Alumni Newsletter

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.

Alumni Spotlight: Jelan Agnew, LCSW

  • Headshot of Jelan Agnew, LCSW ,
    Headshot of Jelan Agnew, LCSW ,

    Name, Profession Title and Employer, SSW Class & Concentration.

Jelan Agnew, LCSW,  founder of Nalej of Self, LLC. Class of 2011, clinical concentration. 

  • Brief description about yourself and career path. 

Jelan Agnew, LCSW is a 2022 Hartford Business Journal Top 40 Under Forty Honoree, highly rated TEDx Speaker and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Jelan has 11+ years of experience as a Therapist, Adjunct Professor and Workshop/Training facilitator. Founder of Nalej of Self, LLC, she works with organizations to teach mindfulness as a skill to address burn out, compassion fatigue and feeling stuck in survival mode. Nalej of Self, LLC offers Corporate Mindfulness Workshops, DBT Training, Motivational Speaking, Coaching and Courses. Jelan sees authenticity as her superpower, and uses her expertise as a Dialectical  Behavioral Therapist, to empower people to be an active participant in building a life worth living.

  • Tell us about your hobbies

My hobbies include meditation, traveling, making tiktoks, being outside in nature, singing and dancing.

  • Why did you choose social work as a profession?

I feel like social work chose me!  I swore I would never get into this field, as my mother has been a social worker for 20+ years. But once I accepted my first role in the field, working with clients became my passion. I’ve had the honor of working with some of the most kind, loving and amazing humans doing this work. It’s truly an honor.

  • What impact has your UConn social work education had on your life?

First, let me say, UConn took a chance with me. My undergrad GPA was fairly low, and I was let in as a provisional student. So the first lesson UConn school of social work taught me, was that everyone deserves a chance for change. In addition, my UConn social work education has taught me to have a strength based lens when approaching situations.

  • What was your favorite moment at UConn SSW?

Graduation day! It was a huge accomplishment. Also, learning the history of social work and making sure I am being an agent of change.

Alumni Awards and Annual Meeting 2022

On May 7, 2022, the School of Social Work celebrated its inaugural Alumni Awards during its annual meeting. The details and awards winners are described below. Congratulations to our amazing alumni winners!

Alumni Award Winners 2022

2022 Winners

Alumni award winner Nary Rath

Emerging Social Worker Leader

Nary Rath, MSW ‘19, California Program Manager at 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.

Nary Rath is a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of Cambodian refugees. She received her Master of Social Work from the UConn School of Social Work in 2019. She was an advanced standing student in the policy practice concentration and performed her internship at Hartford City Council. Since graduating, she was selected by the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) as a Congressional Fellow and relocated to Washington, DC where she fulfilled a 9-month fellowship in the office of Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV). In the Senate, she handled the Senator's human trafficking portfolio and had the opportunity to advocate for robust federal funding for services for survivors of trafficking. She also had the once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Following her fellowship, she began working as the immigration policy advocate for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) where she advocated for progressive immigration reform for the Southeast Asian immigrant and refugee community.

Still with SEARAC, Nary is now their California Program Manager and has relocated to San Jose, California. She leads SEARAC's state-level programming through event planning, campaigns, trainings, coalition management, and support with community engagement and organizing. She fosters strong relationships with California partners, including through coalitions and partnerships on immigrant and refugee rights, health and mental health, education, and racial justice. Nary is also a published author and co-authored the book, "I Am Asian". Her passage explores her family's personal experience with the unjust immigration system in America and dealing with the mental health stigma within the Cambodian Community.

Alumni Award winner Dean Jones

The Trailblazer Award

Dean Jones, MSW ‘15, Director of Peacebuilders at COMPASS

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.

As the Director of Peacebuilders, Dean is responsible for conceptualizing, developing, and facilitating the implementation of programming for the youth COMPASS serves. Any time of the day or night, you can find Dean on the streets of Hartford, working to build a community where youth feel safe, live peacefully, and could reach their full potential. Dean’s passion for working with high-risk youth is rooted in his personal experiences. As a young man, Dean faced many of the obstacles the youth he serves face. He knows what life on the streets is all about, and he knows what serving time in prison means.

