Social Work News
Together, they have created a new and innovative partnership starting this spring that will greatly benefit veterans as well as students from the School of Social Work at Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.
Marfilius, a U.S. Air Force veteran and assistant dean of online education and associate teaching professor in the School of Social Work, and Amstrong, a U.S. Army veteran and head of public sector at Cabana, teamed with Cabana Co-Founder and CEO David Black to form a partnership that will integrate their immersive group support technology into the School of Social Work’s curriculum and tap into the combined strengths and capabilities of both organizations.
“Our collaboration with Ken and Falk leverages our immersive support technology platform, Cabana, and combines it with Syracuse University’s academic excellence and its nationally recognized commitment to veterans,” Armstrong says. “Our plan includes hands-on initiatives such as internships, collaborative education, and joint research. These efforts will bring our partnership to fruition and strengthen our shared commitment to serving military communities.”
As Syracuse University’s first Post 9/11 GI Bill recipient, Armstrong earned his M.P.A. and Ph.D. from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He spent nine years at Syracuse’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Affairs before joining Cabana, which builds innovative technology solutions that provide guided mental health support for employers, healthcare workers, and military professionals.
Marfilius, who received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Syracuse and his M.S.W. and D.S.W. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, developed the first military mental health course at Falk College, serves as Falk’s student veteran liaison, and led the creation of the partnership between Falk and Syracuse University’s College of Law that helps help veterans access the legal services they need.
So, when Armstrong reached out to Marfilius to discuss ways in which they could partner around the services Cabana provides to military populations, Marfilius jumped right in and started working with Armstrong and Black on the framework for their collaboration.
“I believe the partnership between Cabana and Falk College is innovative in social work education and mental wellness,” Marfilius says. “It offers the ability to integrate real-world internships and cutting-edge tele-mental health training into our curriculum. We can prepare our graduate students for the future of social work, ensuring they are not only skilled but also technologically adept.”
Here are the highlights of this unique partnership:
Cabana will host one graduate student intern from the School of Social Work to support ongoing peer group support operations and psychoeducational content development. The intern will work under the supervision of Cabana’s head of mental wellness for a minimum of 500 hours.
Tele-Mental Health Training and Education Support.
Cabana will collaborate with Falk College faculty to embed its immersive group support technology into ongoing coursework and curricula to foster training and preparation of future social work professionals.
“The tele-behavioral health landscape is evolving rapidly, demanding practitioner and client adaptability to virtual environments,” Armstrong says. “Our partnership infuses Falk’s curriculum with leading-edge tools via Cabana’s underlying technology platform, better preparing students for client engagements through digital platforms.
“Moreover, Falk students, equipped with an advanced tier of military cultural competence, will enhance our clients’ experiences–and their future clients–with more relatable, informed support that builds trust and overcomes stigma,” Armstrong adds.
Military and Veteran Virtual Peer Groups.
Cabana will work with Falk faculty and its alumni network to assist ongoing virtual peer support groups for military and veterans starting this spring.
“This collaboration aligns with the Syracuse University mission to be the best place for vets, and it uniquely positions us to offer specialized support to our military and veteran communities,” Marfilius says. “Through virtual peer support groups and the development of tailored psychoeducational content, we are providing them with the essential mental health support they deserve.”
Military and Veteran Psychoeducational Content Development.
Cabana will work with Falk College faculty to review and evaluate Cabana content as a third-party reviewer.
“Engaging with industry partners allows us to bring practical, real-world experiences into our academic environment,” Marfilius says. “This partnership brings vast possibilities for research collaborations and advancement in peer interventions and group psychoeducation.”
Falk College faculty will provide feedback, evaluate, and where appropriate, certify Cabana groups and content to satisfy New York State CEU (continuing education unit) requirements for wellbeing hours.
As opportunities arise for Cabana and Falk College, the two entities agree to evaluate research collaborations and grant opportunities surrounding peer interventions, group psychoeducation, and other forms of mental health support.
“This collaboration aims to address the critical national shortage of mental health professionals, leveraging technology to extend reach and overcome barriers to access, especially for underserved populations,” Armstrong says. “It’s not just about serving more; it’s about serving smarter and cultivating a workforce ready for the challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s mental health landscape.”
Social Work students interested in getting involved in this partnership should email Marfilius at firstname.lastname@example.org, or School of Social Work Director of Field Education Tracy Walker at email@example.com. Graduate students interested in the internship will go through an interview process with the School of Social Work and Cabana, and the intern will receive a modest stipend.
Advocating for Others
In commemoration of National Social Work Month in March, the School of Social Work in Falk College will present its annual Dan and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Awards program from 6:30 to 8 p.m. March 19 in 200 White Hall.
This year’s program, called “Sankofa: Honoring the Past and Embracing the Future,” honors José Miguel Hernández Hurtado, founder and artistic director of La Joven Guardia del Teatro Latino, and Eric Kingson, professor of social work at Syracuse University. This year’s event will also pay tribute to Dr. Alejandro Garcia, a founding faculty member of the Social Justice Awards who passed away in December 2023. The program features keynote speaker Dan Sieburg, Chief Executive Officer of the Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse, followed by a reception in Wildhack Lounge.
