Month: May 2013

NASW/CT Honors Two Members of the UConn SSW Community

Professor Peter Papallo and MSW graduate Brunilda Ferraj will be honored at the NASW/CT Annual Awards Dinner on June 18, 2013.

Professor Peter Papallo

Professor Peter Papallo has been selected as the NASW/CT Educator of the Year. “Peter is a teacher of extraordinary ability and dedication who enriches the UCONN School of Social Work and its graduate students and the profession with his knowledge and commitment to be an outstanding teacher, stated Catherine Havens, Associate Dean and MSW Program Director. “Peter came to the School as an experienced social work practitioner, highly respected within the social work community especially in the clinical practice area. His strongest contribution lies with students, where his clinical background and practice experience enriches and supports their professional learning and development. Peter is an extraordinary model of the teacher practitioner”.

Peter was hired as a half-time extension professor but was moved to full-time within a year in recognition of his outstanding teaching and contributions to other areas of the program. Professor Papallo teaches a number of required and elective courses in the MSW program in the areas of group work practice and theory, micro foundation, and casework skills. He also provides academic and field advising to master level students. His areas of specialization include casework, group work, and practice with GLBT clients.

Peter challenges his students to meet the highest academic standards, shows concern for his students and interest in their professional development. He encourages students to think critically, to open their developing professional practice to scrutiny and to build confidence as they risk exposure of their errors in the interest of learning. He has had a remarkable record of success in the classroom receiving excellent student evaluations.

Peter’s talents as a stimulating classroom teacher also extend to his work as a faculty field liaison, responsible for overseeing the graduate internships of his advisees, mentoring them and evaluating what they learn through their guided professional practice experiences. In addition to his normal advising load, Professor Papallo provided clinical support, consultation and training to professional social workers and MSW student interns at the Student Family Assistant Centers at two demonstration sites in the Hartford Public School System.

His community engagement has included serving as a member of the Board of Directors of True Colors; a member of a statewide task force exploring domestic violence and sexual assault in the GBLT community sponsored by CWEALF; a member of the State of CT, DMHAS task force on best practice models for LGBT clients; a volunteer at the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective where he also facilitated a support group for transgendered adults for three years; and a member of the Board of Directors of Project 100, The LBGT Community Center. Peter has supervised 11 social workers in the field for LCSW certifications (all successfully certified). For the past six years, he has had a private practice in Torrington where he provides individuals, couples and family therapy for low fee clients.

Photo of Brunilda Ferraj
Brunilda Ferraj ’13 MSW. (Colin Poitras/UConn Photo)

Brunilda Ferraj is the 2013 MSW Student of the Year. She graduated from the UCONN SSW in May 2013 with a concentration in Policy Practice with a Focused Area of Study in International Issues in Social Work. In both her classes and field internships, Brunilda emerges as one of the most committed, intellectually curious, and distinguished students. “Brunilda is an exemplar of excellence as a student, leader, advocate, collaborator, and social activist! She is a superb student academically, holding a GPA of 3.9 while maintaining an extraordinarily robust program of political advocacy, organizing, and community engagement to create positive social change at the local, state, national and international platforms,” states Associate Professor Rebecca Thomas. Brunilda was chosen as the 2013 graduating class Student Speaker, a prestigious honor bestowed upon a student by vote of their peers.

Brunilda’s social activism always focuses on interrelated global issues and the resiliency of women in vulnerable positions. While at the University of Rhode Island, as an undergraduate student, she worked to advocate, support and reach out to victims of domestic violence. Building upon this earlier work, she was involved in a UConn SSW project with the Connecticut Coalition against Domestic Violence. This project was a collaborative effort among community leaders to engage in a strategic planning process, developing a state-wide framework that strengthens the organizational capacity of programs that aim to prevent intimate partner violence. As an MSW student, Brunilda secured funding from the Human Rights Institute to reinstate the Human Rights Reading Group for the UConn West Hartford campus. Once a month, she facilitated the group by engaging members in discussion regarding maternal health, violence against women and gender disparities in education, among other topics. As a member of the UConn Reads Greater Hartford Sub-Committee, she developed programs to foster state wide dialogues about the book, Half the Sky, Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. These experiences solidified Brunilda’s sustained leadership and commitment to advancing human rights of women through innovative approaches.