Dean often says he is using his second chance to give youth their first chance. Dean was released from prison in 2005. He went back to school and received a bachelor’s degree, and in May 2015, his MSW from UCONN School of Social Work. Since his release from prison, Dean has been a tireless advocate for the youth in his community. Young people recognize Dean on the street and know they can trust him. Dean builds trusting relationships with youth to help them transform their lives. To say Dean has touched the lives of hundreds of Hartford’s highest-risk youth would not be an exaggeration. Whether meeting them on the basketball court or in the streets, Dean reaches young people in trouble and helps them build peace in their lives.

Alumni Award winner Traci Laliberte

Outstanding Social Worker Award

Dr. Traci LaLiberte, MSW ‘97, Executive Director at Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, Minnesota Child Welfare Training Academy – University of Minnesota School of Social Work

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.

Dr. Traci LaLiberte is the Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW), in the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota. Dr. LaLiberte manages this large research and training center while focusing her research on child welfare practice and policy with particular interest in child and parent disabilities. She has served as principal investigator (PI) on studies examining the intersection of child welfare and disability, child welfare and educational experiences of high risk youth, comprehensive assessment, evidence-based practice in treatment foster care settings, and the child welfare workforce. Dr. LaLiberte is the PI on a multi-year, federal child welfare education grant and a ten year, multi-million dollar State-University child welfare training academy. She provides broad oversight to the statewide longitudinal integrated data project, Minnesota Linking Information for Kids (Minn-LInK) and in recent years has worked with local counties to evaluate practice, including the implementation of the Children’s Bureau Comprehensive Family Assessment Guidelines, a federally funded, five-year demonstration project.

Dr. LaLiberte has worked as a practitioner in the fields of child welfare and developmental disabilities for more than 30 years. She has developed curriculum and facilitated local, national, and international level training on a wide variety of topics related to child welfare and disability. In addition to her consultation and her talks at conferences, Dr. LaLiberte has numerous publications in peer-reviewed research journals. She received her M.S.W. from the University of Connecticut and her doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

Alumni Award Winner Jo Ann Simons

Outstanding Social Worker Award

JoAnn Simons, MSW ‘77, Chief Executive Officer at Northeast Arc

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.

Jo Ann Simons has over 40 years of experience in the intellectual and developmental disabilities field. Her progressive initiatives have included the creation of the ArcTank to fund innovative ideas to positively disrupt disability services, closing several sheltered workshops and transitioning the focus from sheltered employment to community job placement, innovative school to work programs, inclusive community living, movement from community residences to shared living models, and creating new environments to serve people using retail malls.

Jo Ann was named the CEO of the Northeast Arc in January 2016. The Northeast Arc has an operating budget of $300 million, with 1,100 employees and supports over 15,000 individuals in nearly 200 communities across Massachusetts. Northeast Arc’s latest initiative embodies Jo Ann’s spirit of bold invention. Under her leadership, Northeast Arc is creating a new resource—the Center for Linking Lives—in 26,000 square feet of highly visible retail space in the heart of the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, Mass.  The Center serves as a vibrant gathering place, where individuals with disabilities can reach their full potential, and learn to lead fulfilling lives alongside their peers.  This is an exciting turning point for the communities Northeast Arc serves. And importantly it represents a scalable idea—with powerful implications far beyond Danvers and Boston’s North Shore.

Currently a member of the Governor’s Commission on Persons with I/DD and the Autism Commission, Jo Ann also served on Governor Charlie Baker’s Transition Committee on Health Care. She is past Chair of the National Down Syndrome Society and past President of the National Down Syndrome Congress. She is the former Chair of LIFE, Inc. of Cape Cod, she is also a Director of Century Bank and The Tufts Health Plan Foundation. She is the author of the Down Syndrome Transition Handbook (Woodbine House 2010). In addition, she created Footprints for the Future, a personal planning tool that provides a place for families and professionals to record specific and personal information as part of their future and estate planning.

