Message from Dean Nina Heller

Dear Colleagues,

As we approach the end of the semester and the beginning of winter holidays, I want to extend my warmest wishes to all of you. I know that this has been an extraordinary year and I’ve heard from many of you about the challenging work you are doing on behalf of the communities we serve. We thank you for that.

Given the systemic social, cultural, and economic inequities that have been brought into stark relief during this difficult year of the pandemic, the School of Social Work is working hard to meet the needs of our students and clients. We have successfully pivoted from our traditional face to face classroom learning to a mix of hybrid, distance learning and in person modalities. This has required our faculty and students to learn new skills and to find creative ways to learn together. As ever, I am grateful to them and to our staff who support all the work of the school.

Field education, too, looks different than usual. We have created remote learning activities for students and developed new field units. We launched along with the Hartford Public Schools, a field unit of more than 20 students, placed among the district schools where they are providing trauma informed services to students and families, while supporting their emotional and social needs. We have a group of students providing intensive remote support to older adults whose isolation has increased given the pandemic restrictions. Finally, we have a cohort of students providing essential contract tracing services to the people of Connecticut. In the midst of the pandemic, we have been able to quickly assess contemporary needs and find creative means for our students to gain valuable field experience.

The effects of twin pandemics – coronavirus and anti-black racism – are substantial for our communities. The SSW is working hard through Just Community and our student groups and faculty, to develop meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion activities and programs, in order to address many of these issues. Please see our website for many of the anti-racism resources we are using. We are so proud of our students and their attention to these issues. At the same time, UConn has increased its investment in meaningful diversity and equity awareness and training and we will continue to partner with other schools and colleges within the university.

We have also welcomed three new faculty members this year, Dr. Joanne Corbin, Associate Professor for Academic Affairs and assistant professors, Kelsi Carel and Gio Iaconi. Even in this virtual environment, they have quickly assumed their teaching and research activities and are warmly welcomed by their colleagues and students.

The School of Social Work continues to thrive in our downtown Hartford home, as we build more robust connections with community partners, offering new and enhanced educational opportunities for our students. We are proud that our very first Bachelor of Social Work student cohort graduated this June and we continue to develop creative and flexible learning options to expand access to our programs and meet the needs of our increasingly diverse student body.

If ever there were a time for social work, this is it. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we support the students of today as they are the future workforce in our growing and vital profession. On behalf of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni, I thank you for your generous support and extend to you every wish for good health and well-being.

While there are numerous distractions in the world right now, we continue to focus on the preparation of the next generation of outstanding social work practitioners, educators, and researchers, who are committed to human rights and social justice through their work with our most vulnerable and marginalized communities.

If there were ever a time for social work, this is it. Thanks to you all who continue to contribute to the mission of the UConn SSW through your roles as mentors, field education supervisors, role models and leaders in the community and with your generous support of the school and our students. Our network of dedicated and accomplished alumni is one of the SSW’s greatest assets. Thank you for everything you do, every day.

On behalf of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni, I extend to you every wish for good health and well-being.


Best wishes,



Alumni Call to Action

Things will be unconventional this year for our SSW graduates, but we still want to shower them with love and welcome them as UConn SSW Alumni. We’re soliciting well wishes from the SSW community for our graduating class of 2020. If you’d like to submit content, please keep videos to under 1 minute and 30 seconds and text to under 250 characters. Content will be posted on the School of Social Work website, although we may not be able to use all the content submitted. You can use you phones to create the video and send pictures along with the text. Please send your well wishes to Abigail Jackson at by Friday, May 8th. If you have any questions, please reach out to Abigail directly.

Student Spotlight: Kelly Ha

Kelly Ha is a first year UConn Masters of Social Work student in the Individuals, Groups, and Family Practice concentration as well as a student in the Certificate in Foundations of Public Health program. She is the first one to attend college in her family, her advocacy work and want to address inter-generational trauma are an homage to her immigrant Vietnamese family sacrifices for her to have a better life. As an aspiring Medical Social Worker, Kelly will be doing her 2nd year placement at Connecticut Children’s. Kelly is incredibly involved as she chairs two positions in the Graduate Student Organization as the Social Media Specialist and PEERS Co-Chair. She is also involved with UConn Health’s Urban Service Track where she is able to work in an interdisciplinary team to serve under served communities.

As the Campaign Manager for #IAmNotAVirus, Kelly has helped branch the campaign worldwide to countries such as Brazil, Canada, and Vietnam. She leads the social media team and works to bring mental health into the mission. The campaign serves to bring awareness to the anti-Asian violence that has been rising due to COVID-19. As a healthcare worker, Kelly has already been working in the front lines to battle this virus. Now she is dedicating this battle to dispel racism and advocating for community. The mission of the campaign is for a world where compassion, kindness, and allyship prevails.

A Letter from Dean Heller

Dear SSW alumni colleagues,

I write to you from my home office where I am continuing to carry on the critical missions of the school. Like many of you, the SSW, our faculty, staff, and students are adjusting to a new normal in the wake of the COVID-19 public health crisis. I am happy to report that the migration of our courses to a fully online format, has gone reasonably well, with the support of many of the departments at UConn. We made the difficult decision to withdraw our students from field education settings, due to our concern for their safety. Fortunately, we require a higher number of field education hours than our accrediting body, which means all students will be able to graduate on time. I am enormously grateful to our faculty, staff, and students who have made this transition with grace and hard work, supporting each other as a virtual community. We are planning a virtual commemoration for graduating students and will look forward to welcoming the class of 2020 back to campus in the fall, as alumni, for a celebratory event.