The Social Justice Awards are free and open to the public. To attend, please register online by Monday, March 4. For accommodations, please contact Karen Goebel at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (315) 443-5557.
Presented for more than 30 years, the Rubenstein Social Justice Award is given in honor of the late professor Dan Rubenstein, a former faculty member in the School of Social Work, and his late wife, Mary Lou, a former school social worker. Recipients of this award are role models whose courage and strength inspire others to stand up—and step up—to advocate and be a voice in the Syracuse community. The values of social justice are integral to their daily lives. The work of honorees each year, by their individual and collective examples, represent the true spirit of the Rubenstein Social Justice Award. Here’s a look at this year’s awardees:
Kingson’s 55-year career traces back to his involvement in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. His work is grounded in ethical principles and values that promote human dignity, democracy, racial justice, service to others, self-determination, adequate wages and incomes, access to health care, affordable housing, and meaningful employment. In addition to holding faculty positions in social policy at three universities, Kingson is recognized nationally for his expertise in, and advocacy of, Social Security as an institution that advances economic security across generations. He served as advisor for two presidential commissions and the Social Security Administration’s 2008-2009 transition team.
In 2009, Kingson co-founded Social Security Works, a national organization with a mission to preserve and expand the Social Security system. His belief that politics can be an instrument of social justice led him to run as a congressional candidate in 2016 and serve as a New York State member of the 2016 Democratic National Convention Platform Committee. Professor Kingson has authored numerous articles, books, and commentaries with his research and writing focused on the politics and economics of aging, Social Security, cross-generational responsibilities, retirement, and caregiving across generations. His most recent book is Social Security Works for Everyone! (2021), co-authored with Nancy J. Altman.
José Miguel Hernández Hurtado
Hurtado is originally from Cuba and has lived in Syracuse since November 1997. In Cuba, Hurtado was selected as Best Male Actor in a national student competition. His first 17 years in Syracuse were spent as a physical therapy aide at Rosewood Heights Health. Simultaneously, Hurtado organized and directed a theater company that he founded in 1999 under the Spanish Action League, serving as artistic director and dance instructor. Currently he works at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in the Pediatric Emergency Department.
Hurtado has directed over 21 contemporary and classical Spanish children’s plays. He received the Excellence in Outstanding Achievement for Direction Award for directing several plays: Gabriel García Márquez’ “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” in 2008; Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s “Adventures of Don Quixote” in 2011; and in 2012 “The Enchanted Shrimp,” a version of the French Laboulaye written by José Martí. He adapted “The Enchanted Shrimp,” among others, for the stage. Hurtado’s work on the radio and in theater in Cuba carried over to his life in Syracuse. He has maintained his firm belief that every child needs and deserves an opportunity to reach for a better place in which to live, and to realize their dreams for a better future.
Dan Sieburg, Keynote Speaker
Keynote speaker Dan Sieburg is Chief Executive Officer of the Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse. For 25 years he has worked in the non-profit human services sector, and the last 16 have been dedicated to providing housing, shelter, food, and clothing for the hungry, homeless, and housing vulnerable in Central New York. Sieburg is a New York State Licensed Social Worker, a former adjunct professor in the School of Social Work, and an alumnus of Syracuse University’s Master of Social Work program. The Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse was the recipient of the 2018 Dan and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Award.
This was going to be a story about the Social Workers United student group from Falk College and how it once again organized an event to benefit the Syracuse community.
And it still is.
But if you dig a little deeper, this story is much more than that.
It’s about how these students “continue to exemplify the values of social work: service, commitment to clients, and social justice,” says Jennifer Genovese, School of Social Work assistant teaching professor and Master of Social Work Program director who oversees Social Workers United (SWU).
It’s about a woman named Dolly, a resident of Brookdale Summerfield Senior Living in Syracuse who, before SWU students came to visit Feb. 13, hadn’t celebrated Valentine’s Day since her husband died.
And it’s about the kindness that Dolly showed her students as a teacher years ago, the kindness that SWU students showed Dolly and her friends Feb. 13, and the hope that even with the politics, wars, and mass shootings that dominate our headlines today, kindness is still all around us.
“We are so proud of our future social workers,” Genovese says. “They are shining a light toward a brighter future.”
‘An Amazing Group’
Social Workers United is the student group of the School of Social Work at the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. Each semester, the students organize a food or clothing drive, and this past fall they collected food for the Hendricks Chapel Food Pantry that helps students experiencing food insecurity.
Faculty advisors Nadaya Brantley, Kristen Esposito, and Genovese advise and support the SWU students as they develop service projects, but the students lead the projects. For their first project of the spring semester, the students arranged a Valentine’s Day event for the residents of Brookdale Summerfield, an adult home and adult home memory care community for seniors.
On Feb. 13, the SWU students delivered handmade Valentine’s Day cards with personal messages, heart-shaped donuts, and balloons to the Brookdale residents, who were already celebrating Mardi Gras. SWU’s arrival added a boost to the celebration.
“The Valentine’s were collected in the Social Work office, and I really thought one student, (SWU president) Mary Claytor, was just going to drop them off at Brookdale,” Genovese says. “I had no idea the entire group of students was going and bringing balloons and donuts. The students organized all of this and paid for it themselves as SWU does not receive funding. They are an amazing group!”