Jo Ann has a BA from Wheaton College of Massachusetts and a MSW from the University of Connecticut. Her speaking engagements include presentations to professionals and parents and siblings of children with intellectual disabilities throughout the United States. Her international presentations include Dublin, Belfast, Guatemala City, and Nagano, Japan.

Alumni Award winner Catalina Caban-Owen

Outstanding Field Advisor Award

Dr. Catalina Caban-Owen, PhD ‘09, Adjunct Faculty and The University of Connecticut

This award honors a field advisor for their contributions and service to the UConn School of Social Work and its students.

Dr. Caban-Owen is very active in her community and is on many organizations and boards. She currently sits on the Windham Board of Education and works tirelessly on community campaigns providing Spanish speaking explanations and directions to those who attend and need interpretation making sure that everyone is able to participate.

Dr. Caban-Owen was a longtime school social worker in the Windham Public School system where she supported and mentor numerous students and families (1992-2018). She has been a faculty advisor and part-time adjunct faculty for UConn SSW from 2002 to present. She has served a faculty advisor to both Macro Social work students and clinical students. She is known for her tough but fair and supportive work with students. She is a faculty advisor and faculty member who will go above and beyond for her students as she considers her work with students and families a labor of love.

Dr. Caban-Owen takes on many social work advisees each year. She works with each student and providing both academic and field support and mentorship. When she was a school social worker, she always took students for field instruction providing them with the opportunity to observe and shadow her work and later to work individually under her guidance. She has mentored many students this way over the years. She also steps up and provides field instruction for agencies in Windham that do not staff a social worker, liked the Windham Regional Community Council, Inc. Windham Youth Services Bureau.

Alumni Award winner Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro

Outstanding Volunteer Award

Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro, MSW ‘16, Founder at Ends2Meet LLC

This award honors alumni for their dedication to the advancement of the UConn SSW Alumni Office’s strategic goals.

Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro is from New York City and is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, class of 2016. Most recently, completed the Educational Leadership Program at Sacred Heart University in 2020. Mrs. Cristofaro continues to grow through one of her passions which is outreach. She is the founder and owner of Ends2meet LLC, creating awareness on social justice issues, providing resources, and counseling services in English and Spanish. Mrs. Cristofaro is a graduate of Hartford Public Schools and has dedicated her adult years to education. She has worked for Hartford Public Schools since 2008 and is currently employed as a school social worker with the district. She has a special place in her heart for English learners and recalls how difficult it was to manage her native language in Spanish while learning English. In addition to the many years in the Hartford school system, she has many years 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 as well as for the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work.

Mrs. Cristofaro resides in Rocky Hill, CT with her husband Victor, who is also in education and a graduate of the University of Connecticut. Together they are raising the two youngest children at home. They enjoy traveling outside of the United States, photography, enjoy new vegan recipes, friendships, and family time.

Charlotte Kinlock

Lifetime Achievement Award

Charlotte Kinlock, CLAS '75, MSW '81, Founder at Kinlock & Company

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.

Charlotte Kinlock received her MSW from the UCONN School of Social Work in 1981, with a major in Community Organizing. During her time as a student, Charlotte organized the first “lesbian and gay” field placement in the school’s history. Because she listed this placement on her resume, she faced very direct, explicit discrimination as she searched for a job after graduation. She took on a few low-paying service sector jobs to pay the bills and eventually was awarded a Title XX grant to train nonprofit agencies focused on mental health and addiction services about how to be more sensitive when working with their lesbian and gay clients. This Title XX grant was the first federal grant in Connecticut focused on lesbian and gay issues.

Charlotte went on to serve as the Executive Director of the CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Education Director of the CT Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), and spent a decade as the principal of a training company focused on sexual harassment prevention and workforce diversity. For over ten years, Charlotte served as an adjunct professor at the UCONN School of Social Work, teaching both Macro Practice Foundation and Political Advocacy classes.

