Author: Jackson, Abigail

AI Can Positively Impact Mental Health

By: Loan Nguyen

Lack of Self-Awareness

  • AI can assist people to become more aware of mental health needs and seek professional help
  • Apps used to track exercise, food intake, etc. can also be used to track behavioral patterns and send message to userabout concerns, changes in behavior, etc. (frequency and duration of calls, texts to others)

Lack of resources

  • Access to resources via internet or smartphone
  • Close treatment gap in accessing high quality mental health care (evident during Pandemic and provided support to those experiencing isolation, depression, anxiety, etc.)

Social Stigma

  • Reduce social stigma through use of virtual mental health therapists (BetterHelp, Talkspace, Talkiatry) or chatbots
  • Preferences for avoiding human to human interaction

Clinical Settings

  • Use of ChatGPT to draft chart documentation with review by licensed provider
  • ChatGPT as tool to create templates and allow for clinical personalization during psychotherapy sessions and help to reduce cognitive load and time spent on documentation









Greetings from Dean Laura Curran

Dear Alumni Colleagues,

It’s hard to believe that I completed my first semester as Dean at the UConn School of Social Work. I’ve become increasingly familiar with the work and impact of our outstanding faculty and their research as well as our students who are engaged with some of our most pressing social welfare issues, child and adolescent behavioral health, substance use disorder, juvenile justice reform, LGBTQ+ health, and supporting immigrants and refugees.

In the short time I have been here, we’ve successfully launched our CT Health Horizons Scholarship programs that support MSW students studying to become school social workers as well as our CT Adelante program that trains bilingual social workers to meet the mental health needs of the Latine community. We also just announced the development of our fully online MSW program which is flexibly designed to meet the needs of our busy students. We’ll be enrolling our first fully online MSW class in Fall 2024!!

The faculty and I continue to actively work on our Strategic Plan Goals. Given current events and in keeping with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Anti-Racism Strategic Focal Area, we will be hosting trainings on Islamophobia and antisemitism this spring for our students. Our faculty continue to revise our curriculum and coursework to ensure that it reflects an anti-oppressive approach to social work practice.

Finally, it has been a great pleasure meeting alumni. I’ve met many of you when visiting local social service organizations as well as at our alumni gatherings and coffee hours. Learning about the work and influence of the UConn SSW is truly inspiring. I welcome the opportunity to get to know more of you. I encourage everyone to keep in touch with the school through attending events, joining our Alumni Board, engaging in continuing education, or simply reaching out to me or our Alumni Director.

My best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!




Headshot of Dean Laura Curran

Alumni Spotlight: Christine L. Limone PhD, LCSW, ACC, MSW ’96

Name: Christine L. Limone PhD, LCSW, ACC

Profession/Field: Social Work Education and Certified Professional Coach

Bio and Key Accomplishments:  I am a social work educator as well as a certified professional coach. Seeing former students who excelled in the classroom and field placements - unable to pass the ASWB licensing exams, led me to add tutoring services to my coaching business. No one should have their career stunted by a test score. I tutor individuals and groups over Zoom. I also offer free exam preparation webinars that focus on proven test taking strategies to increase the likelihood of passing the ASWB exam. UConn alumni interested in my tutoring or career coaching services can email me at

Memorable Moment at UConn SSW: Designing the Community Organizing sequence T-shirt with other students from the CO sequence to show our pride in Macro Practice. Years later when I was adjuncting in the SSW I brought my t-shirt in (yes, I still have it) to show my class.

Lasting Lessons from UConn SSW: Possessing dual competencies in both clinical and macro social work skills set me up powerfully for an amazing career that spanned community based clinical practice to using my clinical skills as the former Political Director of NASW/CT. Motivational Interviewing comes in handy when lobbying state legislators!

Important Influence from UConn SSW: My academic adviser Kathy Havens taught me the importance of self care and making professional choices that resonate with my values and integrity. I apply the concept of value driven decisions to all domains of my life.

