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GSSWGraduate School of Social Work

Student awardees exemplify the best of social work scholarship, service, practice

June 15, 2017

 GSSW Commencement Hat - Product of Immigrants

Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) students regularly give the school opportunities to celebrate outstanding scholarship, service and other accomplishments. As part of its summer 2017 Commencement celebrations on June 9, the school formally recognized 12 standout students at the annual GSSW Awards Brunch.

Student Awards for Academic Papers

John Pitman (MSW '17), Ina Mae Denham Award
The Denham Award is presented annually to the graduating student who writes the best clinical paper describing and analyzing his/her own actual case practice, including the rationale and application of appropriate interventions based on relevant theory and clinical literature. The Colorado Society for Clinical Social Work created the award, which includes a cash award and society membership. Pitman was recognized for exemplary case notes, transcripts and clinical outcomes with the example client.

Esther Turcios (MSW '17), Edith M. Davis Award
The Davis Award recognizes the best paper focusing on a person or persons of color. This award honors Professor Emerita Edith M. Davis, who was the founding director of the GSSW doctoral program. Turcios' paper was recognized for its exploration of the often-overlooked experience of women of color in leadership positions and its use of one narrative to illustrate the complex intersectional aspects of the issue.

Lauren Ruth (MSW '17), Tommi Frank Memorial Award
The Frank Memorial Award is named for the late Tommi Frank, MSW '64. It recognizes the student judged by faculty to have submitted the most creative and imaginative piece of writing related to social work. The award particularly values the creation of new concepts, arrangements of concepts and/or new ways of relating knowledge to practice, profoundness of thinking and the scholarly application of such thinking to the refinement of theory and/or practice and to applicability for use in practice. Ruth's paper described her idea for creating a street-theater company starring people experiencing homelessness as a way of changing public perceptions about the issue. The paper was noted for both its creativity and practicality, as it had actual implementation potential.

Heather Sherman (MSW '17), Meritorious Program Evaluation Award
This award was created by the OMNI Institute, a Denver-based research firm committed to applied research in the social sciences. It honors a student whose individual paper demonstrates exemplary understanding of, and commitment to, social work research. Award criteria include relevance to social work practice, originality, depth of analysis, clarity and excellence in writing. The award committee noted that Sherman framed her study in the national literature, making it similar to what would be expected from a published systematic review. She described her research methods accurately and in detail, and she did a good job of highlighting the study limitations and implications.

Dana Polley (MSW'17), Dorothea C. Spellmann Award
The Spellmann Award honors a student whose paper or project best demonstrates understanding, creativity and competence in work with groups, including an understanding and appreciation of groups as a primary means of service with people. The award was named for Professor Emerita Dorothea Spellmann upon her retirement in 1972. Polley's paper was selected for its creativity, applied critical thinking, innovative concepts, attention to issues of cultural diversity, and indicators of a successful community project with a high potential for implementation.

Student Awards Based on Faculty and Field Nominations

Yesenia Arreola (MSW '17), Catherine F. Alter Merit Award
Named for Dean Emerita Catherine F. Alter, GSSW dean from 1996–2006, this award recognizes a graduating student from GSSW's off-campus MSW programs who most closely epitomizes the best of professional social work—a keen intellect, a passionate dedication to empowering underserved populations, and a commitment to continuously improving practice. Arreola began the Western Colorado MSW Program with the first cohort in fall 2013. Her instructors describe her as passionate about the value of education for all, especially those who may be excluded from access to higher education opportunities.

Bonifacio Sánchez Flores (MSW '17), Jean Peart Sinnock Award
The Sinnock Award honors Professor Emerita Jean Peart Sinnock and recognizes a student who has demonstrated outstanding capacity for leadership, purposeful working relationships with faculty and students, and outstanding classroom performance. The recipient must demonstrate conviction about the values of the profession and must have developed a social conscience and an active awareness of—and participation in—community concerns. Flores is from the Tuun Taavi tribe of Oaxaca, Mexico. He has been a staff member of the University of Denver Latino Center for Community Engagement and Scholarship, where he works with Latinx, indigenous and communities of color across campus to leverage issues of justice and access for all.

Ryan Weiner (MSW '17), Ruth Marx Stark Award for Excellence in Field
The Stark Award recognizes excellence in field work, emphasizing innovation, creativity and commitment to social work practice. The award is named for Ruth Marx Stark, who attended the University of Denver in the mid-1930s then devoted many decades of her life to volunteering in Denver-area agencies, international development programs and political action organizations. Weiner's fieldwork was centered around Colorado Department of Corrections policy on transgender offenders and included recommendations that led to systemic change. Several Colorado facilities have implemented the recommended changes, and trans offenders can now request placement in one of these specific facilities. The work laid the foundation for a more humanizing experience for offenders.

Sharon Zanti (MSW '17), Dean Emil M. Sunley Merit Award
The Sunley Merit Award was first presented in 1971 by Dean Emil M. Sunley, in whose honor the award was created. It recognizes meritorious service to the school or the profession of social work. Zanti has demonstrated academic excellence and integrity and is passionate about working in family systems social work with at-risk adult populations. Zanti took on two independent study projects, attended the Colorado APS Caseworker Training Academy, networked with APS caseworkers, attended meetings with APS staff at the state level, and volunteered to serve as a role-play client for a series of videos being recorded for use in an online program clinical course.

Ashley O'Connor and Jessica Yang, Outstanding Dissertation Proposal Fall 2016 O'Connor's dissertation is entitled "From Veteran to Student: Using Structural Equation Modeling to Examine the Impact of School Environment on Education and Psychosocial Outcomes." She is investigating whether the perceived amount of institutional veteran friendliness and stigmatization affects Iraq and Afghanistan veterans' functioning as they transition into a student role.

Yang's dissertation—"The Rest of the Story: Exploring the Overall Functioning and Maturational Experiences of Former Foster Youth in Middle Adulthood"—examines the experiences that shaped the functioning of individuals currently in their 30s, 40s and 50s from the time they aged out of the foster care system to present day. Yang explores what experiences and services were influential, thereby shedding light on a largely invisible population.

Jason St. Mary, Outstanding Dissertation Proposal Spring 2017
St. Mary's dissertation is entitled "Where There is no Money There is no Food: Examining the Impact of an Income Generation Project Among South African Township Youth." The lack of jobs and the disproportionate rates of risk and opportunity for township youth suggests that an income generation strategy may be an effective way to improve healthy development among young individuals in South Africa. St. Mary is examining whether the creation of an artisan product that is produced entirely by township youth can foster health among this population.