.
Mrs. Cristofaro is humbled to volunteer and work towards a more equitable society that advocates and creates awareness on the social issues that hinder growth.
Mrs. Cristofaro resides in Rocky Hill, CT with her husband Victor, who is also in education and a graduate of the University of Connecticut. Together they are raising the two youngest children at home. They enjoy traveling outside of the United States, photography, enjoy new vegan recipes, friendships and family time.
Brandon Burke has been working in the field of social work since 2012. Mr. Burke’s skill set ranges from conducting quantitative social research to providing professional training on cultural issues. After graduating with his Masters Degree of Social Work in 2015 from the University of Connecticut, he went onto work as a Therapeutic Foster Care Worker for The Village for Families and Children. Inc. in Hartford, CT and concurrently as a Consulting Clinician for Radiance Innovative Services, also in Hartford. Once becoming a Licensed Master Social Worker in 2016, Mr. Burke went onto fully transition into clinical therapy providing intensive therapy to youth and families through the The Village for Families and Children’s Extended Day Treatment Program. Mr. Burke also created and chaired Project Pride for The Village for Families and Children, a staff engagement committee aimed at promoting psychoeducation about the LGBTQ+ community. This opportunity led to him becoming a Continuing Education Credit (CEC) Trainer with an emphasis on Cultural Considerations when working with LGBTQ Youth. Currently, Mr. Burke works as a Medical Social Worker for DaVita Healthcare in New Haven, CT and an Outpatient Clinician with Alonzo Watts and Associates, LLC in Hamden, CT.
In the community, Mr. Burke is a graduate member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and coordinates an extracurricular skills academy named Alpha Academy for youth in 7th grade martriculating through high school in New Haven, CT. Previously, Mr. Burke has assisted as a community educator for the Wilson Gray YMCA Y-Achievers Program in Hartford and currently, as a Prep Mentor for an SAT Preparation Course with Higher Heights Youth Empowerment Programs in Waterbury, CT. Mr. Burke is also a proud alumnus of Hampton University and past president of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Hampton Alumni Association, Inc.
Mr. Burke has one public presentation, Community Support for Families: How A Different Response Can Help, in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and the former UConn Performance Improvement Center and; one public article, How the Thought of Marriage Equality Made Us a Weaker, But Wiser, Generation: My generation opts to embrace change., published on Blavity.com.
Tianna L. Hill is a Communications Associate and a Project Coordinator for the Connecticut School-Based Diversion Initiative (SBDI) at the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, Inc. She has extensive knowledge in mental health and juvenile justice, as well as trauma-informed care, adolescent development, and research methods. Tianna’s other experiences have included therapeutic support for children in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, care coordination for adults with co-occurring disorders and supervision of juveniles involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice.
She received her Master’s in Social Work from UConn and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Goucher College. She has varied board experience and her current board membership includes the AHEC Urban Service Track Alumni Advisory Committee and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI CT).
Kia Levey-Burden, MSW, is the president and founder of Launch Consulting, LLC. She is a passionate leader and dedicated advocate who is deeply committed to igniting the passion in others and magnifying the voice of communities who are often silenced and ignored. Mothering a 14 year-old Black son, further fuels Kia’s work to address and expose biases and racism hiding in plain sight. Some of Kia’s work includes managing a Juvenile Justice initiative that coordinates statewide community stakeholders focused on building restorative justice practices in the deep end of the juvenile justice system, supporting local charter schools efforts to develop strategies for more inclusive and diverse practices in their school communities and supporting the capacity of community and philanthropic organizations focused on greater equity practices. Kia is also an adjunct professor of Social Work at Southern CT State University where she enjoys inspiring, equipping and empowering future Social Workers to be full of compassion and ready to lead.
SSW Concentration: Individuals, Groups and Families
Expected Grad Year: Spring 2022
Tell me about your leadership involvement at the SSW: I am a co-chair for the Organization of Black Social Work Students (OBSWS). Myself and the other co-chair planned a Yoga for BLM event last semester, we are hosting a Black History Month Sip and Paint, and have a virtual hip hop game show planned for April 2021. We also have collaborated with BH365 on their efforts and I hosted the BLM Facts vs. Myths event last semester, as well as assisting in planning other events such as the upcoming panel discussion on black maternal health in April 2021. OBSWS also collaborated with Just Community on 2/5/21 and hosted a solidarity hour on the topic of “Black Joy”.
Any leadership involvement outside of SSW? Outside of the UCONN SSW, I am a trainer on Implicit Bias within DCF, I also am a part of the racial justice and diversity action team. I recently began to organize marches and protests with my other colleagues and classmates over the summer of 2020 and I plan to continue advocacy efforts.
What’s your motivation for becoming a social worker? My motivation for becoming a social worker came to me in high school when I had an innate desire to help underrepresented populations. I put myself in positions of employment to gain experience and also spent a lot of time attending different trainings to keep current with trends and new developments within the social work field. I believe everyone deserves a fair shot at life and my empathetic nature allows me to develop rapport with the families I serve and give them the tools they need to succeed so they can get to the next stage of their lives in a safe and healthy way. Currently I am a DCF social worker and after I earn my MSW I plan to get licensed and go into holistic social work incorporating reiki and energy healing and/or working with juvenile offenders. I also will continue to engage the community and be hands on with children and families in some capacity.
