Social Work

Exploring human rights issues through international social work internship

Jennifer LoPiccolo poses with a view of the Parthenon in the distanceDuring orientation for Syracuse University’s master of social work (MSW) program, Jennifer LoPiccolo G’18 recalls circling international social work on a survey asking about her primary career interests. “When I learned about the comparative social work program that Professor Nancy Mudrick leads in Strasbourg, she and I began to plan a really unique whole semester in Strasbourg,” recalls LoPiccolo.

Mudrick, who was LoPiccolo’s academic advisor, received a Fulbright/Alsace Regional Award in France where she spent the Spring 2016 semester teaching and doing research. The Fulbright Award resulted from relationships built during the eleven years that Mudrick has led MSW students to the RECOS seminar in Europe as part of the Topics in Advanced Social Work Practice and Policy course. In this twelve-day abroad experience, Mudrick immerses Syracuse University students in comparative social work services across France, Germany and Switzerland in conjunction with social work students from these countries through a seminar organized by the Confédération des Ecoles Supérieures en Travail Social de la Regio.

“Jennifer was a student who wanted to experience all she could while in her graduate program. She became exposed to refugee resettlement work through her foundation-level internship, which led to an interest in immersing herself in another culture,” says Tracy T. Walker, director of field instruction, School of Social Work. “Although the field education program does not regularly provide internships in other countries, we pride ourselves on developing unique and innovative opportunities for students. Jennifer’s motivation and focus were the main reasons why this endeavor was so successful.”

While LoPiccolo was counseling refugee youth in Syracuse through an internship placement at Catholic Charities, Northside CYO and Nottingham High School, she attended a campus event on migration and substance use in Europe. There she met Thomas Kattau and Elena Hedoux from the Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group, which is located in Strasbourg. In working closely with Professor Mudrick, who connected her with Dr. Raymond Bach, director of Syracuse University’s Strasbourg Center, as well as Walker, LoPiccolo applied for an internship with the Pompidou Group.

The Pompidou Group’s core mission is to contribute to developing multidisciplinary, innovative, effective and evidence-based drug policies in its Member States. Earlier this spring, a four-year collaborative partnership between the Falk College and the Pompidou Group was announced to support rigorous curricular development and training for drug policy administrators. This collaboration is an outgrowth of Falk College’s on-going partnerships with the Pompidou Group led by associate professor of public health Dessa Bergen-Cico.

For her MSW field placement during Spring 2018, LoPiccolo had the unique opportunity to work as a graduate trainee with the Council’s drug policy group, researching the relationship between refugees and drugs, effective treatment methods, transcultural challenges, and prevention. She lived in Strasbourg, France for the semester and took some political science course electives to complement her macro-focused concentration.

Says LoPiccolo, “one of the most attractive things was the chance to contribute to an international organization and bridge my practical work experience counseling refugee students with policy action research.”

“When you are immersed in another culture and country looking at their social systems, you see your home country-and the assumptions you’ve made about it-much differently,” notes Mudrick.

“Every day was a new opportunity to discuss human rights issues through various backgrounds,” says LoPiccolo. She immersed herself in research exploring the challenges Mediterranean countries faced with refugees, substance use, drug networks, and preventing coercion. She was invited to present her findings at the International Conference on Refugees and Drugs in Athens, Greece hosted by the Pompidou Group. With support from Falk College, she travelled to the conference, spoke about current research on this topic, and facilitated a workshop.

Says Kattau, “because of her practical experience on the topic, participants had the opportunity to have a deeper understanding of the situation in other European countries and the U.S.”

“I could not have had this academic and professional experience without the support of Falk Dean Diane Lyden Murphy, director of the School of Social Work, Professor Keith Alford, my advisor, Professor Nancy Mudrick, director of the Syracuse University Strasbourg Center, Dr. Raymond Bach, and director of field relations, Tracy Walker,” concludes LoPiccolo.

