Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month

From the Desk of Dean Heller

Dear Colleagues,

Thursday, September 15, is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. This annual event celebrates the many diverse cultures and histories of Hispanic and Latinx/a/o communities. At the School of Social Work, we are pleased to highlight the achievements and contributions of these communities to our country and world.

This year’s theme is “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Strong Nation,” a sentiment that we believe and support at our School. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism (DEI/AR) are central to our mission and infused throughout our Strategic Plan for the next five years. Our goals include engaging faculty and staff in meaningful dialogue about DEI/AR in our community and in our work. This dialogue, and a commitment to social justice action and accountability, make our School and community stronger.

We know there is a growing need for Spanish-speaking social workers in our community and state. In response, we launched a Spanish-speaking child welfare track for our bachelor’s students who intern at the Department for Children and Families. We have also revived our Puerto Rico Study Travel Program, which enhances the skills of students to work with Hispanic and Latinx/a/o communities.

Inclusion means more than representation but also fostering a sense of belonging for our students, staff, faculty, and members of our community. To that end, we are co-sponsoring with Hartford Campus and the School of Law a kick-off event on September 15 at the Hartford Public Library. Please join us to partake in live music, refreshments, networking and to hear our guest speaker Jacquelyn Santiago Nazario of COMPASS Youth Collaborative. RSVP here: s.uconn.edu/sswhhm. The Puerto Rican / Latin American Cultural Center’s (PRLACC) is also promoting several events throughout the month.


In solidarity,

Nina Rovinelli Heller
Dean and Zach’s Chair










Celebrating Freedom on Juneteenth

From the Office of Dean Heller

Dear Colleagues,

Sunday is Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Also known as America’s Second Independence Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s. Last year, it was made a federal holiday by President Biden, and this year the Connecticut legislature also designated Juneteenth an official holiday.

Recognition of Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when Union troops enforced the Emancipation Proclamation in the last slave-owning community in the U.S., is welcome but long overdue. At the School of Social Work, we honor Juneteenth as part of our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism (DEI/AR). We join with the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Provost’s Office in celebrating the history and culture of Black and African American communities. We also acknowledge the ongoing struggle for freedom and fight to end anti-Black racism and oppression in all its forms.

During the 2021-2022 academic year, our faculty and staff met regularly to discuss how we would implement DEI/AR as part of our Strategic Plan. We are finalizing a definition of anti-racism for our School and developing concrete steps that we will take to support the aspirations and empowerment of our Black and African American students, staff, faculty and communities. This commitment is not only in keeping with the ethics of our profession, but it’s an imperative in this era of resurgent white supremacy.

To respect and highlight Juneteenth, I encourage everyone to explore the resources that the UConn Library has compiled in honor of the holiday, and to explore educational and cultural events in your community.


In solidarity,

Nina Rovinelli Heller, PhD
Dean and Professor
Zachs Chair in Social Work

Dr. Cristina Mogro-Wilson Named Editor-in-Chief of Families in Society Journal


Dr. Mogro-Wilson to Succeed Dr. Sondra Fogel, Who Helmed FIS For the Past Seven Years

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Social Current, formerly the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the Council onFaculty member Cristina Wilson Accreditation, today announced the selection of Dr. Cristina Mogro-Wilson to serve as Editor-in-Chief of the Families in Society (FIS) journal, which was previously led by Dr. Sondra Fogel, who served as Editor-In-Chief for the past seven years.

Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services has been a core journal in social work research for over 100 years. Launched in 1920 by Mary E. Richmond, a pioneer in the field and the founder of social casework, the journal built a knowledge base for the first systematized approaches to the practice of social work and has been stewarded over the years by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Families in Society is published in partnership with SAGE Publishing.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Mogro-Wilson, whose work as a recognized Latina scholar and expert in health disparities and culturally-responsive practice and education in racial minority populations will greatly inform the future direction of FIS,” noted Dr. Jody Levison-Johnson, president and CEO of Social Current. “Addressing the challenges that families face today, including socio-economic disparities, racism, substance misuse and behavioral health disorders, requires an evidence-informed approach that is grounded in social change through the lens of advancing equity. Dr. Mogro-Wilson’s body of work is uniquely attuned to addressing these vital issues and aligns closely with Social Current’s commitment to advancing equitable solutions to society’s toughest challenges through collaboration, innovation, policy and practice excellence.”