Loan T. Nguyen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Connecticut; a Masters in Social Work from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work; and maintains licensure in the State of Connecticut. She has over 10+ years clinical experience working within an outpatient mental health treatment setting. She has extensive training and experience in individual, group, and family psychotherapy. In addition, she is competent in utilizing best practice methods to include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
Ms. Nguyen is also a Captain within the CT Army National Guard and has over 18+ years of military experience. She currently serves as a Behavioral Health Officer and promotes all aspects of mental health. She regularly counsels service members to help control combat/non-combat stress through implementation of resiliency policies and programs.
Further, Ms. Nguyen’s commitment to the community is longstanding and evident through participation in various volunteer programs, including Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Asian Mental Health Collective. Both mentorship programs were developed to match mentees with role models who can leave a positive, lasting impact through friendship and continued guidance. Ms. Nguyen has also served on the American Savings Foundation Scholarship Committee for the past five years and was recently elected to join their Board of Directors.
As a proud two-time UConn alumna, Ms. Nguyen is equally excited to have been newly elected to join the UConn School of Social Work Alumni Board of Champions. She is enthusiastic about her new role and is looking forward to advancing UConn SSW’s mission through advocacy, philanthropic investment, and community involvement.
Ms. Nguyen currently lives with her husband Thien in Avon, CT. She is an avid baker and CrossFit enthusiast.
S. Kimberly Somaroo-Rodriguez has been with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) for over 21 years. This includes direct Child Protective Services, Mental health and Voluntary services specialist. Mrs. Somaroo-Rodriguez was also a supervisor in the bureau of Quality Improvement Division and instrumental in the implementation of the agency’s compliance with the court mandated 22 Outcome measures set forth in the Juan F. Consent Decree. Mrs. Somaroo-Rodriguez has been a Program Supervisor since 2006. She provides managerial oversight of the statewide Supportive Housing for Families Program (SHF). This nationally recognized program provides child welfare reunification/preservation services with permanent housing solutions. Mrs. Somaroo-Rodriguez has developed new partnerships with several non-profit housing advocacy groups such as is the Reaching Home Campaign, Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Mrs. Somaroo-Rodriguez is a longtime member of the Reaching Home Campaign’s Youth and Young Adult Homelessness Workgroup, Prevention, and Coordinating Committees. She is the DCF representative along with six other state agencies on the State’s Inter-Agency Committee on Supportive Housing Next Steps Initiative which provides funding to Permanent Supportive Housing Developments across the state for homeless adults, youth and families. In October 2009, she established the CT Family Unification Program (FUP) Voucher Taskforce to apply and receive federal housing vouchers for DCF families and youth aging out of foster care, which resulted in over 200 new FUP vouchers equaling $5 million dollars in federal housing assistance. In 2012, Mrs. Somaroo-Rodriguez was the Principal Investigator five-year federal grant initiative for DCF involved homeless families. Mrs. Somaroo-Rodriguez work has also included program oversight of Child First an in-home program that heals families from the effects of trauma and adversity. She is also the Chairperson of the Parents with Differing Cognitive Abilities Workgroup, a state-wide partnership among private and public agencies to advocate, educate, and provide resources to professionals working with parents of all types of cognitive abilities.
Born in Hartford and a third generation Hartfordite. My father’s parents lived in North Hartford, owned a grocery store and some apartments. My mother’s parents owned a fur store in the city, where grandma, a poet/entertainer entertained her patrons. My father put himself through Yale and Columbia Business school. My mother graduated from Dean Junior College. Education, cultural arts and civic duty were values I learned from family.
I graduated from Conard High School, class of 1958, attended Wheaton College, Norton, MA. for two years. During the summer I attended Harvard Summer School, where I met a young man who convinced me to transfer to Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, where I graduated in 1962. He was the man who later became my husband. We lived in Philadelphia where I taught junior high school. Teaching wasn’t for me. I then wrote a grant and received money to unite two neighborhoods, a Black community and an Italian community through an after-school tutorial program. The success of this program excited me. When we moved to New Haven, CT. I attended Southern Connecticut State University and received a Masters degree in Urban Studies. Next I worked at CHIF, Connecticut Housing Invest Fund, a nonprofit whose mission was to counsel first time home owners in the Asylum Hill neighborhood.
By this time, I had two children. My husband, a psychiatrist, saw that I enjoyed counseling people and convinced me to get my MSW. This was one of the best choices I have made. I graduated from UCONN School of Social Work in 1985, followed by 6 years at Wheeler Clinic counseling individuals and families as well as helping corporations with their EAP programs.
Presently I supervise third year psychiatric residents at the IOL, Hartford Hospital. My experiences have provided me with in-depth knowledge of people from many backgrounds as well as a solid knowledge of greater Hartford.
I am enthusiastic about serving on the board of the School of Social Work. It is my way to give back.