Claytor, a first-year graduate student and graduate assistant who’s on track to obtain a master’s degree in social work, says when the students arrived, each one went to a different table to deliver their cards and engage in conversations. It didn’t take long before one of the residents shared a story about receiving two purple hearts from his service in World War II.
“There were so many incredible stories and lots of laughter,” says Claytor, who’s from Denver, Colorado. “Some folks were so surprised that we would dedicate time to them and asked for us to come back soon! It was a great experience, and we were happy to do something special for a group of people who did not expect to be celebrated.”
‘A Calling to Help’
Keianah Greene, a graduate student in the Masters of Clinical Social Work Program, entered the room with the other SWU students and went to a table where she met Dolly and her friends. Dolly said she hadn’t celebrated Valentine’s Day since her husband passed, but when she learned the students were coming, she wanted to attend and learn more about them.
Greene, who’s from the Bronx, New York, and now lives in Syracuse, explained why she wants to be a social worker and they talked about family and how important it is to be loving, kind, and optimistic despite our daily struggles.
“Dolly mentioned that she was a middle school teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, and that her mother had told her at an early age that she had a calling to help people,” Greene says. “She also mentioned the number of children she worked with and how they used school as an escape from problems they were having at home. So she always made sure to bring extra supplies for her classroom such as clothing, snacks, and other necessities.”
Dolly told Greene that caring for others is fulfilling, but making sure that all the children in her classroom were included was challenging. Dolly emphasized the value of support systems and self-care for social workers and other caregivers.
“You can’t care for anyone if you don’t take care of yourself first,” Dolly told Greene.
As Greene was saying goodbye, Dolly told her that on this Valentine’s Day, she felt like she was reunited with her husband.
“She was happy to say that she knew this was her husband’s sign to come meet us (the students), and that our heart-to-heart conversation meant a lot,” Greene says. “I’m glad that I was able to learn from her and also spread the love.”
‘Brightens Their Day’
During their visit, Claytor spoke with Brookdale’s activities director about other ways the students might be able to get involved with the residents.
They discussed Brookdale’s game-and-movie nights, which would be an opportunity for students to engage with residents in a fun way. They talked about students helping the residents start a new garden with flowers, fruits, and vegetables when the weather gets warmer.
Claytor assured the director that the students would be happy to help in any way possible.
“During our conversation, she mentioned that the residents often feel forgotten,” Claytor says. “They miss socializing with new people and having stimulating conversations about the future. She explained that it really brightens their day when visitors come to see them, especially students.”
Kindness, it seems, is not a relic of the past that’s being thrown out with landline telephones, DVDs, and alarm clocks. It’s all around us; we just have to know where to look.
New Dean for Research
Katherine (Katie) McDonald, Ph.D., has been appointed Senior Associate Dean for Research and Administration in Falk College. As Senior Associate Dean, McDonald is responsible for the oversight of research, administration, and support for faculty; the supervision of the Falk College Office of Research Development; the development and implementation of Falk strategic initiatives; and representing Falk College on University-level committees as appropriate. The office reports directly to Falk College Dean Jeremy Jordan.
“Falk College research spans a wide range of disciplines with impactful, practical applications in individual health and community wellbeing,” Jordan says. “Thanks to Dr. McDonald’s leadership and her team in the Falk College Office of Research Development, the College has experienced steady growth in research activity by every measure, including grant funding, publishing, interdisciplinary collaborations, and student engagement. I am eager to see her influence expand as Senior Associate Dean for Research and Administration.”
McDonald’s new appointment follows a three-year appointment as Associate Dean of Research. During her tenure, McDonald worked collaboratively to establish programming to nurture faculty research, enhance connections on campus to fuel interdisciplinary research, and develop policy to foster research success.
“I am delighted to continue to serve Falk College in this new role,” says McDonald. “Falk College is home to students, staff, and faculty committed to creating and leveraging scientific discoveries to enhance human thriving. It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with so many talented people to co-chart our future.”
McDonald is a professor in the Falk College Department of Public Health, where she also served as chair from 2018 to 2020. She is a fellow of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, chair of Syracuse University’s Institutional Review Board, and a member of the Editorial Board for Autism in Adulthood. At Syracuse University, she holds faculty affiliations in the Aging Studies Institute, the Burton Blatt Institute, the Consortium for Culture and Medicine, and the Disability Studies program.
As a scholar, McDonald uses socioecological theory and community-engaged research to understand and promote the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. She has made significant contributions to research in disability, health disparities, community-engaged research, and ethical, legal, and social issues in research. Her research has been supported by grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Education, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, Rehabilitation Research, and the Patient Centered Outcomes Institute, among others. She is published in leading journals such as the Disability and Health Journal, American Journal of Bioethics, and the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
She received a B.S. with distinction in human development and family studies with a minor in French from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in community and prevention research psychology with a minor in statistics, methods, and measurements from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
‘Same Playing Field’
After David Sobczak ’23 enrolled at Syracuse University, he gravitated toward social work and helping others because of the time he had spent in hospitals as a child with cerebral palsy.