Alumna Christine L. Limone PhD, LCSW, ACC, MSW '96

Natasha A. Stapleton, MSW ’16

Natasha A. StapletonNatasha A. Stapleton is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, class of 2016. Since graduating, Natasha began her employment with CREC – Capitol Region Education Council, where she started her career as a School Social Worker. In this role, Natasha works with a variety of students and families helping to support a variety of social and emotional needs. Natasha is also an active member of the school leadership team; she is a Culture and Climate Coach and is member of the safety committee. Through these various roles, Natasha has a voice in advocating for the equitable practices for diverse students across the school, within curriculum and activities that are provided at the school. As a social worker, Natasha is responsible for educating staff about various diagnosis and how to engage students from a trauma informed lens. Part of this work is supporting staff in recognizing their biases and its impact on educating student from diverse backgrounds. Natasha has over 15 years of experience providing community-based support and therapy to both children, families and adults.

This passion for advocacy is also seen through her volunteer work. Natasha was a member of the juvenile review board for approximately two years. In this role, she served on a panel with juvenile probation officers, police officers and a variety of community advocate across Hartford. The team provided restorative interventions for at risk youth and first-time offenders. Through this work, the panel successful in diverting many youths from juvenile court for minor violations. She also volunteered for several years with Dress for Success, a program built around inspiring women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and tools to assist women both in work and life.  Currently she volunteers with the Hartford CERT team, Community Response Team. In this capacity, she has developed skills in disaster response and hazard awareness. She also works with the Hartford Fire Fighters to educate individuals within the community about fire safety and supporting the community through a variety of volunteer events around Hartford.

Natasha grew up in Windsor, where she graduated from Windsor Public schools where she ran track and played basketball. Her experience graduating from high school five months pregnant fueled her desire to serve her community and ignited her passion for advocating for families and children. Natasha has also developed a passion for traveling. She has traveled to more than 40 countries around the world where she has had many immersive experiences like hiking a volcano, scuba diving, seeing the pyramids of Giza and visiting several indigenous villages from Colombia, Panama, Egypt and Peru. She also enjoys tasting different foods, visiting museums, theater, photography, meeting new people and alone time. Natasha believes that her experiences while traveling continue to change and shape her as a person and it’s an experience that she has begun sharing with her students. Her goal is that student from challenging situations can see world beyond their experiences and be inspired to want more.


Trel Morrison, MSW ’22

Trel MorrisonTrel completed his undergraduate studies at Southern Connecticut State University in Political Science (2018); he founded the SCSU-Juvenile justice/Youth Expo as the SCSU-NAACP Juvenile Justice Chair (2015) and continue to lead those efforts later in the chapter as the 1st Vice President. Trel is also a Founder of the Brotherhood, Scholarship and Excellence, a collegiate mentoring program aimed at holding minorities young men accountable to graduate on time at SCSU.  Trel then went to the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, earning a Master’s in Social Work, Class of 2022.

Trel is CEO/Founder of Daniel’s Company Youth Leadership Mentoring Program. Trel is an award-winning Mentor recognized by Former Governor Malloy’s Administration and the current Governor Administration, the Honorable Ned Lamont. Trel serves as the Former Chair of the New Haven Mentoring Collaboration-Subcommittee on Youth and Gun Violence and is passionate about bringing resources to underserved communities impacted by community violence. Trel served as a Commissioner in the Town of Hamden (Human Service Commission) from 2017 to 2020 as the youngest Commissioner at the time in that commission and in the town. Trel also served as a Board of Director of the Southern Connecticut State University-Alumni Association from 2018- 2023.  Trel is a consultant serving as a valuable resource to non-profits that are starter-up in Violence Prevention work.

Trel has over 15 years of community service and had earned numerous accolades for his leadership, mentoring youth and selfless service towards others. Trel is an expert in the area of Forensic Social Work (areas include Juvenile Justice, and victim services) and pride himself on advocating for individuals who are the least, lonely and left out in society.  During, Trel spare time, he enjoys lifting weights, traveling and eating good food. In addition, Trel also write poems, short stories and novels that are aimed at giving Black and Brown individuals voices in society and are often based on contemporary and social issues that minorities have to deal with in their communities.



