News

Alumni Spotlight: Ayesha R. Clarke

 

  1. Name, Profession Title, SSW Class & Concentration

Ayesha R. Clarke, Deputy Director at Health Equity Solutions, c/o 2018, Policy Practice

 

  1. Brief description about your current career path 

After I graduated, I was hired by COMPASS Youth Collaborative and assumed the role as Vice President of Operations. I utilized the skills I learned about program planning and policies to understand my role and how to push accountability for programming. After two years, I was able to transition to the Deputy Director at Health Equity Solutions, where I am no longer involved in programming, but able to handle all of the organization’s operational needs. The School of Social Work allowed me to understand functional requirements and to ensure that policies are in place to help everyone understand their roles, responsibilities and expectations.

 

  1. What are your favorite hobbies?

I enjoy traveling, reading, and spending time with my family and friends.

 

  1. What was your favorite moment at UConn SSW?

My favorite moments are the times I spent building relationships with my policy cohort. We learned and supported each other so much during the course of our time at UConn SSW. It’s been three years since we graduated and we still keep in touch to discuss our work and the latest policies.

 

  1. What is something you learned at UConn SSW that still applies to your work today?

The Nancy Humphrey Institute has helped me tremendously. I was able to apply so much of what I learned to my own campaign when I ran for a board member position. The institute helped me understand how to be an elected official and the process of running successful campaigns. Logic models are important! (LOL).

During my time at UConn SSW, I didn’t fully understand the importance of logic models and why we needed to have them. Since then, I’ve discovered that having a proper understanding of these models has allowed me to support change management in my current roles.

 

I have also learned how policies affect people’s daily lives. It is essential to understand who a policy impacts, who is on your side and against you, what to look for in policy decision making, and when policies can be implemented. The process recordings were also beneficial and helped me remember conversations and understand my feelings. More importantly, the school taught me how to use empathy to support, promote and help shift policies.

 

 

 

SSW Alumni Spotlight: Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro, MSW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Name, Profession Title, SSW Class & Concentration.

Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro MSW, 092 (pending), 2016 – Administration and Case Work

  1. Briefly describe your current career path.

I have been fortunate to continue doing community work around many social issues. Currently, my role as Vice-Chair for Interval House Connecticut allows me to create awareness on domestic violence and intimate partner violence issues; it is the largest safe house in the state. I am proud to serve my community and give back to the very agency that I once resided in. I am also a school social worker for Hartford Public Schools and I run a small business, ‘Ends2meet LLC’, which creates awareness on poverty and provides people with basic needs including counseling. Additionally, I am the Co-owner of ‘2AssureUS’ LLC, which will be providing consultation services for mental health startups and offer therapeutic services as well as parenting programs.

  1. What are your favorite hobbies?

No hard work goes without some fun! Family and good friends are priorities. I make time to enjoy traveling, working with photography and hosting events.

  1. What was your favorite moment at UConn SSW?

Some of my favorite moments were making lifelong friends even though I came in as an adult learner. Additionally, I was fortunate to meet inspiring professors who demonstrated trust in my abilities and even donated to my then cause, End2meet.

  1. What is something you learned at UConn SSW that still applies to your work today?

I learned to be a better leader and not to give up, especially when the moments are challenging! It is in these areas where our strength is found. I learned that our gut feeling is more important than the credit it gets. Most importantly, I learned more about advocacy and today most of my work revolves around it, whether I am speaking up for a student’s needs, joining a cause, speaking at events, creating awareness, building equity and hope all comes from knowing the importance of advocacy.

 

Congratulations, Grads!

Hats off to our 2021 graduates!

You did it! While the past year has been like no other, our BSW, MSW, and Ph.D. students met the challenges they faced and came through stronger and with new skills and more empathy. We salute our grads for a job well done and are thrilled for you all to enter the social work profession or continue your studies to make the world a more just and inclusive place. Read on for messages from School of Social Work faculty and staff, wishing you well as you embark on your next chapter.

graduation mortarboard decorated with "change the world"

Congratulations on your accomplishment and welcome to the noble profession of social work! My wishes for satisfying and successful careers.
Alex

Alex Gitterman, Professor

To the Class of 2021: While the once-in-a-century pandemic affected your time here in unprecedented ways, you persevered. We are so proud of you. Here you are today, about to launch and advance your careers. I hope all of you take a moment to pause and congratulate yourselves and each other. There has never been a more urgent time for social work, and for you as professional social workers. The world, the nation, our state and our communities need you. You have answered the call for a vocation that centers respect for the well-being of individuals and communities; the need for diversity; the commitment to racial, social, and economic justice. You are ready. I could not be prouder of each of you, and I am particularly proud to have you join this profession that I have loved for decades. I hope you will find this calling, this vocation, as rewarding as I have. Congratulations!

