Month: February 2021

Fall 2020 Scholarship Recipients

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the School of Social Work is able to offer a number of scholarship opportunities to our BSW, MSW, and Ph.D. students each academic year. These scholarships not only help students meet their financial obligations but also  recognize their academic achievements and contributions to the social work profession. Congratulations to our scholarship recipients!

Charlotte M. Kinlock Endowment Fund in Social Work

Established by Charlotte M. Kinlock, a 1981 graduate of the School and adjunct faculty member, this award provides financial assistance to a student in a field placement working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues and provides financial support to School-sponsored organizations and activities that promote an understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.

2020-2021 Kinlock Scholar

“Not only is it meaningful to have contributions of support to the LGBTQ+ community as a social work student recognized, it is also important personally to me as an LGBTQ+ student who wants to primarily work with this population. It is validating to be recognized for my work, but also to know that work with this population is seen as worthy of recognition, especially since global attitudes towards LGBTQ+ persons still require much change.

I am in the process of trying to work with an LGBTQ+ colleague who is a primary care physician to form an integrated primary care program for LGBTQ+ individuals in the State of Connecticut. Receiving this award supports me in my education to be able to achieve that goal.

Living through this global pandemic has made being able to work much more complicated, and so the funds from this scholarship have made supporting myself during this graduate degree possible.

Lynne Alexander Individual, Groups, and Families concentration

Frank V. Carollo Scholarship

Mr. Carollo, a 1953 graduate of the School, established this scholarship to assist students who find it necessary to work to supplement their living expenses while attending school.

2020-21 Carollo Scholars

Alexandra Berry

"Thank you so much for choosing me as a recipient of the Frank V. Carollo Scholarship! This comes at a time when the scholarship is especially thoughtful, as we are living in uncertain times. I am pursuing my MSW degree and will be looking to pursue a clinical license in the future. Especially now, mental health care is very important and I can’t wait to start my career."
—Alexandra Berry, Individuals, Groups, and Families concentration

Scholarship Recipient Sundari Birdsall

“I am absolutely delighted to receive a scholarship! I truly value this additional support to help me cover the costs of my education. I know the value of the work in this field brings greater satisfaction than any other. Thank you so much for supporting me and, in doing so, forwarding the careers of young professionals in social work.”
—Sundari Birdsall, Individuals, Groups, and Families concentration

Amanda Brenner

“I have set a new goal to work for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services after graduation. My mission is to codify the rights of people with mental illness in policy. This scholarship reduces the amount of federal loans I will need to take out this semester. I thank you wholeheartedly for your generosity and I hope to one day give back to students at my undergraduate and graduate programs as you have.”
—Amanda Brenner, Policy Practice concentration

Kelly Ha

“Thank you kindly for your generosity as it is the reason I am able to finish my MSW!  My intentions are to revolutionize the field in cultural humility and explore more in Asian and Asian American mental health. As the child of Vietnamese refugees, I am fulfilling my family's American Dream. This scholarship has been a huge help in allowing me to not only support my family but also myself."
—Kelly Ha, Individuals Groups, and Families concentration

Alexandra Ortique

"Over the last 13 years, I have completed college credits in small increments. Your generous financial gift will be used to help offset a financial burden. I have always had a deep desire to work with children and families and I have a passion for child welfare. After graduation, I would love to be a school social worker. I will forever be grateful for the scholarship support."
—Alexandra Ortique, Individuals, Groups and Families concentration

Lauren Perrone

“This scholarship will help me finish UConn’s Social Work program so I can change the lives of the people around me, helping me reach my ultimate goal of working as a social worker within the criminal justice field. I am so blessed to have been awarded this scholarship that ties into one of my favorite aspects of UConn, which is embracing the values of generosity, diversity and service.”
—Lauren Perrone, Individuals, Groups, and Groups and Families concentration

“I can't thank you enough for your generous scholarship. Along with working and attending UConn full-time for my MSW, I’m the primary caretaker of twin daughters with disabilities. I selected this degree because I want to be able to help people like my daughters in an impactful way. Social work has been a lifetime calling for me, and being able to continue my education with a graduate degree from UConn is an unbelievable privilege."

—Holly Savitsky, Individuals, Groups, and Families concentration

Zain Seyal

“I want to take time to sincerely thank you for granting me this scholarship. I aspire to become a clinical mental health therapist for the purpose of serving the low-income and minority populations such as Muslims in the west, as mental health is deeply stigmatized in the Muslim, South-East Asian communities, and more, I wanted to give back to these communities.”
—Zain Seyal, Individuals, Groups, and Families concentration

Mary Dean-Scalora Endowment Fund in Social Work

Established in the memory of Mary Deane-Scalora ‘92 by her family to provide financial assistance to a Masters student with demonstrated interest in working with or for the advancement of the poor in a social services agency or educational institution.