Emily Henderson, LMSW, MSW ’13

Emily Henderson, LMSW

Emily Henderson is Master level social worker who currently works for The Department of Corrections as a License Drug and Alcohol Therapist. She was born and raised in Pike County, Alabama and is the youngest of 4 siblings. Emily has been working in the field of Social work for a total of 13 years. She is now on track to become clinically licensed in the social work field by 2023. Since her career path started, she has specialized in working with a wide variety of at risk populations; however, her main career focus has been to specifically work with those who are reentering society from the criminal justice system. Emily Henderson found her passion with this population after an internship experience in Alabama at the Julia Tutwiler Women’s Correctional Facility.

Emily Henderson spent 5 years in Montgomery, Alabama where she graduated from the illustrious Historical Black College, Alabama State University in 2011. At that time, she obtained her Bachelors in Social Work with a focus area in Criminal Justice. She later graduated in 2013 with a Masters in Social Work from the University Of Connecticut School Of Social work; located in West Hartford, CT. During her time at UCONN, she held a concentration in Community Organizing with a focus area in Black Studies. After graduating with her Masters from UCONN, Emily began her career working with prominent social service agencies in the Greater Hartford area, such as: Families in Crisis where she conducted group therapy for male abusers. She then worked at The Bridge family Center assisting adolescent males; who were connected to The Department of Children and Families, obtain independent living skills. While working for The Bridge Family, Emily simultaneously worked with The Chrysalis Center. It was there she found her second passion in working with the homeless population and operated on the frontlines of ending chronic homelessness. She furthered her advocacy at Mercy Housing and Shelter as a Program Manager, working with the homeless population who had a severe history of addiction. Emily decided to further skill with The Department of Corrections in the Addiction Treatment unit, aiding those with severe opioid dependencies. She has credited all of her time at these agencies as having a significant role in working to reducing recidivism, homelessness and now the Opioid epidemic in the state of Connecticut.

Emily Henderson has used her skill sets in the community to advocate against social injustices where she has organized rallies in support of Trayvone Martin. She has hosted and collaborated with community stakeholder as well as local universities to provide adolescent sexual health to vulnerable communities. She takes pride in being a former Mighty Marching Hornet with The Alabama State University Marching band and being a first-generation college graduate. She also takes pride in being from the same hometown as “The Boy from Troy,” the late former House of Representatives, Mr. John Lewis. Emily’s future plans are to continue her work in the field of social work and to extend her clinical knowledge and therapeutic services to those returning to the community after incarceration.

Greetings from Dean Curran to SSW Alumni

Dear Alumni,

Greetings! It’s a great honor to join the UConn School of Social Work as its 15th dean. I am deeply humbled to lead such an outstanding institution with its 75 years of history preparing the next generation of social workers. I joined the School in early August and have been warmly welcomed by our dynamic community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I’m excited to learn about all the innovative and creative work taking place here.

My initial focus will be on supporting the School’s strategic plan that addresses diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism; inclusive and impactful research and scholarship; student-centered teaching and learning; flexible and forward-looking field education; and emerging areas of excellence in social work. I’m particularly looking forward to building on the School’s strong foundation and leadership in generating knowledge about some of the most pressing social issues of our times – child mental health, substance use, violence prevention, LGBTQ issues, disability, aging, and diversity and cultural competence. I’m confident with our vibrant community of researchers, clinicians, educators, staff and students, we’ll continue to serve communities and inform social policy and practices that improve human well-being.

Alumni are key to a vibrant educational community. This is particularly true in social work, where alumni serve as mentors and role models to the next generation of social workers as supervisors, field instructors, and adjunct faculty. As the new dean, I am very much looking forward to getting to know our alumni, now more than 8,800 people strong worldwide. While I hope to meet many of you at our upcoming events, please feel free to reach out and introduce yourselves. I’d love to learn more about your social work path and your experiences at UConn.