“As a Latina social worker, I value social justice and am committed to advancing equity,” noted Dr. Mogro-Wilson. “I look forward to working with the FIS team of scholars to increase the vitality and relevance of FIS though diverse representation in advisory board members, peer reviewers, manuscript authors, and – importantly - the readership. The art, science, and practice of social work are such important elements of the discipline because they can strengthen families and communities and help all people achieve their full potential. That’s why inclusiveness, transparency, and authenticity in FIS scholarship will help advance transformational research and practice, which in turn supports efforts to ensure everyone experiences well-being and opportunity.”

Dr. Mogro-Wilson received her MSW from the University of Michigan, with a focus on practice with children, youth, and families in 2003, followed by her PhD from the University at Albany, School of Social Welfare in 2007. Most recently, she has served as Assistant Professor in Residence at the UCONN Health Center in the School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics from 2007-2009, transitioning to the School of Social Work (SSW) tenure-related tracks, achieving tenure in 2015 as an Associate Professor in SSW. As of August 2022, Dr. Mogro-Wilson will be a full Professor at SSW.

She served as the director for the Puerto Rican and Latin@ Studies Project (PRLSP) from 2015-2017, leading them to sustainable achievements in the acquisition of research grants and the development of a bilingual/bicultural MSW program. The PRLSP has been referenced and used as a model in various arenas such as the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and different social work programs throughout the nation.

From 2019-2022, she served as research director for the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) with a focus on supporting design and implementation of applied qualitative and quantitative research projects; the development of research proposals to secure private, state, and federal funding to sustain and grow the UCEDD's research and evaluation agenda; and the development of policy analysis related to programs demonstrating the full inclusion of people with disabilities in education, work, and community life.

Dr. Mogro-Wilson’s publishing experience includes serving as an editorial advisory board member and more recently as an associate editor for Families and Society and Journal of Social Work Education (JSWE), which is the flagship journal for CSWE. She co-edited a special issue of JSWE on Teaching, Field Instruction and Administration in the Time of Pandemic or Natural Disaster, with Danielle Parrish and Nalini Negi during the COVID pandemic, co-authoring an editorial on the hidden cost of caregiving during the pandemic. As a Graduate Faulty Representative and member of the National Nominating Committee and Council on Publications for CSWE from 2018-2021, she also worked to ensure anti-racist and diverse representative content in CSWE publications.

“We are confident that Dr. Mogro-Wilson will build on the legacy launched by FIS founder Mary E. Richmond and the many who have helmed the journal since,” added Dr. Levison-Johnson. “A special thank you goes out to Dr. Sondra Fogel who has stewarded FIS for the past seven years, mentoring Dr. Mogro-Wilson and other scholars in the pursuit of academic excellence in the field of social work practice, policy, and research.”

For more information on a subscription to Families in Society, please contact Kirstin Anderson at kanderson@social-current.org.

Honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

From the Office of Dean Heller

Dear Colleagues,

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. First established as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week in 1978, the observance was expanded to a month by Congress in 1992. At the School of Social Work, we take this opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, staff, faculty, and members of our community.

The past few years have been especially challenging for AAPI communities who have faced harassment and attacks across our nation. As a School that values diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism, we oppose this bigotry and stand in solidarity with AAPI communities. We know they make UConn and the School of Social Work stronger.

Our support of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month aligns with the mission of our profession and the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. These ethical standards include social justice, dignity and worth of the person, and the importance of human relationships.