In 1985, Charlotte became the first co-director of the all-volunteer CT Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, the lead grassroots organization behind the passage of the state’s “Gay Right’s Law,” which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in areas of employment, housing, credit and public accommodations. The passage of that bill in 1991, after 18 years of being introduced and seven long years of intensive grassroots organizing, brought Charlotte full circle. After being told in 1981—upon graduation from the UCONN School of Social Work—that she was not going to be hired because she was a lesbian, to helping to lead the effort to pass legislation that explicitly prohibited that kind of discrimination, was incredibly satisfying. And the skills she learned as a Community Organizing student at UCONN were invaluable.

Charlotte lives in Avon with Anne Stanback, her wife of nearly 40 years, and their two pups, Dash and Nugget.

Alumni Spotlight: Lady Mendoza

Name, Profession Title and Employer (agency, organization, institution, etc., if applicable), SSW Class & Concentration

Lady Mendoza, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of Mayor Luke A. Bronin, City of Hartford, Class of 2017, Policy Practice

Alumna Lady Mendoza
Lady Mendoza


  1. Brief description about your career path (how you ended up where you are). 

I originally wanted to become an elementary school teacher. After a few years in the field I realized I wanted to pursue a career in helping others more broadly which is why I started looking at social work programs. My first glimpse into politics was through my job at the Hartford Mayor’s office, I started off doing constituent work and was given an opportunity to assist on legislative matters during the legislative session. I found the work challenging but interesting and knew then that I wanted policy practice to be my concentration. I interned at the Humphreys institute my first year and sought out an internship at the office of policy and management my second year. Through my internship, I got an in depth look at legislative work from the state perspective and was later offered a full time job with Governor Malloy’s office in 2018. I went on to continue this work with Governor Lamont’s administration and am now back with the City of Hartford.


  1. Why did you choose social work as a profession?

I chose to pursue a social work education to gain a better understanding of macro social work in the context of policy making.


  1. What is your favorite memory from your time interning at the Humphreys Institute?

My favorite memory of my time interning at the Humphreys Institute was planning and executing the campaign school. It was a lot of work in the weeks leading up to the event but it was also rewarding to see how many folks who had an interest in political social work attended the campaign school from different schools.

I’m most proud of the legislation I worked on with my colleagues that have now become law. From changes to treatment of incarcerated persons, to offshore wind, every piece of legislation takes an incredible amount of effort to make it to the finish line but seeing a bill you’ve worked on become a public act is an accomplishment I will always remember and cherish.


  1. What impact has your UConn social work education had on your life?

I’ve gained amazing friendships and connections through the UConn School of Social work which have not only added to my professional life but to my personal life as well.


Celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Nancy A. Humphreys (1938-2019)

Nancy A. Humphreys speaking at a National Association of Social Workers eventNancy A. Humphreys will always be remembered as a pioneering social work educator and leader. She initiated a national effort to modernize the social work profession, helping to establish a new vision of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) emphasizing the role of social work in policy and politics. She supported and encouraged generations of social workers and women to be leaders in organizations and elected office.

Nancy earned an MSW from the University of Southern California, while working for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services, where she rose from a direct services worker to assistant program deputy and staff development administrator. After completing a DSW from UCLA (1975) she taught at USC, UCLA, California State University, LA, and California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

While still in California she played a crucial role in bringing 16 chapters of California NASW together into one statewide chapter, then served as its first president. She was elected the second woman and youngest person as president of the national NASW, and led the initiative to revise the Code of Ethics and to end discrimination against LGBT communities.

Nancy A. Humphreys shaking hands with President Jimmy CarterDespite women being the majority of NASW’s membership, men had dominated leadership positions. Humphreys advocated for equality and making gender a permanent part of the organization’s affirmative action plan. She appointed the first female editor of Social Work journal, created the first women’s conference in social work, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a member of his National Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues, the only social worker.

