Skip to Content

Social Work  News

Three for One

Members of the University Community to Be Honored for Excellence at One University Awards Ceremony on April 19

Portrait Raj, Marifilus and McDonald

Falk College’s Sudha Raj, Ken Marfilius and Katie McDonald will be honored at the April 19 One University Awards in Hendricks Chapel.


The One University Awards Ceremony, an annual event to honor members of the Syracuse University community who are making a difference through academics, scholarship, creative work and dedicated service, will be held Friday, April 19, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Hendricks Chapel.

“Every year, we come together to celebrate the outstanding contributions and tremendous success of our students, faculty, staff and broader community,” says Chancellor Kent Syverud. “The accomplishments of this year’s recipients reinforce what it means to be Orange. This ceremony also shines a bright spotlight on the work being done around campus, much of which happens behind the scenes. I thank the many members of our community who organized this event and look forward to recognizing this year’s winners.”

Two major awards—the Chancellor’s Medal and the Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence—will be bestowed. The ceremony will also include the presentation of the Student-Athlete Award, Judith Seinfeld Scholarship, Meredith Professorship for Teaching Excellence, Teaching Recognition Award, Diversity and Inclusion Award, William Pearson Tolley Medal for Distinguished Leadership in Lifelong Learning and Chancellor’s Forever Orange Award.

Emeriti faculty who retired in 2023 and employees who celebrated years of service milestones in 2023 will also be recognized. This year’s University Scholars, Senior Class and School and College Marshals, and Remembrance and Lockerbie Scholars will also be honored.

All members of the University community are invited and encouraged to attend. A reception will follow in the lobby of the Heroy Geology Laboratory.

American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) will be provided at the ceremony. For questions about accessibility or to request accommodations, contact Gabe Coleman at

Award Recipients

The Chancellor’s Medal is the University’s highest honor and is awarded to individuals in honor of their trailblazing and extraordinary contributions to the University, to an academic body of knowledge or to society. This year’s recipient is Shiu-Kai Chin, Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence and professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

The Chancellor’s Citation for Excellencerecognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions in four overarching categories:

  • The award for Excellence in Student Research recognizes students who have engaged in collaborative research that has the potential to make a deep and lasting impact on greater society. This year’s recipients are Jingjing Ji, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering in the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science (graduate), and Ashtha Singh, an international relations major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and citizenship and civic engagement major in the Maxwell School (undergraduate).
  • The award for Outstanding Contributions to the Student Experience and University Initiatives acknowledges faculty and staff who, through their work, enhance the undergraduate experience for students or make invaluable contributions to supporting and advancing the University’s mission and goals. The recipients are Charisse L’Pree Corsbie-Massay, associate professor of communications in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications (faculty); Maureen Casey, chief operating officer for the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (professional staff); Amy Schmidt, program coordinator of citizenship and civic engagement in the Maxwell School (professional staff) and Jolanta Niwelt, events coordinator at Lubin House (support staff).
  • The Faculty Excellence and Scholarly Distinction award is intended for faculty members who are collaborators in work of intellectual richness that has the potential for future impact. The work of these nominees offers possibilities for collaboration within the University and outside in partnership with others. This year’s honorees are Wayne Franits, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Art and Music Histories in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Katherine McDonald, associate dean of research and professor of Public Health in the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.
  • Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence, Lifetime Achievement Award. This award honors those who have made extraordinary contributions toward advancing all four pillars of excellence over the arc of their careers while at Syracuse University and beyond. This year’s recipient is Shobha Bhatia, Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence and professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

The other awards to be presented are:

  • The Student-Athlete Award recognizes the top female and top male student athletes and are presented to the senior student-athletes with the highest cumulative grade point average over the course of their academic and athletic careers. This year’s recipients are Izabela Krakic, an international relations major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and College of Arts and Sciences and member of the women’s rowing team, and Julius Rauch, an entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises major in the Whitman School of Management and a member of the men’s soccer team.
  • Seinfeld Scholarship: Each year Syracuse University honors the talents of outstanding faculty or students through an award made possible by Judith Greenberg Seinfeld ’56, a distinguished alumna and member of the University Board of Trustees. Awards are made to those who have been determined by their peers to have made outstanding contributions to the beauty of the world, to have added to human values and to ending human abuse anywhere in the world, and to have demonstrated passion for excellence, creativity and originality in academic or artistic fields. This year, the designation is bestowed upon a faculty member, Rebecca Ortiz, associate professor of advertising in the Newhouse School.
  • The Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professorships for Teaching Excellence were created in 1995 to recognize and reward outstanding teaching among faculty. The 2024-27 Meredith Professors are Joon Park, professor in the School of Information Studies, and Cora True-Frost, Bond, Schoeneck and King Distinguished Professor in the College of Law.
  • In 2001, the Meredith Professorship Program was expanded to recognize teaching excellence by non-tenured faculty and adjunct and part-time instructors. Awards are given in two categories: Early Performance and Continuing Excellence. This year’s honorees in the Early Performance category are Kelly Leahy, assistant professor of television, radio and film in the Newhouse School; Farzana Rahman, associate teaching professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering and Computer Science; Milton Santiago, assistant professor of visual communications in the Newhouse School; Darwin Tsen, assistant teaching professor of Chinese and Chinese language in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Nina Wilson, assistant professor in the School of Architecture. The two honorees in the Continuing Excellence category are Kenneth Marfilius, assistant dean of online and distance education and associate teaching professor of social work in the Falk College, and Sudha Raj, teaching professor and graduate director of nutrition and food studies in the Falk College.
  • The Diversity and Inclusion Award recognizes an individual who is integral in helping us achieve academic excellence at a university that is welcoming to all through our investments in a diverse, inclusive, accessible and equitable community. This year’s recipient is Suzette Meléndez, teaching professor in the College of Law and faculty fellow for the Office of Strategic Initiatives and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
  • The William Pearson Tolley Medal for Distinguished Leadership in Lifelong Learning is based in the School of Education and honors national or international leadership in support of lifelong learning. This year’s recipient is Rhodia Thomas ’77, executive director of MidPenn Legal Services, adjunct professor of law at Dickinson University and an alumna of the School of Education.
  • The Chancellor’s Forever Orange Award recognizes individual students, faculty or staff who—by virtue of extraordinary hard work, good values and commitment to excellence—have come to embody the best of Syracuse University. This year’s recipients are Colleen O’Connor Bench, associate vice president of parent engagement and student experience, and Ian McIntyre, head coach of the men’s soccer team.
An SU News story originally published on April 10, 2024.