“We were thrilled to have Jennifer spend a semester with us in Strasbourg. Before her arrival, I worked closely with the School of Social Work to make sure that Jennifer would be able to take courses that would fulfil her graduate requirements, and also that she would have an internship in English that was closely linked to her interests,” says Bach. “At the end of the semester I could see that she had truly benefited from her opportunity to compare the European and American systems of social support, especially in the area of refugees and drug use. We now look forward to welcoming other graduate students in social work who would like to expand their horizons.”

While her internship was very research focused, she often drew on her practical experiences. “Research and direct service must inform one another, and their close relationship is essential to all types of social progression. The internship at the Council of Europe really helped me think about the marriage between macro and micro social work practice. This is crucial to the evaluation work I am now developing because we use a culturally responsive theoretical framework to position a community’s values and beliefs at the center of program evaluation,” adds LoPiccolo.

“Jennifer has impressed me as an innovator who takes advantage of opportunities that enhance her social work acumen. She is proactive in her thinking and her actions,” says Keith A. Alford, director and associate professor, School of Social Work, and interim chief diversity officer, Syracuse University.

In July LoPiccolo began a new role as an evaluation specialist with Become: Center for Community Engagement and Social Change in Chicago where she leads culturally responsive program evaluations, facilitates community trainings, and manages projects that help organizations bring community to the center of their work.

“My internship with the Pompidou Group ultimately left me feeling more committed to making a social impact in the country I call home,” concludes LoPiccolo.

Falk College expands graduate merit scholarships beginning Summer 2019

Falk College White and MacNaughton Hall Exterior

Graduate merit scholarships have been expanded for prospective students interested in matriculating into master’s degrees, either full- or part-time, offered in Falk College effective Summer 2019 (includes MAYmester Summer Session I, Summer Session II, Combined Summer Session). Incentives include no application fee, GRE waiver where applicable, and a 25 percent tuition discount incentive, which is applied after any other scholarships, scholarship credits, assistantships and remitted tuition credits are applied.

Eligible matriculated students include:

  • All Syracuse University alumni applying to master’s degree programs in Falk College (see list below), including members of the Class of 2019;
  • Children of current full-time Syracuse University employees (notarized supplemental forms required);
  • Any Advanced Standing MSW-enrolled student from any accredited BSW/BSSW program throughout the nation, and;
  • Current Falk master’s program students who are Syracuse University alumni; children of current full-time Syracuse University employees are also eligible.

Falk graduate programs include:

  • Food Studies, M.S.
  • Global Health, M.S.
  • Human Development & Family Science, M.A., M.S.
  • Marriage and Family Therapy, M.A.
  • Nutrition Science, M.A., M.S.
  • Public Health, M.S.
  • Social Work, Advanced Standing Program, M.S.W.
  • Social Work, M.S.W.
  • Social Work and Marriage and Family Therapy Dual Degree, M.A./M.S.W.
  • Sport Venue & Event Management, M.S.

Interested students should contact Falk Admissions, submit their application by February 15, and must formally matriculate. For more information, please contact the Falk College Office of Admissions at 315.443.5555 or email falk@syr.edu. Award is subject to change.

Contact Admissions

Brown leads collaboration benefitting older adults with cognitive decline

A recently launched pilot project to screen for cognitive decline as part of routine community health services currently offered to older adults is expected to demonstrate the benefits of early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias (AD/D). One major benefit is the potential of keeping Syracuse-area adults aged 65 and older healthy and safe in their homes for as long as possible.

A $51,110 grant was awarded by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York for the project, “Early Identification of Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults Living at Home.” The study focuses on adults aged 65+ who are served by select community programs in Syracuse neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty and high proportions of older adults. Led by Dr. Maria T. Brown, assistant research professor in Falk College’s School of Social Work and faculty associate in Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute (ASI), project partners include ASI, the Onondaga County Office for Aging, SUNY Upstate’s Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease, Syracuse Community Connections, and the Central New York Citizens Aging Research and Action Network (CNY-CAN).