“He was in and out of the hospital for extended periods of time, and what he saw were a lot of kids who were in the hospital and literally no one ever came to see them,” says Dee Anna Sobczak, David’s mother. “With his family and friends, David was never alone, and we would embrace kids that were there and bring them into our circle. He realized then and there that he’s very lucky to have a support group and not everybody has that.”
Sobczak wanted to be a football coach, and he earned his undergraduate degree from the School of Social Work in the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics because a football team, like society, is made up of people from all walks of life. He wanted to learn how to best communicate with the players, show empathy for their individual situations, and build trust–the building blocks of social work.
Sobczak spent four seasons as offensive student assistant coach for the Syracuse football team, and he recently completed his first season as an offensive assistant coach for the University of Akron. Meanwhile, Sobczak’s younger brother, Danny, played football in high school and he and David told their mother that in both high school and college, many of the student-athletes struggled to pay for day-to-day items.
“What we found is that a lot of the students who were part of the team were on scholarship, but they weren’t funded for school supplies, their computer–all the things that would have set them up to be just as successful as their peers,’’ Dee Anna Sobczak says. “Many of the kids didn’t even have the money to buy lunch.”
As a result of those conversations, Dee Anna, David, and Danny, who graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder last spring, decided to create a fund to help Falk College students who are experiencing financial hardship. Working with Director of Development Megan Myers, who will become Falk’s assistant dean of advancement March 1, they created the Sobczak Family Student Support Endowed Fund that provides mini grants for an academic year.
“A lot of times, these students are trying to fight their way out of whatever situation they came from and start a new life for themselves,” Dee Anna Sobczak says. “This (fund) is to help set them up to be as successful as their peers, and that way everybody is on the same playing field as much as they can be.”
The mini grants are available to meet a wide range of needs and provide access to opportunities. Categories of support include emergency basic needs, fees, and supplies associated with the student’s educational program, and other critical student and human needs. Mini grants range from $100 to $300.
The Sobczak Family Fund is open to graduate and undergraduate students from the following Falk College programs: Exercise Science, Human Development and Family Science, Marriage and Family Therapy, Nutrition and Food Studies, Public Health, and Social Work. In the types of needs it addresses, the fund mirrors the Brandon S. Steiner Sport Management Student Support Fund for students enrolled in Falk’s Department of Sport Management.
Students may apply for assistance from the Sobczak Family Student Support Fund by filling out this application form and including documentation/information about circumstance. A student can’t be awarded funding more than twice.
David Sobczak’s disability is physical, and his challenges are there for all to see. But what his Social Work education taught him and his family is that we don’t know everything that might be going on in a person’s life, and the family fund is for students whose challenges may not be so obvious.
“There are really special people in Social Work,” David Sobczak said in a fall 2022 interview. “When it comes to my career and where it helps me, I’m going to encounter–and I’ve already encountered–people with tough situations in their family lives and you’ve got to be there for them.
“So, you learn about empathy, how to deal with people, and how to communicate, and you also learn that we’re all people,” he added. “You treat people as people and that’s a life skill that will take you further than any education can ever take you.”
In that interview for a feature story that appeared before Syracuse’s bowl game in 2022, David talked about wanting to give back and serve as a role model for those with disabilities who have dreams of their own. The family fund for Falk Students, Dee Anna Sobczak says, is to help students overcome outside challenges to complete their education and realize their dreams.
“We want them to be the best version of themselves they can be, figure out who they want to be and what they want to do, and put a path together to get there,” Dee Anna says. “And also, to realize that nothing is impossible; if you can dream it, you can do it.”
In addition to the Sobczak Family Student Support Endowed Fund, there are other opportunities and awards available to students in Falk College. Please visit the Awards and Scholarships page on the Falk website for more information on how to apply.
About Forever Orange: The Campaign for Syracuse University
Orange isn’t just our color. It’s our promise to leave the world better than we found it. Forever Orange: The Campaign for Syracuse University is poised to do just that. Fueled by more than 150 years of fearless firsts, together we can enhance academic excellence, transform the student experience, and expand unique opportunities for learning and growth. Forever Orange endeavors to raise $1.5 billion in philanthropic support, inspire 125,000 individual donors to participate in the campaign, and actively engage one in five alumni in the life of the University. Now is the time to show the world what Orange can do. Visit foreverorange.syr.edu to learn more.
Supporting Student Experience
Megan Myers has been named Falk College Assistant Dean of Advancement effective March 1, 2024. Myers will report to Dean Jeremy Jordan and lead all Falk College advancement efforts working closely with the Syracuse University Office of Advancement and External Affairs (AEA).
Myers joined Falk College’s advancement team as assistant director of development in December 2018 and was promoted to director of development in December 2021. In these roles, Myers successfully managed an assigned donor portfolio, established and managed relationships with Falk College alumni and donors, and collaborated with Syracuse University’s regional fundraising program.
“Megan has an exceptional history of success in creating new strategic partnerships and developing alumni engagement with Falk College,” says Falk College Dean Jeremy Jordan. “From new signature programs to targeted student support funds, Megan’s contributions have meaningfully advanced this College. I am confident that under her leadership we will continue to enrich the student experience.”