2020-2021 Dean-Scalora Scholars

Olivia DeFilippo

"You are helping me to achieve my dreams of pursing a career in Victim Advocacy, and to allow victims' voices to be heard. I can't thank you enough for propelling me closer to my dreams with this scholarship."
—Olivia DeFilippo, Individuals, Groups, and Families concentration

Meghan OConnor

“I am a first-year MSW student, and I have been working the the substance use field for the last several years. I am hoping through this program to continue to work towards my dreams of being a clinical social worker. I am incredibly grateful for your generosity with this scholarship. I cannot thank you enough for helping me pursue dream of becoming an MSW.”
—Meghan O'Connor, Individuals, Groups, and Families concentration

Dr. Julio Morales Jr. Fellowship Endowment

Established in honor of Dr. Julio Morales Jr., retired professor, Dean of Students, and founder of the Puerto Rican and Latin@ Studies Project, the Fellowship provides financial support to an MSW student who demonstrates a commitment to engaging in outreach programs in the Latino community and has, or will have, completed their field education practicum in the Latino community. Preference given to students who are fluent in both English and Spanish.

2020-2021 Morales Scholar

Omally Martinez

"[After graduating], I would like to work primarily with adolescents in a trauma-informed setting, conducting both English- and Spanish-speaking therapy services for clients. I am also considering working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. I will forever be grateful to the UConn community, as well as Dr. Julio Morales Jr. for their support and generosity during these unprecedented times."
—Omally Martinez, Individuals, Groups, and Families concentration

Dr. Adelaide Sandler Master of School of Social Work Student Support Fellowship

Dr. Sandler, who earned both her MSW and PhD from the school, was inspired to establish this fellowship by her fellow classmates who struggled to complete their degrees while bearing caregiving responsibilities for children and family members at home.


2020-2021 Sandler Scholar

Katherine McMullan, Policy Practice concentration

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.


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.

Alumna Cassandra Marrero

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.

George LeBeouf

Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro, MSW ’16

Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro

Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, class of 2016 and completed the Educational Leadership Program (092) in 2020 at Sacred Heart University. Barbie 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 and providing resources to individuals in the community living in poverty. Barbie is also the founder of 2AssureUS LLC and Co-Owner offering counseling services for individuals seeking mental health services, providing teachers and families with social emotional learning, workshops on parental rights, and de-escalation workshops to name a few. Barbie is a graduate of Hartford Public Schools and has dedicated her adult years to education, totaling over 30 years. She has worked for Hartford Public Schools for the majority of those years and is currently employed as a school social worker with the CREC school system as a social worker.

Barbie has a passion for helping people rise up and can relate to the struggles people experience as she shares her own struggles of her earlier years. In particular, she has a special place in her heart for English learners and recalls how difficult it was to learn English while managing her native language in Spanish.  In addition to the many years in the school system, she has many years of 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, the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work, and other institutions. Barbie has been a visiting professor for Middlesex Community College helping students in their early childhood journey understand how they can identify areas of need and connect families to resources.

Barbie has sat on the board of directors as an ambassador for Interval House, the largest safe house in the state for victims of domestic violence where she was once a resident there.  Barbie recently completed her term as president of the University of Connecticut’s Champion Board of Alumni.

Barbie is humbled to volunteer and work towards a more equitable society that advocates and creates awareness on the social issues that hinder growth and help our youth identify their strengths to rise up.

Barbie 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 where one has started the academic journey also at the University of Connecticut. They enjoy traveling within the United States and outside the country. She enjoys photography, the shore, new vegan recipes, friendships, music, theater, and family time.

Brandon J. Burke, MSW ’15

Brandon Burke

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 master’s 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

Tianna L. Hill, LMSW, MSW ’14

Tianna L. Hill, LMSW


Tianna L. Hill, LMSW Tianna L. Hill is the Regional Trauma Coordinator at LEARN Regional Educational Service Center. Formerly, she was a Project Coordinator for the Connecticut School-Based Diversion Initiative and Communications Associate at the Child Health and Development Institute. Her other experiences have included researching vulnerable populations, therapeutic support for children in foster care, care coordination for adults with co-occurring disorders, and supervision of youth involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice.

In 2019, she became a Fellow of Georgetown University. In this role, she provided expertise on school-based diversion models. Tianna’s research interest includes trauma, school mental health, exclusionary discipline, juvenile justice, diversion, and Black maternal health. She has written several publications on topics addressing systems change and evidence-based practices.

She has extensive knowledge in mental health and juvenile justice, trauma-informed care, adolescent development, and research methods. Over the last decade, Tianna has worked closely with many school districts throughout Connecticut to plan, coordinate and implement practices to support positive school climate and student well-being.

She received her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Connecticut and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Goucher College. She has also served on several boards. Her current board membership includes the University of Connecticut School of Social Work Board of Champions and AHEC Urban Service Track Alumni Advisory Committee. Previously, she served as Chair of DEI and recruitment for 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.

Alumna Kia Levey-Burden

Gabrielle Mitchell

Student Spotlight


  1. SSW Concentration:  Individuals, Groups and Families
  2. Expected Grad Year: Spring 2022
  3. 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”.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


Gabrielle Mitchell

Loan Nguyen, CLAS ’06 MSW ’08

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. Alumna Loan T. Nguyen

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.