After leaving California she taught at Rutgers University Graduate School of Social Work and became an Associate Dean, then moved to Michigan State University School of Social Work to assume the Directorship. While there she began to teach a course on women’s issues at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, in Washington University. In 1987 she became the Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work where she worked until she stepped down and established the Institute for Political Social Work Practice, later renamed as the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work. While dean she helped spearhead the establishment of social work in the country of Armenia.

As the director of the Institute, she worked tirelessly to promote social workers becoming central to the political arena and establishing Political Social Work as a legitimate practice specialty. She also created the first social work campaign school, and encouraged students to strive for leadership positions in all aspects of politics and policy. Nancy A. Humphreys with colleagues in front of a sign for the Institute

Nancy Humphreys was appointed to numerous statewide and national boards throughout her career. While in New Jersey she was appointed by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court as one of the three public members to the court’s committee on Professional Legal Ethics. The Governor of Michigan appointed her as a member of the Blue-Ribbon Committee on Welfare Reform, as well as having served as a gubernatorial appointee and elected Chair of the Michigan Department of Social Services Advisory Council.

She served on the American Public Welfare Association, National Conference of Social Welfare, and was a past Vice President of the Council of Social Work Education. She was a member of the board of the Journal of Women and Aging.

After moving to Connecticut, she served as a board member of the Connecticut Association of Human Services, the Capital Area United Way, The statewide United Way Strategic Planning Committee and a member of the Simsbury Human Rights Committee. She was a “next friend” of one of the children in the Juan F. v. O’Neill lawsuit which resulted in the Department of Children and Families Consent Decree.

She also served as the spokesperson for the Connecticut Coalition for Children, and was appointed by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court and elected as the founding chair of the Parenting Education Advisory Committee. She chaired NASW’s Political Action Committee, and NASW’s National Committee on Legislation and Government Relations.

Nancy A. Humphreys in cap and gown with colleagueIn 2003, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from NASW. This recognition was added to many awards, and certificates of recognition for her service to the profession and those populations social workers serve including New Jersey’s Social Worker of the Year (1981), Distinguished Alumnus from USC Graduate School of Social Work, Distinguished Social Worker by the Connecticut Chapter of NASW (1992) and was a awarded an honorary Doctorate from Yerevan State University of Armenia. She was later inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction in 2015.

Student Spotlight: Sarah Miller



  1. Name, SSW Class & Concentration

Sarah Miller, MSW Class of 2022, Concentration in Policy Practice



  1. Which came first – your interest in politics or interest in social work? In other words, did a desire to be involved in politics inspire you to pursue a degree in social work or did your pursuit of a social work degree inspire you to get involved in politics?

Social work practice and politics are inextricably linked for me. I have always been involved in efforts to improve my community and learned to work on political campaigns and lobby elected officials as integral components of this process. If we are honest about root causes and determined to find systemic solutions rather than solely treat symptoms, politics is necessary. So while I was politically involved long before deciding to pursue a social work degree, I found my way into politics as a tool for advancing social work goals.Sarah Miller headshot

  1. What made you decide to run for office?

My district in New Haven has high needs and struggled with representation for over a decade. Four prior alders either resigned mid-term or were largely absent. As an engaged community member, I saw the impact of this absence accrue in the form of missed funding, misdrawn maps, and diminished power. For years, I was encouraged to run but resisted taking on the time commitment and diverting focus from my specific interests to broader citywide concerns. Yet at the moment, we have a few major, time-sensitive projects that need political support to make it over the finish line, including a critical redevelopment project on our main street, the distribution of ARPA dollars, and redistricting. I decided to run now so as not to risk letting these opportunities slip by, as has occurred in the past.