“We are very excited about this project since it will give us the opportunity to identify those who may have an early dementia before they are in a crisis situation. We know that older African Americans often do not seek medical care until their health problems are more advanced, and at that point, they may be tougher to treat. Early identification of a serious memory problem will allow us to develop a care plan to help the older adult remain independent and enjoy a high quality of life for as long as possible,” says Dr. Sharon Brangman, Distinguished Service Professor, Inaugural Chair, Department of Geriatrics, Director, Nappi Longevity Institute, and Director, Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease, SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Early detection of AD/D often provides opportunities for earlier interventions and treatments, clinical trial participation, improved access to medical care and support services, opportunities for still-capable older adults experiencing cognitive decline to make financial, legal, and care plans consistent with their preferences, and potentially delayed need for nursing home placement.

Through a collaboration of service providers, the pilot will integrate the evidence-based and publicly available Mini-Cog™ screening tool, a simple, five-minute assessment validated to increase the detection of cognitive issues. This new project builds on Dr. Brown’s earlier work with the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York. The work included recommendations that policy makers and practitioners use the model to improve data collection about at-risk populations, as well as to guide development and measurement of strategies to address those risks and delay the onset of frailty.

The pilot will be evaluated to determine its effectiveness in increasing early detection and access for comprehensive cognitive evaluation while minimizing the burden to the service providers conducting in-home screenings. Results will determine the effectiveness of the program for a more geographically and demographically diverse population regionally and contribute to the evidence base about the effectiveness of home-based cognition screening.

“We are thrilled that the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York has chosen to fund this pilot project, which enables us to reach older adults who might not otherwise be diagnosed or receive needed supports,” says Dr. Brown. “We are fortunate to be partnering with agencies that are embedded in the local community and familiar with the issues faced by older African Americans in that community, and to have members of the community whose lives have been touched by dementia or dementia caregiving on our project team.”

The Health Foundation for Western and Central New York is an independent private foundation whose mission is to improve the health and health care of the people of western and central New York. It invests in, and partners with, organizations and communities to spark lasting positive change in health and health care for underserved populations, including older adults and children ages birth to five impacted by poverty. To learn more about the Health Foundation, its work, and the many other ways it is involved in the communities it serves, visit the Health Foundation’s website at www.hfwcny.org.

Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute is a collaborative initiative of the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs and the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. Its mission is to coordinate and promote aging-related research, training, and outreach at Syracuse University. To learn more about ASI, visit the Institute’s website.

Students, community leaders, policy makers discuss homelessness at Legislative Policy Forum

Audience at the 20th Legislative Policy Symposium
Legislative Chambers during the Legislative Policy Symposium on October 26.

Addressing homelessness, including the implications for public policy, was the focus of the 20th Annual James L. Stone Legislative Policy Symposium held Friday, October 26, 2018 at the Onondaga County Legislative Chambers. Syracuse University students in Falk College’s School of Social Work met with community leaders and activists, legislative representatives, and mental health experts, to discuss pressing issues involving the state of homelessness in Central New York and beyond, the health and well-being of people who are homeless, and the implications for public policy and social work practice interventions.

“The James L. Stone Legislative Policy Day is a dynamic learning experience for all,” says Keith Alford, director of the School of Social Work. “Students, faculty, government officials, local and national presenters, and concerned community members all come together to problem solve with a goal of proposing policy change through the lens of social and economic justice.”

A signature event in the School of Social Work, the annual symposium has focused on a wide range of topics, such as gun violence, the opioid epidemic, corrections and mental health systems, poverty, foster care, among others. The symposium is made possible by the generosity of the former Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health and former Chair of the Falk College Board of Visitors, alumnus James Stone, MSW ’64, who attended this year’s event.

Dr. Robert Okin, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, delivered the keynote address, “Tackling the Complex Problem of Homelessness,” which explored homelessness and what it reveals about social justice in the United States, among other topics. Dr. Okin previously served as the former Chief of Psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital and former Commissioner of Mental Health in Vermont and Massachusetts. He is the recipient of the American Psychiatric Association’s Human Rights Award and author of the book, Silent Voices: People with Mental Disorders on the Street.

