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GSSWGraduate School of Social Work

Graduate School of Social Work welcomes its largest class ever

September 20, 2017

This fall, 228 new students joined the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) family, making this the largest entering class in the school's history. They join more than 300 continuing students enrolled in the school's Denver, Western Colorado and Four Corners programs.

Graduate students continue to choose GSSW for an education that is rigorous, relevant and responsive. They're also flocking to GSSW because of its unwavering commitment to social justice.

"One of the things I loved about GSSW is its emphasis on diversity, multiculturalism and social action," says new MSW student Maria Figueroa. Learn more about Figueroa and some of GSSW's other outstanding new students who are already having an impact in the profession:

MSW Program–Denver
New Student Spotlight: Maria Figueroa

Maria Figueroa

Figueroa hails from Bogota, Colombia, where she worked as a psychologist in a pediatric hospital burn unit after earning her BA in psychology at Pontificia Universidad Javierana. She came to the U.S. to study English, and then returned to Colombia to work with an NGO helping victims of the country's armed conflict. "I was working with different communities—women, men, activist leaders—where human rights were violated by the army, paramilitary groups and guerrillas. You see a lot of kidnapping, murders, tortures, and a lot of fear. Our mission was to empower and educate these communities in their human rights."

Through these work experiences, Figueroa witnessed "remarkable resilience" that allows people to "go on to blossom in society as long as they hold on to a seed of hope. That's why I want to become a social worker—to experience the meaningful work of helping to plant that seed within them."

She plans to do that as a family therapist working with immigrant and refugee communities. "I've felt what it's like to be an immigrant—you will face racism and other things that will hurt you. I want to be a bridge between the isolated universe in which refugees and immigrants live and their adopted home in which they dream to have a better future."

MSW Program–Four Corners
New Student Spotlight: Isabel Vita

Isabel Vita

Vita is one of five new advanced-standing students joining the Four Corners program in Durango, Colorado, this fall. She has a BSW from Metropolitan State University of Denver and works in Pagosa Springs as a resource manager for Archuleta County Human Services, where she manages the eligibility programs (TANF, food assistance, Medicaid, adult financial assistance, long-term care), supervises the fraud unit and assists the child welfare department. She also has a therapy dog—a 7-year-old Labrador retriever named Camo—who is certified to work in schools, hospitals, detention centers and nursing homes. Vita will continue working while commuting the 60 miles to classes Durango.

Vita sits on several State of Colorado decision-making committees related to eligibility programs and is drawn to policy work at the state level. "Social work is a way of life for me, not just a career," Vita says. "I love working with people, creating change to assist underprivileged populations. Being a social worker allows me to be passionate for advocacy and social justice by working on the front lines. I'm able to make a difference in people's lives and have the education to stand behind my position regarding equality." 

PhD Program
New student spotlight: Tyler Han

Tyler Han

Han is one of six new students joining the GSSW PhD student ranks. She has an MSW from California State University–Los Angeles with a concentration in forensic social work. She previously worked in community mental health, an experience that reinforced her interest macro-level social work. "I would see all these families facing issues that come from systemic issues, and it felt really frustrating," Han says. "We can help this family become relatively stable, but then another family will come along. My interest is in how to affect change at the larger level."

Han is particularly interested in how the development of empathy in childhood may relate to criminal behavior later in life, and she wants to influence systems change around issues of racial justice in the criminal justice system. "What social work stands for is in line with my own beliefs," says Han. "That's why the social justice piece [at GSSW] was so important to me, because that's what drew me to the field."

MSW Program–Denver
New Student Spotlight: Ellie Adelman

Ellie Adelman

For more than a decade, Adelman has worked in youth development, gender equality advocacy, and reproductive health education in the U.S. and around the world. This includes three and a half years as a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia, West Africa, where she did health education and girls' leadership work in a small village before moving to the capital to train incoming volunteers and work with an advocacy and health education organization for commercial sex workers.

She has a BA in conflict resolution from Salisbury University and an MA in international peace studies from the University of Notre Dame. She speaks Spanish, Gujarati (India) and Fula (West Africa). With such extensive experience, you might expect Adelman to concentrate in something like sustainable development and global practice. Instead, her MSW concentration will be mental health.

"When I was doing research in Northern Uganda as part of my MA, I was working with HIV counselors who were supporting clients who had survived a traumatic 25-year civil war. In most cases, they were the first (and often only) point of contact for mental health support that clients ever saw. And yet, these counselors had only received minimal training in trauma-informed care and vicarious trauma," Adelman explains. "It made me wonder what more could be done to develop programs that equip people like HIV counselors, teachers, and clergy with the skills and tools they need to provide holistic mental health support. This is what I hope to do eventually—design holistic, integrated programs for whole communities to respond to trauma."

As it welcomes a new class, GSSW also bids adieu to three PhD students who graduated in August. Read more about Erin Boyce, Hagit Brandes and Ann Obermann, watch a video about Obermann, and join us in celebrating these students' accomplishments.