  1. What are your future career aspirations?

I edited academic books at Yale University Press for fifteen years before making a career shift in the summer of 2020. During those years, my volunteer community work slowly took on a large role in my life. Perhaps because of the organic way in which I came into social work, I have clear aspirations for my practice but not career goals per se. All of my community work is directed toward cultivating a holistic system of support for young people in our city. In addition to serving on the New Haven Board of Alders, I work as the Manager of Strategy and Planning for Clifford Beers, which is the oldest outpatient mental health clinic in the United States and provides wraparound services for children and families. This professional role lives on the same continuum as my political work and pursuit of a social work degree; and I’ll continue to pursue political and professional opportunities to position my efforts for maximum impact.


  1. Do you feel serving in public office will help you in the social work profession or vice versa (or both)?

Public office is a social work profession, utilizing both micro and macro skills. There is an enormous amount of 1:1 work with constituents, advocates, and officials. Ideally, public office is about translating those conversations into policy that resolves problems, rights inequities, and expands opportunities.


  1. What is the accomplishment you are most proud of in your time at UConn School of Social Work?

During my first year field placement with Connecticut Voices for Children, I authored the 2021 State of Early Childhood, a survey report that the organization published periodically for nearly twenty years, and which I previously studied and admired. It took on special importance amidst the historic disruption to Connecticut’s system of early care and education due to COVID-19, and was especially relevant to me as I navigated these challenges with my own two children while writing.

Student Spotlight: Madison González

Student Madison Gonzalez's headshot



  1. Name, SSW Class & Concentration

Madison González, I am on the two-year track – set to graduate by May 2023, my concentration is IGFP.


  1. Which came first – your interest in politics or interest in social work? In other words, did a desire to be involved in politics inspire you to pursue a degree in social work or did your pursuit of a social work degree inspire you to get involved in politics?

For me, the two thought processes were different! I was interested in running for local office during the pandemic, but a few months prior I decided to pursue social work. I wasn’t sure what my career path would look like yet, but I liked working with children as much as I liked advocating in my community. I would say I decided both almost around the same time. The decisions haven’t influenced each other but the outcomes of both have been important to my development as a student and social worker.


  1. What made you decide to run for office?

During summer of 2020, I was motivated to organize Black Lives Matter rallies and marches in my town. Several surrounding towns were showing support, and I felt as though South Windsor needed to show the same solidarity. I worked with young residents and graduates from the school system to raise awareness about the injustices happening outside of our small community. I was able to work very closely with our mayor and was interested in the opportunity to work on the policy side of some of these issues. One of the items we focused on in our advocacy was education and curriculum in our schools. I was particularly attracted to the Board of Education for this reason. After some inquiring and following up with my local Democratic Town Committee, I was able to be nominated and voted to run on a slate by caucus!


  1. What are your future career aspirations?

I love the clinical work that I do; at this point I am pursuing a career as a school social worker. My goal is to also advocate for equitable policy that will impact the children and families I work with.


  1. Do you feel serving in public office will help you in the social work profession or vice versa (or both)?

I certainly believe that my work in the field will be impacting the way I serve as a public official. My field placement this year is in an alternative education program in Hartford, and it has been interesting to see the differences between districts. I also like to hear from administration and teachers. While I can’t assume that each situation is the same, I do recognize the extreme stress school staff is under during the pandemic, and especially with new variants emerging frequently.


  1. What is the accomplishment you are most proud of in your time at UConn School of Social Work?

My first semester of grad school I worked to run and win a campaign. I was entering a higher level of education, while starting an internship, working, and reaching out to the community. Everyone was so supportive, and I was able to finish my semester with straight As. It was an incredibly stressful yet rewarding experience.


Alumni Spotlight: Ayesha R. Clarke

Alumna Ayesha Clarke


  1. Name, Profession Title, SSW Class & Concentration

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


  1. Brief description about your current career path 

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


  1. What are your favorite hobbies?

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


  1. What was your favorite moment at UConn SSW?

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


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

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

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


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




SSW Alumni Spotlight: Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro, MSW

Alumna Barbie Nadal-Cristofaro












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

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

  1. Briefly describe your current career path.

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

  1. What are your favorite hobbies?

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

  1. What was your favorite moment at UConn SSW?

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

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

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