Yolanda Leon, MSW ’05


Yolada LeonYolanda has been employed by the Department of Children and Families for 25 years. Yolanda currently is a Social Worker in the Statewide Quality Improvement Division’s Case Practice Review Unit. In this role she conducts case reviews to assess for compliance with policy and identifying areas of needs for staff. Prior to this she worked for the regional office where she conducted various case reviews, provided one to one coaching for staff, participated in various Quality Improvement Teams, served as the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Liaison, and worked on special projects.  Yolanda provides technical assistance to the Region 4 Citizen’s Review Panel which is made up of community members who review policies, practices, and procedures and evaluate the extent that the region is meeting its child protective services responsibilities.

Yolanda has experience working with families as a Social Worker in the Ongoing Social Work Unit, Sexual Abuse Specialty Unit, Medically Complex Specialty Unit and Permanency Specialty Unit. Yolanda has also worked for the Foster Care & Adoptive Services Division where she provided oversight and support to foster parents, conducted training for kinship providers, facilitated support groups, licensed kinship foster homes and relicensed foster homes.

Yolanda is actively involved in various groups and committees within the office. Yolanda is Co-Chair of the office Wellness Team, a member of the Hartford Office Council and member of the Advisory Council. In addition, she takes a lead role in organizing and planning office wide events.

Within the community Yolanda is Co Leader of the Latinas in Motion Hartford Chapter. This organization encourages, inspires, and empowers women to get active.

Yolanda earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Connecticut in 1998 with a major in Human Development and Family Relations and a minor in Criminal Justice. Yolanda earned her MSW in 2005 with a Major Method of Community Organization and a focus area in Puerto Rican and Latino Studies. She has served on the Board of Champions since 2022.

A Message from Dean Nina R. Heller to the Alumni Community

Dear Alumni,

This year has marked key milestones in the history of UConn School of Social Work. We recently celebrated our 75th anniversary with a special event at the Bond Ballroom in Hartford. I was especially pleased to see so many of our alumni, faculty, staff, both current and emeriti, students, and community partners at our celebration. Our alumni continue to support the School of Social Work in multiple ways – as adjuncts, field instructors, faculty advisors, donors, and social work leaders in Connecticut and beyond. At 8,800 strong, you are the best ambassadors possible for the School of Social Work.

For the last eight years, I have had the privilege of serving as the dean and I stand on the shoulders of the 13 prior Deans, including dean Reimers, Case, Cronin, Whetten, Trecker, Lutz, Germain, Coleman, Green, Humphreys, Abrahamson, Davidson, and Raheim. During these 75 years there have been many changes in social work and social work education. For those of you familiar with professional graduate education, you know that there are dual foci – the preparation of the next generation of professional practitioners, and the generation of new knowledge. While the balance of these two areas of focus have shifted over the course of the decades, I maintain that both are critical and when done right, one should inform and strengthen the other.

Through both, the mission remains: We are rooted in a passion for and commitment to social, racial, and economic justice and the improvement of human well-being, both locally and globally. Through our degree programs, we prepare the next generation of social work practitioners and scholars. Our faculty is committed to the generation and wide dissemination of cutting edge and impactful knowledge, informed by social justice and anti-oppressive lenses, through traditional and innovative research methodologies.

In our 75 years, we have contributed mightily to the field and to the community, and I want to note several important achievements. In nearly eight decades, we have offered the MSW for more than 50 years; dual degree programs; an Advanced Standing Program in the 1990’s; the first and largest public PhD Program since 2002; a social-justice focused, cohort-based, urban BSW Program since 2015; and more recently a DCF cohort program; BSW Spanish Speaking Program with DCF; and Scholars in Aging program. This year we also welcomed Innovations Institute, an interdisciplinary, translational research center, which greatly expands our national footprint.

In addition to internal and various external funding, we have developed and maintained very robust collaborations with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, the Office of Early Childhood, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Public Health – each has a research component and a workforce development program. At our Commencement on May 6, one of our most distinguished alumni and long-term partners, DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes, offered an inspiriting message to graduates. I hope you will take some time to watch the recording.

Finally, I am excited to share that we have successfully completed the search for our 15th dean. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Laura Curran, who will begin in her role on August 11, 2023. Dr. Curran was selected from an exceptionally talented pool of applicants. She joins UConn from Rutgers University-New Brunswick, where she is Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. As Provost Anne D’Alleva stated, Dr. Curran demonstrates a clear understanding of the mission of our School of Social Work, with a commitment to social, racial, and economic justice and the improvement of human well-being, both locally and globally.