Dr. Okin also joined the panel discussion, “The Lived Experience: Fears, Resilience, and Action,” with fellow panelists Mark Horvath, Founder of Invisible People and Invisible People.TV, Jawanza James Williams, Statewide Organizer for VOCAL-NY, and Al-Amin Muhammad, Founder of We Rise Above the Streets Recovery Outreach, Inc. and recipient of the School of Social Work’s 2018 Dan and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Award. The discussion was moderated by Falk College School of Social Work Assistant Professor Yvonne Smith.

During the day-long event, there were a series of three other panel discussions. Falk College School of Social Work Assistant Professor Ryan Heath moderated the panel, “State & County Legislatures: How they Work & How You Can Work with Legislators” with incoming Onondaga County Executive, Hon. Ryan McMahon II, Chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature, as well as Hon. Al Stirpe, Assembly Member of New York State Assembly District 127 and member of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

Hon. Andrew Hevesi, Assembly Member, District 28, New York State Assembly & Chair of Assembly Social Services Committee, Amanda Aykanian, Research and Project Lead, National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services, SUNY Albany School of Social Work, Jamie Powlovich, Executive Director of the New York State Coalition for Homeless Youth, and Shelly Nortz, the Coalition for the Homeless’ Deputy Executive Director for Policy, were panelists on “Homelessness in New York State: Dimensions, Legislative Interventions & Advocacy,” moderated by Keith Alford, Director and Associate Professor in the School of Social Work, Falk College.

The discussion “Ending Homelessness in Central New York: What’s Being Done and What More Needs to Be Done?” was moderated by Alejandro Garcia, Jocelyn Falk Endowed Professor of Social Work with panelists Dr. Sunny Aslam, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Andrew Lunetta, Executive Director of A Tiny Home for Good, Daniel J. Sieburg, Executive Director of the Rescue Mission, and Megan Stuart, Executive Director of the Housing and Homelessness Coalition of Central New York.

“It was an honor to be a part of the James L. Stone Legislative Policy Symposium, especially during this milestone event,” says Falk College Dean Diane Lyden Murphy, alumna of the School of Social Work. “This year’s symposium allowed social work students to gain a better understanding of the serious issue of homelessness and why knowledge social welfare policies is critical to their future practice. It also provided an opportunity for each of them to reaffirm their personal and professional commitments to social responsibility and social justice.”

The 20th Annual James L. Stone Legislative Policy Symposium was organized by Falk College School of Social Work Professor Eric Kingson, in collaboration with Alford and other social work faculty, and MSW graduate assistant and conference coordinator Alexandra Leigh Kerr. Falk College and the School of Social Work also acknowledge the Onondaga County Legislature for its hospitality in making the Legislative Chambers available for the symposium.

For additional information and to view videos of the event, read an article about the symposium from the The National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services.

Falk researchers measure effect of dog ownership, training on PTSD symptoms among veterans

Man with dog in an elementary school classroom
Photo courtesy of Clear Path for Veterans

Falk College faculty in public health and social work are researchers in a new integrative health study that measures the effects of owning and training a therapy dog on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans. Published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, “Dog Ownership and Training Reduces Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms and Increases Self-Compassion Among Veterans: Results of a Longitudinal Control Study” is coauthored by Dessa Bergen-Cico, PhD, Yvonne Smith, PhD, Collin Gooley, and Brooks Gump, PhD at Syracuse University; Karen Wolford, PhD at SUNY Oswego, and; Kathleen Hannon, Ryan Woodruff, and Melissa Spicer, Clear Path for Veterans.

Researchers reported significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, as well as reductions in perceived stress, isolation, and self-judgement, and significant increases in self-compassion when comparing the veterans that participated in the Dogs2Vets program over a 12-month period to veterans that were on the waiting list to receive a dog during that time period.