Brunilda’s subtle and dynamic leadership was evident in her work with the Hartford Public Library Immigrant Civic Engagement Project. She was a Research Assistant for the UConn Project Evaluation Team. The goal of the grant included facilitating the transition of newly arrived immigrants into the community and building trusting relationships between new and longtime residents. Her understanding and knowledge of immigration issues has crystalized and she has blossomed as a community researcher. She knows the immigrant experience firsthand having come to this country as a refugee from Albania. Given her background, Brunilda understands the challenges of acculturation, language barriers, economic hardship and trying to find a path to productive citizenship. In a quiet way, not sharing her families’ struggles, she contributed to a team of key stakeholders to develop and implement Hartford community dialogues as a mechanism for immigrant civic engagement. As a member of the project evaluation team, Brunilda advanced scholarship by presenting at state and national conferences. In her role as Research Assistant, she worked on a pilot study entitled Remittances: The untold stories of immigrants who send money home, which explored the potential challenges and needs of newly arrived immigrants who remit. She was involved in researching and summarizing the literature on immigration trends and remittance and will co-author a grant proposal to seek research funding from the University of Connecticut.

As a Policy Practice student, Brunilda recognized the need to develop programs, disseminate knowledge, and advocate for promoting healthy equity for all Connecticut residents. As a Legislative Aide for the Office of Representative Toni Walker, she puts her political advocacy skills to work for constituencies by lobbying state legislators, testifying at public hearings and tracking legislation; she researches policies, analyzes implications to constituents and synthesizes information for Representative Walker. Brunilda’s goal is to continue to participate in the legislative process by advocating, lobbying, or holding public office.

“I have no doubt that Ms. Ferraj will excel in her career beyond MSW studies and that she will continue to work tirelessly for social and economic justice and human rights,” states Professor Thomas.

The awards will be presented at the NASW/CT annual awards dinner, June 18, 2013 at 5:30 PM at Anthony’s Ocean View, 450 Lighthouse Road, New Haven, CT. To register, visit

Dr. Catherine Medina Receives Award from the UConn Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center

Dr. Catherine Medina is the recipient of the faculty/staff award from the UConn Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) for advancing the role and contributions of Latinos at UConn and the community.
Dr. Catherine Medina
Dr. Medina is a distinguished leader in social work education, who has made outstanding contributions to enhancing the lives of Latinos at UConn, in the State of Connecticut and nationally. She is widely recognized for her expertise on mental health and health services for Latin@ children and adolescents, social work practice with abused and neglected children, provision of culturally competent services, and social work practice with Latin@ individuals, families and communities. She is an active scholar involved in advising/mentoring, and recruiting and retaining of Latin@ in social work and other education programs. Dr. Medina’s professional accomplishments have focused on efforts to create positive social change and enhance the quality of life for people of color, with a focus on Latin@s, through education, research, professional service and public engagement.

Dean Salome Raheim stated in her nomination letter, “Dr. Medina is an educator of extraordinary ability and dedication who enriches our School and its graduate students, the profession and the population it serves. Her knowledge and commitment to be an outstanding teacher, leader, and scholar, with a focus on Latin@ populations and communities, has served to motivate our students to become champions of issues that affect Latin@ communities through social work practice and political advocacy.”

Class of 2013: Brunilda Ferraj, Future Social Worker

This article is part of a series featuring some of this year’s outstanding graduating students, nominated by their academic school or college or another University program in which they participated.

When Brunilda Ferraj attended a recent public hearing on a bill that would allow immigrants to obtain a driver’s license regardless of their legal status, she was stunned at the turnout. Hundreds of people filled the room, an overwhelming majority of them immigrants attending their first civic forum.