— Nina Rovinelli-Heller, Dean

Congratulations on graduating from UConn School of Social Work! You are a cohort full of resilience! You have spent the majority of your Social Work education learning through not one but two pandemics. I can’t say how this will affect you later in your careers but I can say that it will and already has. First, learning about racism and White supremacy within the context of the deaths of so many at the hand of police, then within moments that you witnessed justice being served by the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin another murder of a young Black woman occurred raising the same cries for police accountability. You have also experienced firsthand being separated from friends and family by something beyond your control. Fear, desperation, and longing, combined with loss and grief, for many of you has informed your understanding of the clients you were serving at your field placements. The connections made with faculty, staff and your fellow students are crucial future supports, keep them close. Felizidades!

— Lisa Werkmeister Rozas, BSW Program Director

Congratulations, Class of 2021! I hope you feel a tremendous sense of pride in what you have accomplished by earning your social work degree. You are the future of social work, and I am confident you will help move us all towards a more just and equitable world.

Kelsi Carolan, Assistant Professor

Congratulations on making it to graduation! You've worked so hard for this moment and now it's time to savor every minute of it. Best wishes on your next adventure and the one after that. Never forget your strength and that you're capable of greatness. The SSW Alumni community welcomes you all!

Abigail G. Jackson, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations

A group of graduates in caps and gowns celebrates in the stands of a stadium
BSW graduates celebrate before their in-person ceremony.

You've all worked hard! Time to go out and change the world. Best wishes for a long and fruitful life.

Pete Papallo, Assistant Extension Professor

To all of the BSW and MSW students who worked so hard under such trying circumstances, congratulations and good luck in your social work professions!

Kim Campbell, Assistant Extension Professor

For the 2021 MSW graduates:
Congratulations all!! Getting an MSW is always challenging, but add to that the novel coronavirus pandemic and the centuries-old systemic racism epidemic, and you have a UConn Master of Social Work education and degree without precedent. Hearts have been broken by losses and souls have been challenged by injustices, and yet you prevailed. There is hope for there are people like all of you who have been preparing to take on these challenges – whether that be as a clinical, community organizing, or policy practice social worker. Now it is time for you to spread your wings and fly, maybe somewhat cautiously initially, but fly nonetheless. On occasion, do come back and share your story, but now it’s time to go! The city, the state, the country, and the world sorely need you. Go and make a difference!

— Brenda Kurz, MSW Program Director

Dear Graduates,
At the end of the semester, I talked with you all about the idea of vicarious resilience — the positive meaning-making and growth that we may experience through witnessing the resilience of our clients. I encouraged you to attend to your clients' strengths with as much consideration as you give to their challenges, both because it will be helpful to them and because it will provide you with the energy and inspiration you will need to continue doing this work.
Now, as you prepare to move on from the UConn School of Social Work, I want you to know about the vicarious resilience that I've experienced watching you navigate your education in the midst of a pandemic. Though I have known many of you only through a computer screen, I have been so inspired by your engagement in your learning. You are entering the profession at a time of extraordinary need. I hope that this next chapter brings much fulfillment, growth, and time to rest and rejuvenate.
Best wishes,
Ellen

— Ellen Smith, Associate Extension Professor

A group of graduates pose in caps, gowns, and masks
MSW graduates pose for a group selfie before their in-person commencement ceremony.

Wishing the graduating classes - BSW, MSW and PhD - all the best on their journeys as practitioners and educators. Congratulations!

Kathryn Libal, Associate Professor

Congratulations Class of 2021! You have made it to the finish line despite COVID-19. While this past year brought many challenges, you are no strangers to adversity. You should be proud of all that you have endured and all you have accomplished. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” Remember these words as you embark on your social work journey to helping the many people and communities in need and fighting the injustices that exist. I wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors and look forward to you being my fellow social work colleague.

Milagros Marrero-Johnson, Director of Strategic Programming

Hey grads — you rock! You give me confidence that a better world can be built. I hope to cross paths with you in the community and see all the good work you will each be doing. Keep pushing for social justice!
Louise

Louise Simmons, Professor

Congratulations, graduates!! Your intelligence, tenacity, and dedication to social work have paid off!! You have endured one of the most tumultuous years in recent history and shown us and the world what you are made of. I couldn't be more proud of you!! Please stay in touch and keep us posted on all the amazing things you do in your careers.

Margaret Lloyd Sieger, Assistant Professor

Congratulations, class of 2021!

Caitlin Elsaesser, Assistant Professor

Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of '21! You did it!

Natalie O'Connor, Program Assistant

Congratulations and Best of Luck to the Class of 2021!

Beth Sharkey, Educational Program Administrator

Policy Practice graduates celebrate graduation with Tanya Rhodes Smith and Rebecca Thomas.

To the Class of 2021! CONGRATULATIONS! SO very proud of you all! Sending you warm congratulations and wishing you the very best for the future. You have worked so hard and have endured many challenges, particularly this past academic year. I hope you can savor this great accomplishment and feel a sense of pride! May you always dare to do great things as you engage in social justice work!
Warmly,
Gio Iacono

Gio Iacono, Assistant Professor

Congratulations Class of 2021. This is it — the moment you have yearned for, shed many tears for, and dreamed of! You're an SSW GRAD! I am looking forward to your future successes, and wishing you all the best on your future endeavors!

Once a husky, always a husky! Stay in touch with the school — we are always here to support you!

Again, Congratulations — enjoy this moment, you deserve it!