All month long, let’s make a commitment to honoring the rich heritage and cultural experiences of AAPI communities. Throughout U.S. history, AAPIs have contributed to and shaped American culture, science, medicine, literature, art, government, politics and so much more. Today, AAPIs are the fastest growing racial group in the country. Read the history and take part in events in your local area.

In solidarity,


Nina Rovinelli Heller, PhD
Dean and Professor
Zachs Chair in Social Work


Honoring Arab American Heritage Month

From the Office of Dean Heller

Dear Colleagues,

April is Arab American Heritage Month, an opportunity for the School of Social Work and the University to celebrate the cultures and achievements of Arab American communities. Nearly 4 million Arab Americans can trace their roots to 22 countries across the Middle East and North Africa. Despite a history of exclusion, today, Arab Americans reside in all 50 states, representing a wide range of faiths, races, and languages. In 2021, President Joe Biden officially recognized April as National Arab American Heritage Month.

Highlighting this occasion is part of the School of Social Work’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. We stand in staunch opposition to all forms of systemic racism, including policies and practices that oppress our Arab American neighbors. As a school community, we are called to promote teaching, scholarship, and community/professional action that reflects this commitment to justice. The Code of Ethics for our profession emphasizes the inherent dignity and worth of the person, and in that spirit, we will work to ensure a sense of belonging for Arab Americans throughout our school and campus community.

Please join me in commemorating Arab American Heritage Month! Learn more here.

In solidarity,

Nina Rovinelli Heller, PhD
Dean and Professor
Zachs Chair in Social Work

Lunar New Year

From the Office of Dean Heller

Dear Colleagues,

This month, we celebrate the Lunar New Year and the history, contributions, and achievements of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities. The Lunar New Year has been observed for thousands of years and 2022 marks the Year of the Tiger. At the School of Social Work, we would like to take this opportunity to highlight the rich heritage and cultural experiences of our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander students and colleagues.

Supporting the Lunar New Year and its significance to Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities aligns with the mission of our profession and the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. These ethical standards include social justice, dignity and worth of the person, and the importance of human relationships. Highlighting this occasion also supports the School of Social Work’s strong commitment to anti-racism and inclusion.

We know that the last two years have been especially challenging for many in Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities. We stand with these communities and believe they make UConn and the School of Social Work stronger.

We are excited to celebrate with our students and colleagues during the week-long Lunar New Year 2022 UConn events starting on February 13. Please join me in supporting these events and our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities.

In solidarity,

Nina Rovinelli Heller, PhD
Dean and Professor
Zachs Chair in Social Work


Celebrating Black History Month

From the Office of Dean Heller

Dear Colleagues,

As we begin the celebration of Black History Month, we are called to remember both its origins and its importance in our current contexts. As we are all aware, these last few years have been challenging ones for our Black and African American communities.

The story of Black History Month can be traced back to the beginning of the last century when Negro History Week was first recognized in 1926. Decades later, the event was expanded to a month as an annual celebration of Black history and the contributions of Black Americans to our nation’s cultural life.

Several years ago, a group of UConn SSW students, faculty and staff came together to form a Black History 365 committee with the goal of intentionally honoring and highlighting Black lives, contributions, and culture throughout the year. We’ve since offered a range of programs and events that explore Black history and current affairs and promote mental health and wellness among Black Americans. These programs have recently included a panel discussion on Black Lives Matter Facts vs. Myths and The Naked Truth: Death by Delivery discussion about black maternal health, among others.

This year, the committee was clear about focusing our February events to highlight cultural experiences. On February 8, we have partnered with UConn Hartford and UConn School of Law to highlight the experiences of the Black and African American communities through Black Joy, a celebration of self-love, health and wellness, pride, family, food and culture. Later in the month, our students will also host a cooking demonstration, Cooking with Chef Ross; please visit our website at ssw.uconn.edu for details.