Prior to joining Falk, Myers was a development associate in AEA and highly successful as part of the inaugural Development Associate Team established as part of the planning for prospective donor development in the Forever Orange Campaign.
“I am thrilled to have the privilege to support Dean Jordan and advance his vision for the future for Falk College,” says Myers. “I look forward to continuing to build upon the excellent work my predecessor Dave Salanger has already initiated for the College by further developing relationships with alumni, parents, and friends of Syracuse University that create new opportunities for students and faculty.”
Myers previously worked as a development specialist with the Alzheimer’s Association, Nebraska Chapter, where she managed community-based, volunteer-driven events. In her professional career, she held positions with KLKN-TV in Lincoln, Nebraska, serving as a promotions manager and earning recognition as an Emmy-nominated reporter/anchor. She also contributed as an anchor for the weekend news at KEVN-TV in Rapid City, South Dakota, where she played a key role in achieving notable viewer market ratings.
She recently earned a master of public health from Syracuse University and holds a bachelor of arts in broadcast journalism and sociology from The Pennsylvania State University, where she was an Academic All-American and team co-captain for the women’s swimming and diving team.
Myers succeeds David Salanger, who will retire in March 2024. Salanger served 20 years at Syracuse, 18 of those with Falk College. During that time, he made a transformative impact on Falk College through alumni engagement, strategic partnerships, and critical financial gifts.
Among his contributions, Salanger was instrumental in guiding the generous gift from David B. Falk ’72 and Rhonda S. Falk ’74 that named the College in 2011. In addition, he secured the financial support for the renovation of Falk College Complex, previously the College of Law, in 2015. In the course of his service, Salanger raised over $40 million for the University and Falk College.
Serving Country and Campus
Veterans Day is a time for the Syracuse University community to come together and honor our veterans and active-duty military members for their service to their country.
Leading up to Veterans Day, three current student veterans who are active leaders on campus—Jack Pullano ’24, Benetta Dousuah G’25 and Raphael Grollmus ’24—reflect on their military careers, discuss the valuable lessons they learned through enlisting and share how the University is helping them achieve their academic goals and providing a blueprint for giving back to their communities.
Jack Pullano ’24
After earning his high school degree from Parishville-Hopkinton High School in Parishville, New York, Pullano couldn’t wait to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. He was so eager to serve his country that he took the first assignment he could: as a refueling journeyman for planes and helicopters.
“My dad told me I should wait it out and not do this contract because he didn’t think I would like the work, but I was a young, stubborn 18-year-old who didn’t want to listen to him,” says Pullano, a health and exercise science major in the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics who is involved in the Syracuse University Student Veteran Organization. “Things played out in my favor. I didn’t enjoy refueling, but I was lucky to be on an Air Force Special Operations Command Base where there was a special fuel duty called the Special Operations Forward Area Refueling Point Team [FARP] that supports special operations command in combat locations. The tryout I had to go through for FARP was intense, and that experience started me down the path that led to Syracuse University,”
Branch of the military: U.S. Air Force, serving on the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, helping fuel different kinds of aircraft. In his third year, Pullano was deployed to Afghanistan as part of a three-man FARP team. He served four years in the Air Force.
Why serve? “Because of my parents, Jim and Kelly. My dad joined the Air Force when he was young like me, doing one enlistment and then pursuing his education. My parents were always involved in my community growing up, especially with the sports I played. Seeing that community involvement probably instilled in me the service aspect that drives me today.”
Why Syracuse? “It was my personal interest in the human body from the intense physical tryout to get on the FARP team. I became interested not only in working out, but in what was causing changes to my body. I was learning about the human body by watching YouTube videos on how different muscles work. When I was looking at colleges, I wanted to pursue something I was interested in, and exercise science stood out to me. Syracuse has a strong program.”
How do you want to make a difference when you graduate? “Part of why I joined the military was the service aspect. Service was a goal of mine since I was young. When I got out of the Air Force, I wanted to continue to serve in ways that could be impactful to the community. Physical therapy drew my attention because of my past experiences and my drive to work one-on-one with patients trying to overcome an obstacle in their life. I’m currently interning at the VA [Veterans Affairs] Medical Center and that really opened my mind that I could not only continue with service that impacts people, but I could do it in the VA system, helping veterans with physical therapy.”
Benetta Dousuah G’25
When Dousuah was in the U.S. Army, she says soldiers dealing with mental health issues didn’t discuss their struggles openly, instead choosing to bottle up their emotions and their issues. Seeing the stigmas associated with mental health inspired Dousuah to pursue a master of social work degree from the Falk College.
“I want to be that person who lets you know that it’s okay to seek help if you’re struggling. I want to be that voice that says there shouldn’t be a stigma among military members who want to seek behavioral health and mental health help,” Dousuah says. “While I was in the service, a lot of people told me they were scared to seek help because they wouldn’t be promoted or they would be judged. I started going to behavioral health to let the soldiers know that it’s okay to admit you need help while bringing awareness to mental health,”
Branch of the military: Served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Stationed at both Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos in Texas) and Fort Drum (Watertown, New York), Dousuah was involved in supply logistics, ensuring her company had everything they needed, from arranging broken equipment repairs to ordering supplies.