“The short story here is that dogs may be the best friend for a veteran with PTSD who engages in this training program,” says JACM Editor-in-Chief John Weeks. “It is remarkable when research suggests that the best medicine for such a gnawing condition may be as close at hand and simple as this.”

Social Work seniors collecting donations for Huntington Family Centers food pantry

Social Work students assemble donation boxes for the 2018 food drive.
Social Work students prepare donation boxes.

Seniors in the Falk College School of Social Work are hosting a food drive through Tuesday, November 13, 2018 to benefit Huntington Family Centers food pantry. Members of the University community are invited to contribute nonperishable food items and hygiene products. Donation boxes are available in each of the academic department suites located in the Falk Complex, as well as the student lounge located on the second floor across from the Falk Café on 2.

The following nonperishable food items are needed: canned fruit, vegetables, tuna, and chicken; soup; spaghetti sauce; 100% fruit juice; rice, pasta, macaroni and cheese; jelly; cereal.

The following hygiene products are needed: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products.

The food drive is organized in collaboration with Huntington Family Centers, Inc. For more information, contact the School of Social Work at ljmarra@syr.edu or call 315.443.5562.

College Of Law, Falk College provide legal support to local community

Students work with a client at a table
Genesis Health Project COL and FALK Elder Law Clinic At Living Water Church 2018
Earlier this year Mary Helen McNeal, Professor of Law and Director of the Elder and Health Law Clinic, and Falk public health professor, Luvenia Cowart, and Maria T. Brown, assistant research professor in Falk College’s School of Social Work and faculty affiliate at Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute, identified ways to connect experiential learning for law students with an unmet need in the community. Cowart is the co-founder of the Genesis Health Project that aims to reduce health disparities and promote healthy lifestyles among African Americans in Syracuse. The African American Dementia Caregiver Support Project’s 12-Week Healthy Living Program is a Genesis Project that promotes health and wellness, including education about dementia caregiving, nutrition and physical fitness. A two-part seminar series on advance directives was a natural fit for the Genesis Project.

“Advance planning for medical decisions and preferences is never an easy conversation to have with loved ones, but it is a necessary and responsible thing to do,” explains Cowart. “The students from the College of Law, under Professor McNeal’s leadership, filled a significant void within our community.”

Research estimates that only one in three Americans has an advance directive, a number that is substantially lower among communities of color, those of lower socio-economic status, and lower levels of education. This semester, College of Law students in McNeal’s Advance Directives in the Community course and Elder and Health Law Clinic (EHLC) gained hands-on experience educating local residents about the importance of planning for end-of-life care while helping them prepare advance directives in partnership with Falk College.

“Advance directives enable people to appoint a proxy to make decisions when they are no longer able to, and they lay out a person’s preferences for the care they want,” says McNeal. Providing general practice legal assistance for those aged 60 and over with low or moderate incomes, the EHLC offers students the opportunity to represent clients with faculty guidance and oversight.

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Falk announces Graduate Merit Scholarships for Syracuse University students

Syracuse University Students at CommencementFalk College is pleased to announce the Falk College Merit Award Scholarship for current Syracuse University students interested in applying for a Falk College master’s degree.

Incentives include no application fee, GRE waiver where applicable, and a 25% tuition discount incentive, which is applied after any other scholarships, scholarship credits, assistantships, and remitted tuition credits are applied.

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must be a current Syracuse University student in good standing with an overall GPA of 3.4 or higher applying for part-time or full-time study in one of the following degree programs:

Interested students must contact Falk Admissions and submit their application by February 15. Successful applicants will be officially admitted by the academic department and must formally matriculate for a 2019-2020 term.

“Falk College graduate degree programs allow undergraduates of all majors to tailor and enhance their career opportunities,” says Falk College director of admissions, Felicia Otero. “For example, bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology pair especially well with a master’s degree in social work (MSW), marriage and family therapy (MFT), or the SWK-MFT dual program, as well as human development and family science, public health, and global health.