Photo of Brunilda Ferraj
Brunilda Ferraj ’13 MSW. (Colin Poitras/UConn Photo)

“They were all there speaking out, telling their personal stories, making the case for public safety, making the case for human rights. It was amazing,” says Ferraj ’13 MSW.

Ferraj knows all too well the feelings of isolation and other challenges immigrants face. Her family emigrated from Albania to the U.S. as political refugees when she was a young girl. Growing up in rural eastern Connecticut, she says, there were few support services for immigrants who didn’t speak English and even fewer local advocates to help families assimilate.

Over time, Ferraj turned her struggles into strengths. The experiences of her childhood are now part of what has driven her pursuit of a master’s degree in social work. She has specialized in policy practice with a focus on international issues, and her professional goal is to address structural and systemic inequities through advocacy, policy analysis, and program development.

In her two years at the School of Social Work, Ferraj helped develop a long-term strategic plan for the school’s nationally-renowned Center for International Social Work Studies. She was a member of the campus’ UConn Reads sub-committee, and is the student representative for the school’s educational policy committee. She also served as an intern with the Connecticut Commission on Health Equity.

But it is her work with the Hartford Public Library Immigrant Civic Engagement Project that has her most excited at the moment. As a research assistant on the project’s evaluation team, Ferraj is reviewing the program’s strengths and challenges in order to develop a model that other communities can replicate. She especially enjoys organizing and supporting the project’s “community dialogues” involving diverse immigrant groups.

“Being part of a project that helps immigrants adjust to their new-found life is pretty inspiring,” she says. “The community dialogues are particularly exciting because it is a moment when people come together, talk about issues, and develop action plans on how they themselves can address those issues. It’s amazing to see that happen before your eyes.”

Ferraj was drawn to UConn by the School of Social Work’s reputation for international social work and global research. Once here, she found an academic community that quickly became extended family.

“The school has been tremendously supportive,” she says. “Although some may see the West Hartford campus as a commuter school, it really is like family. It’s amazing the network of support that exists here.”

With an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Rhode Island, Ferraj has always had a keen interest in policy. She wants to use her social work training to bridge the gaps that can exist between research and policy.

“I knew what I was interested in studying when I arrived here, but UConn encouraged me to open up new doors for exploration,” she says. “I knew I wanted to work with this particular population, but I never considered the research side of things until I came here. Now I understand how research leads to informed policy.”

Ferraj has been getting plenty of hands-on experience navigating the public policy labyrinth as a field worker for Connecticut State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, and House Chair of the legislature’s powerful Appropriations Committee. Walker is a kindred spirit. She holds a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University.

“Toni Walker is amazing,” Ferraj says. “I’ve learned so much being there with her. Because she is chair of Appropriations, she touches the lives of every single resident of Connecticut, not just those living in her district. So when she makes decisions, she says she makes decisions for Connecticut, not just her New Haven constituents.”

Walker says she is pleased with Ferraj’s work.

“Brunilda has an incredibly kind spirit and despite her quiet voice, she has a lot to say,” she says. “She understands the importance of policy and social workers’ involvement in the political process, especially at the decision-making level. Social workers are not prominent in the legislature and many people do not understand the need for us here, but Brunilda has been able to see firsthand why exactly I am here and why we [social workers] need to continue fighting for our place at the table.”

Working at the state Capitol has also taught Ferraj how to handle challenges and work with individuals who may not share her point of view.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Why do you want to be around people who don’t value what you value?’” Ferraj says. “But I tell them I’d much rather be at the table with those people and have a say and provide a voice for disadvantaged populations than not be at the table at all and let others make all the decisions. I’d rather be there working slowly toward progress than be on the sidelines. It may be tough, but it’s worth it. Educating people is half of what social workers do. It takes a lot of patience and understanding, but that is what advocates are for.”

UConn Today
May 6, 2013
By: Colin Poitras