That said, I am aware of the economic and health challenges for our community, all of you, and importantly, the communities and people you serve. Many of you are on the front lines of this epidemic and I reach out to you in appreciation of all you are doing, while trying to stem the tide of the primary and secondary effects of this disease. As you are all painfully aware, the health disparities for many of our communities are staggering. While we were all aware these exist, this current crisis has put these in bold relief. This presents a moment for social work – a call to action – as we continue to identify, study and advocate for sweeping structural changes. In the meantime, we must reach out to others with kindness, help and professional expertise.

I wish each of you and your loved ones, good health, resiliency and sustaining social supports. Social workers have a vital role to play in this national emergency and its aftermath. We need you. So, please take good care of yourselves and each other. We look forward to engaging with you as we emerge from this crisis.

Best wishes,


Tessa Cugno

Tessa recently accepted the position of the Dean’s Administrative Assistant. Tessa has been with the School of Social Work since March 2018 as a Program Assistant in the Dean’s office, working with the MSW and BSW Program Directors. In her new role, Tessa will work closely with the Deans to assist in managing the administrative functions in the Dean’s office. Before her time at the SSW, Tessa worked on the Storrs campus in the Department of Communication. Having grown up in Connecticut, she comes from a family of Husky fans, and is appreciative to be a part of the UConn community.

Trisha Hawthorne-Noble, MSW

Trisha Hawthorne NobleTrisha is our new Coordinator for the SSW Office of Student Academic Services. Trisha is a 2018 graduate of the UConn School of Social Work’s Community Organization sequence. She completed her field placements at the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Community Outreach in the Division of Student Athletics. In the final year of her master’s program, she received the Outstanding Senior Woman Academic Achievement Award. This award, co-sponsored by the Provost’s Office, UConn Alumni, and the Women’s Center, is presented annually to women students who have excelled academically and demonstrated high achievement in research and service to the University community. Trisha’s effective leadership in her work with UConn students, her administrative experience and her MSW background all position her well to assume leadership in this critical position.

Lindsey Wessell

Lindsey joined the Office of Research and Scholarship/Finance Office staff in November. Lindsay is providing support for all aspects of ORS, including event planning logistics and support, communication, grant development and budget support. Lindsay serves as a liaison between the school and SPS, which will be an especially important role as we strive to increase our research grant writing/funding activities in the coming months and years. Lindsay is familiar with Hartford and with local community agencies.  She previously worked at Riverfront Recapture and at the Community Renewal Team.

Regina Lester-Harriat, LMSW

Regina recently joined the School of Social Work faculty as an assistant professor-in-residence. She earned her MSW in 2008 from UConn and was a long-standing field instructor for the School. While a student, Regina studied casework with a focus on women and children in families. She is a former school social worker with nearly two decades of experience working in public, charter and independent school systems. This spring, Lester-Harriat is teaching Practice with Individuals, Groups and Families and advising students. In addition, she is slated to teach the Direct Practice in Schools course next year. With her rich practice experience, she will be able to integrate her real-life experiences into the classroom. “I’m happy to be returning to UConn where it all started for me,” said Lester-Harriat.

Lester-Harriat’s research Interests include the role of religion in building emotional resilience in women; building emotional resilience in children and adolescents; trauma-informed practice with children and adolescents; child and adolescent mental health disorders; child and adolescent substance abuse; teens and suicide; and the experience of African-American families in the foster care system.

Abigail Jackson

Abigail recently joined the School of Social Work staff as the Alumni Relations Director. She’s a first-generation Haitian American and a first-generation college graduate. She earned her B.A. in Communications: Public Relations from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Afterwards, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA twice; first in Austin, TX then in Baltimore, MD. Originally from Atlanta, GA, she relocated to the Hartford area Summer 2018. Please email her at if you’d like to connect.

Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Howroyd MSW ‘17

Sarah Howroyd was born and raised in Manchester, CT. She attended Wheelock College in Boston, MA for her Undergraduate studies.  She received a Bachelor of Social Work degree with Honors while studying there.  Sarah resided in Boston, MA for almost a decade before relocating back to Connecticut in the late 2000’s.  Presently, she lives in West Hartford, CT and loves all things related to health and fitness. Sarah received a Master of Social Work in Administration degree from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work.  Her Focus Area was Mental Health/Substance Use and she was appointed a member of the Golden Key International Honors Society while studying there.  In November 2017, Sarah was presented with the Connecticut National Association of Social Workers (NASW) MSW Student of the Year Award.  This honor is awarded to a student with an above average academic record in addition to having made noteworthy contributions to the professional community beyond the expectations of the field experience. Sarah co-found, designed, and implemented the Manchester, CT HOPE (Heroin/Opioid Prevention and Education) Initiative with Manchester, CT Police Chief Marc Montminy.  The HOPE Initiative is a law-enforcement facilitated community diversion program for people living with Opioid Use Disorder.  The program aims to humanely treat, combat, and diminish the Opioid epidemic by helping those most affected to enter treatment, instead of the criminal justice system.  In June 2017, Sarah was named a Hartford Courant Hometown Hero for her extensive work and commitment to the initiative.  Additionally, she was awarded the first Congressional Connecticut Public Safety Award in the state by Senator Steve Cassano and Connecticut Senate for her, “diligent work in combating Connecticut’s Opioid crisis,” in September 2017. Recently, she was included in Connecticut Magazine’s 40 under 40: The Class of 2020.