Why serve? “When I was younger, my mother used to remind me that I wanted to be a police officer. I don’t know why; all I know is from an early age I wanted to serve. The military allows you to go to college for free after your service is over, and that really appealed to me. I’ve always known I wanted to earn a college degree and be part of something bigger than myself.”
Why Syracuse? “I wanted to be somewhere where I could not only feel at home, but still feel like I’m connected to the military family. I chose Syracuse because of its reputation as a military-friendly school, but also because of the pride people take in going to Syracuse. It’s like being in the Army. When you meet someone who was in the Army, we’re proud of our service and will usually say, ‘Go Army.’ The same is true for someone who attended Syracuse. They always say, ‘Go Orange,’ and I’m blessed to be part of that community. I’ve been introduced to so many resources available to veterans.”
How do you want to make a difference when you graduate? “Right now, I’m the first Wendy Goidel Scholar, and through my work at the Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Law Clinic, I connect our veterans to the available resources within the community. I have a passion for working with veterans, and this scholarship has been a great fit. When I graduate, I want to work at the VA Medical Center here in Syracuse, but I also want to work with at-risk African American youths. I feel like my story could be every young Black girl’s dream—coming from nothing, serving my country in the military and then earning a master’s degree. I could be an inspiration to others who want to follow my path.”
Raphael Grollmus ’24
Grollmus didn’t need to look far in his family tree to understand why military service was important. Grollmus became the sixth member of his family to enroll when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2012. While he enjoyed his time, Grollmus always knew he wanted to utilize the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to earn a college degree. Today, Grollmus is working toward a bachelor’s degree with a double major in forensic science and psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“The time I served better prepared me for not only going to Syracuse, but life in general. I learned to think critically and to assess a situation before reacting,” Grollmus says. “For the student veterans at Syracuse, there are so many tools and resources available to us. Many veterans I talk with didn’t know all of the resources they had when they went back to school, but that’s where Syracuse has excelled. They take care of their veterans.”
Branch of the military: Served in the U.S. Marine Corps for nine years as a military policeman at the Marine Corps Air Station at Iwakuni, Japan, and at Camp Pendleton (Oceanside, California). Later, Grollmus assisted in combat operations as a forensic analyst stationed in the Middle East in Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain and Iraq. After reenlisting, Grollmus finished his Marine security guard training and was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali, and the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Why serve? “My mother, brother and sister were all in the Army. My grandfather on my mom’s side, Hank, fought in World War II, while my grandfather on my dad’s side, Paul, fought in the Korean War, so I grew up knowing the importance of service. After I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the Marines’ delayed entry program and ended up serving nine years. It goes back to my time as a military policeman. I want to protect people from the bad things that could happen to them. I also want to give back to people who have been wronged or been taken advantage of. I can’t go back in time and right the wrongs, but moving forward I can help give back to them.”
Why Syracuse? “When we were in the Middle East, we did forensics work and I was lucky enough to go to a monthlong forensic bootcamp. When transitioning out of the Marines, I wanted to study something I actually enjoyed. What we did in the Middle East was probably the most influential work from my military career and I was proud of what I was able to contribute. I wanted to keep doing forensic science and Syracuse has a great forensic science program. All the classes I’ve taken have been fantastic.”
How do you want to make a difference when you graduate? “My dream job would be working for one of those three-letter agencies [i.e., the Federal Bureau of Investigation]. That’s shooting for the stars, but I’d love to enter government service. But right now I’m taking a forensic pathology course that is fascinating and I genuinely love it. Crime scene investigation is a really interesting career path to consider.”
An SU story by John Boccacino previously published on November 9, 2023.
Video: Providing A Safe Space
As an intern at East Hill Medical Center in Auburn, New York, last spring, School of Social Work graduate student Tasha Washington ran several support groups, conducted assessments and diagnoses, and developed treatment plans for clients. “I’ve always wanted to provide people with a space where they can feel safe enough to feel heard in a non-judgmental way and get their needs met,” Washington says.
Washington earned her master of social work (M.S.W.) degree in May and is now a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) employed as an alternative school site manager in the homebound program of the Syracuse City School District. “Once I started (at East Hill Medical Center) I knew then that this was something that I was able to do. I am a minister as well and I really hope to use that to connect (clients) to the resources that they may need in the community.”
Handling the Holidays
From sentimental Amazon ads on TV to your neighbor’s perfect holiday landscape to an endless stream of social media posts depicting a Hallmark-esque experience, we are often bombarded with messages depicting the “ideal” holiday season that don’t always match up with our actual lives. And that’s OK.
In service of those perhaps feeling a little more “Grinch” and a little less “Buddy the Elf” this holiday season, Syracuse University News interviewed Tracey Musarra Marchese, professor of practice in the Falk College’s School of Social Work, to solicit practical advice to make the holidays feel a little more joyful, a little more peaceful and a lot more authentic to your own experience.
Members of the media looking to schedule an interview with Professor Marchese on this topic may contact Daryl Lovell, associate director of media relations, at 315.380.0206 or email@example.com.
If you’re feeling burnt out and overwhelmed…
Start by keeping your expectations for the season—and what you can realistically accomplish and give of yourself—in check, Marchese says. “If you’re overdoing it with trying to create the ‘perfect’ holiday, you’re going to be exhausted—and where’s the enjoyment in that?”