As we celebrate the rich heritage of our school and share our hopes for the next 75 years, I invite you to reflect on what the School of Social Work has meant to you, your career, and your life. The University has identified life transformative education as a pillar of our identity. I have long maintained that social work education, is, in fact, life transformative and I hear this over and over again from our alumni. We hope you will continue to stay close to the school, and continue to support the School and our students, as donors, mentors, field advisors, and lifelong friends.

Thank you.

Alumni Awards and 75th Anniversary Celebration

On April 29, 2023, the School of Social Work celebrated its 75th Anniversary and the 2nd Annual Alumni Awards. The details and awards winners are described below. Congratulations to our amazing alumni winners!

Alumni Award Winners 2023

Alumni Award Winners 2023

2023 Winners

Charon R. Smalls, CLAS '07, MSW2 '17

Emerging Social Worker Leader

Charon R. Smalls, CLAS '07, MSW2 '17
School Social Worker for CREC at Museum Academy SEARAC

This award honors an alumnus social worker who is at the beginning phase of their career and who has demonstrated outstanding leadership as a developing professional.

Charon Smalls is a native of New Haven, CT and transitioned to the Hartford area in 2012. In 2017, he graduated from UCONN School of Social Work with his MSW.

Charon is currently a school social worker for CREC at Museum Academy in Bloomfield, CT. He is serves in the following organizations:

-       Interval House CT, Board of Directors

-       Achievement First Hartford, Board of Directors

-       Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc, Beta Sigma Lambda chapter, Executive Board as Social Action Chair

-       National Pan-Hellenic Council of Greater Hartford, Executive Board as Chaplain

Charon lives in Bloomfield with his wife, UConn SSW Alumna, Dr. Samantha Smalls, 2 children, Isaiah and Nia, and his fish, Bluey.

Precious Price, MSW ‘16

The Trailblazer Award

Precious Price, MSW ‘16
Executive Director & Lead Organizer of the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition

This award honors social work alumni who have graduated in the last 10 years and who have had significant impact within their profession, contributed to their community, and show promise of continued success.

Precious Price, a Connecticut native, grew up an advocate for youth in foster care by sharing her own experiences within the foster care system. Her passion for advocacy for transforming inequitable systems grew out of this work, and led her to Washington DC, interning for both Senator Chris Murphy and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute where she published and presented policy recommendations around the overmedicating of youth in foster care. Precious holds a master’s in social work with a concentration in community organization from the University of Connecticut. In 2016, Precious began organizing with the North End Action Team which broadened her lens of organizing and advocacy to include racial justice. In 2018, after being featured in Connecticut Magazine’s Top “40 Under 40”, Precious also became the Executive Director & Lead Organizer of the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition. In 2021, following another passion, Precious became a doula and doula advocate, working both with families as well as systems, in order to change childbirth outcomes for Black women in CT. She sits on multiple boards and committees, including the Governor’s Hate Crime Advisory Council, the Black Infinity Collective, and Doulas4CT. 

Joanne Tremblay Jackson, LCSW, ACSW, MPH, MSW ‘88

Outstanding Social Worker Award

Joanne Tremblay Jackson, LCSW, ACSW, MPH, MSW ‘88
Director of Student Support Services at Hartford Public Schools

This award honors alumni whose accomplishments, affiliations, and careers have made an outstanding impact and/or have been recognized within their field relevant to community/society in the present-day.