All month long, I ask you to join me in celebrating the achievements and contributions of Black and African American communities to our history, society and culture. Black History Month also aligns with our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism, as well as our goal to support and value the experiences of our Black students and colleagues.

In solidarity,

Nina Rovinelli Heller, PhD
Dean and Professor
Zachs Chair in Social Work

Happy Holidays from Dean Nina Heller

Dear Colleagues,

I hope this greeting and update finds you all well and healthy. It has certainly been a strange twenty months as we have had to find ways to adapt and develop new ways of relating, teaching, learning, and working. For some of you, things may feel a bit more “back to normal” and others may find that there are lessons learned through the pandemic that we can incorporate into our family and work lives.

Here, at the School of Social Work, we are nearing the end of the fall semester, with almost all our classes taught in person and with appropriate health measures. For most of our second year MSW students, this is the first time they have stepped foot on our campus, having taken the three prior semesters online. Our BSW and MSW students are back in their field settings and they and our partner agencies have certainly found this preferable to providing remote services. At the same time, we know that current and residual effects of the COVID pandemic have disproportionately affected many of the communities we serve. Where possible, we have placed more students in agencies who have expressed significant needs of their clients and opportunities for our students. As always, we are grateful to our community partners for their role in educating the next generation of social work practitioners.

Our faculty continue to engage our students in our classrooms and through advising and mentoring. They are also engaged in research and scholarship that explores pressing social issues such as substance abuse; food insecurity; juvenile justice; the isolation experienced by many older adults; health, educational, and economic disparities; and the effects of racism.

Of particular note, is the forthcoming book by two UConn professors, Dr, Ann Marie Garran, and Dr. Lisa Werkmeister Rozas, along with Dr. Hye-Kyung Kang and Dr. Josh Miller. Racism in America: Implications for the Helping Professions, 3rd Ed., to be released at the end of December, this book addresses historical, structural, theoretical, and interpersonal perspectives. This is the right moment for this book, and it provides a critical overview of contemporary issues around race, with a particular focus on the educational and professional needs of social workers and other related practitioners.

The SSW embarked on a Strategic Planning Process last spring, under the leadership of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Dr. Joanne Corbin and Doctoral Program Director, Dr. Scott Harding. We will continue our work for the next several months with a completion date of mid-spring 2022. Our aim Is to produce a living document that emphasizes our strengths and guides us through investment in areas for development and expansion. Core to this plan is a focus upon multiple aspects of diversity, inclusion, and equity and the creation of an anti-racist culture at the school. Our ultimate goal is to promote a sense of belonging for all, while preparing to meet the multiple needs of the communities and profession we serve, through our teaching, scholarship and community engagement. Our focus upon emerging needs.

We always look forward to connecting with our alumni and hearing about all you are doing with your UConn SSW degree. Our students are eager to see what their degree can do for them and what they, in turn, can give back to the profession and people we serve.

Please come and visit, support our students through the UConn Foundation, check out our Continuing Education options – and have a healthy happy holiday season.

All the best,


Dr. Kathryn Libal Co-PI on OVPR Research Excellence Program Award

Dr. Kathryn Libal Co-PI on OVPR Research Excellence Program Award

Dr. Kathryn Libal, Associate Professor and Director of the UConn Human Rights Institute, was named a Co-PI on an Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) Research Excellence Program (REP) award:

Investigator: Oscar Guerra, Digital Media and Design
Co-PIs: Glenn Tatsuya Mitoma,  Curriculum & Instruction and Human Rights Institute; Kathryn Libal, Human Rights Institute
Project: COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in Stamford, CT: A Multimedia Archiving Project
Award: $24,999.35

The primary goal of the Research Excellence Program is to provide seed funding to fuel innovative research, scholarship, and creative endeavors with strong potential for:

  • Significant extramural funding from federal and state sponsors, corporations, industry partners, and foundations.
  • Achievements consistent with the highest standards of accomplishment in the discipline.

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 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 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 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!
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 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.