It’s tempting to use the season as an excuse to overindulge in food and alcohol. While Marchese is not trained as a nutritionist, she says using either alcohol (which is a depressant) or sweets/sugar to cope don’t make us feel our best emotionally or physically. “While these might seem helpful in the short-term, overindulging at the holidays can actually compound or further contribute to feelings of burnout and overwhelm for us,” Marchese says.
If you’re suffering from “comparison fatigue”…
Sometimes it feels like social media is designed to make us feel poorly about ourselves, or like we aren’t living up to the standards everyone else is showing on their feeds. Marchese says it’s important to recognize that you are likely comparing yourself to “someone else’s highlight reel.”
“The truth is, life isn’t a Hallmark movie—life is messy sometimes and that is okay,” Marchese says. “You can still have lovely, joyful moments that are defined by how you want to enjoy the season. Don’t worry so much about what other people are up to because their social media is probably not depicting their reality, either.”
If you’re feeling particularly down after spending time on social media, setting daily app limits or deleting social media apps altogether for the remainder of December is always an option.
If you have strained or stressful family relationships…
There are many reasons why someone might dread spending the holidays with their families, from simply feeling like you aren’t on the same page with them—ideologically (politically or otherwise)—to having a history of abuse or other trauma in your family. If that’s the case, it’s totally normal not to feel excited to spend time with them and it’s always an option not to spend time with them.
If you do choose to spend time with your family, there are ways to make it easier on yourself. Marchese’s top tips include:
- Plan ahead for breaks and solitude. “Always have a game plan in your head for breaking away for a 20-minute walk, excusing yourself for some fresh air or taking a solo trip to the store because you ‘forgot something,’ if needed,” Marchese says. During a longer trip to visit family, incorporate spending time with friends in the area you’ve missed or going to see a movie by yourself.
- Practice deep breathing. If you’re feeling anxious, stressed out or triggered, your breath can be your best friend. “Practicing deep, slow breathing—into our bellies— can help reset our nervous system and activate what’s called a relaxation response,” says Marchese. “It’s free, takes just seconds or minutes, and can be done anywhere, even at the dinner table.”
- Remember that you’re an adult now. Even as a college student, you’re an adult, not a child, but “it’s natural when you’re around family to revert to old roles, which may mean being treated as a child and not like the adult that you are,” says Marchese. “You may find yourself falling back into old ways of relating with your family, but it’s helpful to remember that you’re an adult now and you can make different decisions.”
If you’re still confused about what “self-care” actually is…
Marchese says she thinks of “self-care” (widely used and rarely defined) in two realms: self-care and communal care.
“Self-care entails the basics like adequate sleep, exercise (anything that gets your blood moving—you don’t necessarily have to start an elaborate new workout routine), exposure to daylight, and being mindful about what you put in your body and how it makes you feel,” Marchese says. “It is also about making time for yourself to manage stress through things like meditation, self-reflection and engaging in enjoyable activities, like hobbies.”
Communal care, according to Marchese, means, “Do you have people you can rely on, that help meet your needs, that you have a reciprocal relationship with, that you actually like? Connecting and spending time with the people who ‘get you’ is a great way to offset familial obligations during the holidays.”
If you’re coping with grief and loss this season…
If you are grappling with loss, feelings of grief can well up at this time of year, especially if it’s the first holiday season without someone you love. “Losses come in lots of ways—so it could be a loss of a person through death, but it could also be the loss of a relationship,” says Marchese. “Know that there is no such word as ‘should’ in the grieving process. You are at where you are at, and it takes as long as it takes [to grieve].”
She recommends allowing feelings of grief and sadness to come up when they arise and feeling them fully, but also giving yourself an “exit strategy” from the intense feelings. “If you’re concerned you are going to get ‘stuck’ in those feelings, you might say, ‘OK I’m going to let myself feel what I’m feeling for maybe 20 or 30 minutes, and then I’m going to call a friend or get up and take a walk because I don’t want to find myself falling into a deep pit of despair.’”
Additionally, Marchese suggests journaling about your feelings of grief, writing a letter to your loved one, volunteering, or doing something special to honor their memory as additional coping strategies.
If you feel like you need additional support…
“December is a very common time for people to seek the support of a therapist,” says Marchese. Asking your primary care provider for a referral or seeking in-network providers with your health insurer are great starting points if you’re seeking a mental health professional. You may also search online for licensed professionals in your area, such as by accessing the Psychology Today directory of therapists, or use the 211 helpline to be connected with mental health resources.
If at any point you’re feeling like you may be suffering from depression, like you want to hurt yourself or are experiencing suicidal ideation, it is time to seek professional help. For crisis support, call or text 988 or use the live chat at 988lifeline.org to access the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or go to your nearest emergency room for immediate assistance.
An SU story by Jen Plummer orignally published on Dec. 18, 2023.
Advocate and Friend
Alejandro Garcia, Professor Emeritus of social work in Falk College, died Nov. 17, 2023. He was 83.