Joanne Tremblay Jackson, LCSW, ACSW, MPH is the Director of Student Support Services for the Hartford Public Schools. Joanne is an alumnus of the UCONN School of Social Work and most recently completed a master’s in public health at The Bloomberg School of Public Health of Johns Hopkins University. Having grown up in Waterbury in an ethnically divided city as part of a working class family, first generation American and English language learner she learned early the impact of violence, poverty and the power of mentors. A caring adult at an opportune moment can change a life’s course and improve both mental health and open new opportunities changing a life’s trajectory.  The focus of the MPH was related to enhancing the services and opportunities available for Adolescent Mental Health with a focus on the impact of violence. Her work with the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee impacted policy and procedure to ensure partial credits become awarded to adolescents in Connecticut who have been impacted by homelessness, and abrupt moves with the Department of Children and Families or the Juvenile Justice System.  Joanne is passionate about growing the social work departments capacity to serve the needs of Hartford students, families and staff.  She has worked tirelessly to enhance the capacity of the social workers through professional development including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Trauma Informed for Schools and Dialectical behavioral Therapy. Joanne has worked collaboratively with community partners and UCONN School of Social Work to enhance service delivery including the training of many interns in the school system.  Most recently her leadership has enhanced the clinical supervision of the over one hundred social workers in Hartford Schools by the addition of Social Work Coaches.

Susan B. Walkama, MSW '89

Lifetime Achievement

Susan B. Walkama, MSW '89
Former President & CEO at Wheeler Clinic

This award honors an alumni social worker who has made significant contributions or developed model programs that have been replicated and has been in the field for at least 25 years.

For over 35 years, Susan has practiced as a clinical and administrative social work leader in the nonprofit sector serving the disabled, children and other vulnerable populations.   As the President and CEO of Wheeler, Susan is credited with significantly expanding services to individuals and families in communities across Connecticut.  Her most significant contributions include transforming Wheeler from a behavioral health provider to a full service, wholistic, integrated healthcare center offering primary care, dental, behavioral health, nutrition and alternative healthcare services.  In addition, Susan promoted the application of evidence-based practice in all types of healthcare, expanded crisis and intensive home-based services to children and families and trained hundreds of healthcare, educators, social workers and clergy in adolescent suicide intervention.  She was appointed to multiple state councils, work groups and task forces and advocated for adequate funding of social and healthcare services at the local, state and federal level.  Susan served on multiple nonprofit and trade association Board of Directors and as Board Chair of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut.  She has been recognized for her service by the State of Connecticut legislature, universities, local social service organizations and businesses.

Susan proudly holds degrees from Central Connecticut State University in Sociology and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work.

Since her retirement in 2020, she spends time with her two beautiful grandchildren, Mason and Austin, volunteers to help resettle newcomers to this country, serves on the Woman’s Board of Day Kimball Hospital and works on the campaigns of democratic and progressive candidates in Connecticut and nationally.

Dr. Leslie J. Torres-Rodriguez, Ed. D, CLAS '97, MSW'00

Distinguished Alumni Award

Dr. Leslie J. Torres-Rodriguez, Ed. D, CLAS '97, MSW'00 Superintendent at Hartford Public Schools

This award honors an alumni social worker who has made significant contributions or developed model programs that have been replicated and has been in the field for at least 25 years.

Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez is the Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, one of the largest urban
school districts in Connecticut. Raised in Hartford and a product of Hartford Public High School, she has
served as an education leader in Greater Hartford for over two decades.

Prior to her appointment as Superintendent, Dr. Torres-Rodriguez was Acting Superintendent and the
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Leadership within Hartford Public Schools, where she provided
culturally courageous leadership to support the comprehensive improvement efforts of a network of 11
schools. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez also taught social and behavioral science at Capital Community College and
served students and families at Goodwin Technical High School as a School Social Worker.

Dr. Torres-Rodriguez received a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and a Master of Social Work
from the University of Connecticut, and she earned a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Central
Connecticut State University.

Most recently, she was the recipient of the 2022 Association of Latino Administrators and
Superintendents (ALAS) Latino Superintendent of the Year Award. She was also the recipient of the 2019
Connecticut Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (CALAS) Award for Educational
Leadership, the 2019 National Brillante Award for Educational Excellence from Prospanica, and she was
featured in “Women of Distinction” by Hartford Magazine in December 2019. She is a fellow of The
Broad Academy, the nation’s most prominent professional-development program for urban
school-system leaders. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez currently serves on the Hartford Promise board, co-chairs
the Mayor’s Cabinet for Young Children in Hartford, and is a member of the Governor’s Workforce
Council. She is a proud resident of Hartford, where she lives with her husband and two sons.