Trisha Hawthorne-Noble, OSAS Coordinator

Congratulations, Class of 2021! It has been a long and difficult year, so be especially proud of yourselves for getting to this point. I wish you every success in your next chapter. Remember, you are the experts in the challenges and barriers our clients and communities face every day. Your voice and your perspective are needed in policy and politics. So be bold and brave in your practice and "speak your mind, even if your voice shakes." You are social workers who will change the world.

Tanya Rhodes Smith, Director, Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work

Dear Class of 2021 SSW graduates!

I am very excited for you as you graduate and launch the next phase of your social work career. You have demonstrated perseverance, flexibility, and creativity to be able to graduate during this pandemic. Those qualities will serve you well as you engage with challenges in the years ahead. I will look forward to hearing about your accomplishments in the years to come.

Best wishes,
Megan

Megan Berthold, Associate Professor and Director of Field Education

Dear graduating students,

 Congratulations! It has been wonderful to see your development throughout your time at the SSW.  Your creativity and perseverance in serving others and completing your program during the pandemic was impressive. As you embark on the next phase of your career, we wish you all the best.

Megan, Cheryl, Gina, and Nancy (The SSW Field Education Department)

Read more about and view photos of the 2021 Commencement ceremonies at UConn Today.

Letter from Dean Nina Heller

Dear Alumni Colleagues,

I am writing with news of your School of Social Work. First, I hope you are all well – this has been an enormously challenging year for so many of us and certainly for the people and communities we serve. If ever there were a time for social work, this is it. We’ve dealt with the twin pandemics of covid-19 and structural racism. The school has been addressing these issues in a number of ways.

As you know, the pandemic has disproportionately affected underserved communities. We quickly responded last summer with the development of several new field placements units that provide covid-related assistance to local agencies and their clients. We are working with the CT Department of Public Health to provide telephone outreach for contact tracing and outreach to older adults who are isolated due to covid related restrictions. We are also working closely with the Hartford Public Schools where we have placed more than 20 MSW students to work with students, families, and staff on covid related school access and inclusion efforts. In that setting, we also provide online training jointly to field instructors and students. These field units are a model that we will want to continue post-pandemic.

We have also developed a robust collection of anti-racism resources – trainings, webinars, readings, as we continue our efforts to address the history, legacy, and solutions to structural forms of racism. These are available on the SSW website.

The “classroom” has also been transformed. Nearly a year ago, we made a rapid pivot to online delivery of our curriculum. I commend our faculty and students for their patience, perseverance, and success in quickly adapting to the online environment. We have continued this modality through this academic year with only a handful of classes being delivered in person or in a hybrid model. The technologies allow faculty and students to learn through lectures, break out groups, and discussion boards. Here to, we have valuable lessons learned and will likely continue some of the more successful advances in emerging pedagogy.

We have recently embarked on the SSW Strategic Planning Process. We are focusing on several areas; diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism; field education; research and scholarship; emerging areas of need and focus; and the future of teaching and learning. We know that social work education is life-transformative and we want to continue to carry out our mission of excellence in producing innovative and committed practitioners and critical social work knowledge in research, both of which are enhanced by our robust collaborations with community and state agencies.

I am most appreciative to the increasing role that alumni have played in the life and energy of the school.  Our Alumni Director has recently formed the SSW Board of Champions, a group of committed and energetic faculty, representing over 40 years of classes. You will be hearing from this group as they have ideas about how to engage you all in the activities of the school and the many ways that you can support the SSW and we can reach out to you.

You, as alumni, are both the legacy and the future of the school of social work. Please feel free to reach out to us through alumni affairs, sign up for a continuing education program, or attend one of our public lectures or events. If you are considering advanced education, our PhD program is in its 19th year and is a great opportunity to prepare for faculty and research roles.

Sincerely,

Nina Rovinelli Heller PhD, Dean

Zachs Professor

Cassandra Marrero, CLAS ’15, MSW ’18

Cassandra Marrero is a passionate and dedicated Social Worker that prides herself in serving the Hartford community. As a Hartford native and Latina woman, Ms. Marrero feels it is imperative for the community to see a representation of people that look like them in social services and academia.

 

Ms. Marrero is currently an outpatient clinician who provides Trauma Focused- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to children and families in the Hartford community. She has been able to develop strong relationships with her clients due to her ability to relate to families and the empathy she carries into each of her sessions. Ms. Marrero has extensive experience collaborating with community providers, working in outpatient settings and in the Hartford Public School System.

 

Ms. Marrero graduated with her MSW from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work in 2018. During her graduate career, she served as secretary for the Graduate Student Organization during her first year in the program. She was also the recipient of the 2017 Dr. Julio Morales Jr. Scholarship. Ms. Marrero has earned her License Masters in Social Work and is currently in the process of earning her License in Clinical Social Work and certification for Trauma Focused- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the State of Connecticut.

George A. Leboeuf III, CLAS ’13, CCS ’18, MSW ’18

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, MSW ’16

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 J. Burke, MSW ’15

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 Hill, MSW ’14

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 N. Levey-Burden, MSW ’12

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.