“Undergraduates studying business, management, advertising, and public relations can apply their skills directly to our sport venue and event management master’s program. Students with skills in these disciplines might also apply to public health, global health, and food studies master’s programs, alongside students with bachelor’s degrees in communication & rhetorical studies, English, advertising, and education,” Otero continues. “Undergraduates in biology and chemistry programs often pursue graduate study in nutrition science, as well as public health and global health programs at Falk.”

“Falk graduate degrees lead to a variety of careers and end-credentials,” says Deborah Golia, assistant director of admissions at Falk College. “You’ll find Falk alumni working as counselors, therapists, social workers, community advocates, community educators, public health specialists, nonprofit program directors, managers, nutritionists, dietitians, sustainability program educators, and in limitless other roles.”

“Falk College graduate degrees also lead to research professions and continued study in doctoral programs,” she adds.

Falk Admissions will host a Graduate Information Session on Friday, November 2 in Falk Complex, White Hall, Room 335 at 4:00 p.m. In addition to review of Falk graduate programs, interested students can learn more about Falk Graduate Scholarships. For more information, please contact the Falk College Office of Admissions at 315.443.5555 or email falk@syr.edu.

Social work professor receives Robert Wood Johnson Foundation leadership grant

Matthew Spitzmueller portraitMatthew Spitzmueller, assistant professor in the School of Social Work in Falk College, has been selected to participate in one of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) leadership development programs designed to equip leaders across the country—in every sector and field—to collaborate, break down silos, and use their influence to make communities healthier and more equitable.

Spitzmueller’s study is titled, “Upstate New York – Unfamiliar Territory: Evaluating the Impact of Health Care Reforms on Behavioral Health Care Providers in Rural Upstate New York.” This project will explore the opportunities and barriers rural behavioral health organizations experience as they implement health care payment and delivery reform.

According to Spitzmueller, “rural behavioral health services target a population that is uniquely vulnerable, costly to serve, and difficult to reach. When behavioral health systems do not effectively engage this population, health disparities worsen and untreated illnesses put added pressure on high-cost systems, such as hospitals.” This study will focus on ensuring that rural behavioral health providers can survive and flourish in a changing health care system, which is critical to building equitable and sustainable systems of care. “The findings from this project will be used by behavioral health and social service organization leaders in rural areas of New York as well as county and state government officials to continuously improve the behavioral health service system,” says Spitzmueller.

Specifically, Spitzmueller was selected for the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program. Designed for teams of two researchers and one community leader, Interdisciplinary Research Leaders supports engaged research, crafted and conducted by innovative teams to explore a problem and apply a solution in real time, making an immediate positive impact in their home communities. The three-year program provides participants with annual support of up to $25,000 and a one-time research grant of up to $125,000 per team.

This study fits Spitzmueller’s background and trajectory as an ethnographic researcher of mental health policy and organizational practice. Spitzmueller earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. His research examines direct service provision to adults with severe and persistent mental illness, the strategies behavioral health workers adopt as they negotiate changing work conditions under Medicaid reform, and the impact of policy reform on socially and economically vulnerable people.

As a participant in the RWJF leadership program, Spitzmueller will benefit from high-caliber curricula and coaching from national leaders, collaborate with other cutting-edge thinkers to create greater impact, and accelerate his ability to build healthy communities, inform public opinion and policy, and contribute significantly to building a Culture of Health.

To learn more about Interdisciplinary Research Leaders and RWJF’s other leadership development programs, visit the IRL website.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health. Since 1972, it has supported research and programs targeting some of the nation’s most pressing health issues, from substance abuse to improving access to quality care.

Alford Appointed Syracuse University Interim Chief Diversity Officer

Keith Alford PortraitChancellor Kent Syverud has appointed Professor Keith A. Alford to the newly created post of interim chief diversity officer (CDO), effective July 1. Alford is an associate professor, chair of the Falk College’s School of Social Work and graduate program director. The Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion recommended that a CDO position be created to strengthen the University’s diversity initiatives.

Read the full story at SU News