A professor of social work at Syracuse University since 1978, Garcia is known as a and an exceptionally generous and engaged colleague, teacher, and scholar whose many contributions extend well beyond the University’s boundaries. He taught gerontology, social policy, and human diversity courses for over 43 years, shaping Falk College’s School of Social Work and generations of students. He held the Jocelyn Falk Endowed Professorship of Social Work at the time of his retirement in 2021.
“Alejandro possessed a deep personal commitment to advancing social, racial, and economic justice, particularly for older adults, Hispanics, and many others,” says Eric Kingson, also a professor in Falk College’s School of Social Work and close friend of Garcia for 45 years. “He made lifelong connections with people and had an impact on so many lives as a social worker, teacher, mentor, advocate, and scholar—and as a friend. The kind of friend that is more like family.”
Carrie Smith, professor in Falk College’s School of Social Work remembers Garcia as a treasured member of the social work, Falk College, and Syracuse University communities, and one of the first people to welcome her to the School of Social Work more than 28 years ago. “His interest and reach beyond the University are evident in the numerous awards and commendations that he has received over a lifetime of dedicated service to advancing social justice and improving the lives of all people, especially those who have experienced oppression,” she says. “He was a dedicated professional and he worked tirelessly to teach his students to understand the importance of committed, competent, and sometimes courageous social work endeavors.
“I am indebted to him for his kindness and generosity to me through the years. He will be missed, but, just as importantly, he will always be remembered,” Smith adds.
Raised in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Brownsville, Texas, Garcia was one of six children of parents who migrated from Mexico. After learning English in grade school, he was recognized as an outstanding student. His musical talent propelled him into the best high school in Brownsville at a time when discrimination and racism limited such opportunities.
Garcia was one of very few Hispanics studying at the University of Texas, and after graduation he enlisted in the United States Army. He earned his Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree at California State University Sacramento where, years later, he received the “Distinguished Service Award d was designated by its School of Social Work as “The Social Work Educator of the Decades,” He was recruited by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to fill a new leadership role as the National Student Coordinator.
Encouraged by NASW leadership to pursue doctoral studies, Garcia was accepted a few years later at Brandeis University’s Florence Heller School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare. That led to one of the very first studies of the economic status of elder Chicanos and Chicanas, a dissertation entitled “The Contribution of Social Security to the Adequacy of Income of Elderly Mexican Americans.” An elected member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, he was also designated by the NASW as a “Social Work Pioneer.”
Jennifer Genovese, assistant teaching professor in the School of Social Work, first met Garcia when she was a student at Syracuse. Garcia was one of her professors, and when she received her M.S.W. in 1983, he spoke at the Convocation ceremony.
Genovese recalls the words he shared that day, which were later published in his article, “Reflections of a Latino in the Social Work Profession” (2014):
I suggest that there has never been a greater need for the social work profession to be the conscience of society. Now is the time to be heard: to reiterate our commitment to those who cannot care for themselves, to condemn an era of narcissism and ethnocentricity, and to re-establish the spirit of humanitarianism that has been an essential ingredient of American society. We must be heard. We must speak and be guided by the spirit that emanates from the depths of our hearts and the wisdom of our minds. We have guiding principles that speak to the dignity of the individual and advocacy for the downtrodden. With our voices in unison, we can be heard, and we can work toward effective change. We can regain our place as the conscience of American society. We must keep our priorities clear: We have a responsibility to those who cannot provide for themselves. We have responsibilities to continues aggressive efforts toward the eradication of poverty, racism, sexism, and homophobia. We cannot allow our society to capitulate to narcissistic, self-serving interest. We cannot allow what Carl Rowen calls “a spirit of meanness” to pervade this county. We must make certain that terms like compassion, commitment, social justice, and equality continue to be an integral part of our essential vocabulary and focus. Only then can we affirm the meaning of our profession.
“Dr. Alejandro Garcia’s inspirational words from 1983 continue to ring true in 2023 and remain part of his everlasting legacy,” says Genovese.
Over the years, Garcia served in many other leadership roles, including most recently as an Emeritus Board Member of the Syracuse Rescue Mission, Chair of AARP’s National Policy Council, Chair of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, member of the boards at the Syracuse’s Spanish Action League and the Council of Social Work Education and NASW. He received the Scholar/Teacher of the Year award at Syracuse University and was recognized as a “Hometown Hero” by its National Veterans Resource Center. He served as the Director of the School of Social Work for two years and in many other leadership roles.
Garcia co-edited three books, including “Elderly Latinos: Issues and Solutions for the 21st Century” (with Marta Sotomayor in 1993), “HIV Affected and Vulnerable Youth Prevention Issues and Approaches” (with Susan Taylor-Brown in 1999), and “La Familia: Traditions and Realities” (with Sotomayor in 1999). He also authored numerous articles and book chapters and served on the editorial boards of several Social Work Journals and the Encyclopedia of Social Work.
Most notably, Garcia was a remarkably kind, generous, and gregarious man who loved spending time with family and friends sharing his humor, laughter, and broad knowledge of art, literature, Hispanic culture, Social Work, Syracuse, and so much more.
The Falk College family extends its deepest sympathy to Dr. Alejandro Garcia’s family, friends, colleagues, and students.
By faculty colleagues of Alejandro Garcia. Obituary excerpts used with permission of the author.
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