Desire to Give Back

Generosity of Soldiers Inspired Benetta Dousuah G’25 to Enlist in the Army
U.S. Army veteran Benetta Dousuah G’25 (center) poses with two of her fellow service members.
U.S. Army veteran Benetta Dousuah G’25 (center) poses with two of her fellow service members.

U.S. Army veteran Benetta Dousuah G’25, currently a graduate student in the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, vividly recalls her family’s escape from Liberia during the back-to-back civil wars that ravaged the nation between 1989 and 2003. Initially seeking refuge in a camp in Ghana, it took almost a decade before they secured the opportunity to immigrate to the United States.

In reflecting on her resettlement experience, Dousuah expresses deep gratitude for the social workers who played a pivotal role in providing stability for her family, especially considering Liberia’s dire circumstances during the 2014 West Africa Ebola Virus outbreak, the worst in recorded history. In the remote villages scattered throughout West Africa, young women are often an indicator of viral outbreaks since they often serve as caretakers in their rural communities.

The enduring memories of U.S. Army soldiers providing humanitarian aid in her homeland influenced Dousuah’s decision to enlist in the military. While she was initially drawn by the educational benefits like the post-9/11 GI Bill, her desire to give back and assist those in need also significantly influenced her choice.

“After we came here from Liberia, I remember seeing soldiers helping out on the news. At the time it spoke to me, and I wanted to reciprocate that same energy, so I chose to enlist in the Army,” says Dousuah.

Dousuah served as a unit supply specialist, a crucial role in the logistical backbone supporting the U.S. military’s global presence. The military’s logistical units often play a vital role in humanitarian operations, particularly in remote areas with limited infrastructure.

Benetta Dousuah and her daughter pose with a dolphin
Benetta Dousuah and her daughter pose with a dolphin

In 2014, the U.S. Army responded to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia by constructing specialty field hospitals and providing essential medical services throughout the region. By 2021, Dousuah, now a Sergeant in the U.S. Army and a mother to a young daughter, found herself offering the same kind of assistance to refugees that her family was shown when they fled Liberia

“We were deployed to Indiana to help with the Afghan refugee resettlement process,” says Dousuah, who identified parallels between her experiences coming to the U.S. and the Afghan families she assisted. In addition to her regular duties, she contributed to developing classes for children and volunteered as a teacher. This direct involvement inspired a long-term goal of establishing a school in Liberia.

“I plan on going back to Liberia after graduate school just to get the idea of what I need to do first, but ultimately I want to get the foundation going to try and build, and then open, a school there,” says Dousuah.

As an Army veteran, Dousuah is committed to supporting service members and veterans dealing with mental health challenges. Her motivation stems from personal experiences working with soldiers struggling to access adequate behavioral health services and recognizing the insufficient support for Black women in particular.

Benetta Dousuah G’25 (lower right) with other student veterans during a student veteran career emersion trip to Washington, D.C.
Benetta Dousuah G’25 (lower right) with other student veterans during a student veteran career emersion trip to Washington, D.C.

“Our mental health is not taken as seriously as it should be. If I’m experiencing social anxiety I may not be comfortable in the situation, but that’s not how people see it,” says Dousuah. “They just label us as angry, and it puts a lot of pressure on us when it comes to our mental health.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women veterans aged 26 or older are among the most vulnerable members of the veteran population when it comes to suffering major depressive episodes. Dousuah sees her studies as a way to integrate both goals.

“While my concentration is on the clinical side of social work, I’ve also been able to take AIP (Advanced Integrated Practice) classes, which are more policy-related in a way,” says Dousuah. “My classes are helping me implement what I’m learning into the idea of building the school.”

Dousuah also seized an opportunity to assist her fellow veterans by interning with the College of Law at the Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic.

“The work that I do in my internship is compelling because I get to help other veterans, particularly veterans like me or going through things I’ve been through. It’s helped me understand the whole holistic aspect of connecting veterans to resources, some of which I knew nothing about before,” says Dousuah.

To learn more about military-connected students at Syracuse University, or the programs and services available to them, please visit the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs website.

An SU News story by Charlie Poag originally published on Feb. 26, 2024.

Supporting Veterans

Falk College and Cabana Form Innovative Partnership to Aid Military Veterans
Portraits from left to right of Nick Armstrong and Kenneth Marfilius

Cabana Head of Public Sector Nick Armstrong (left) and Falk College Assistant Dean of Online Education Ken Marfilius are military veterans who have collaborated on an innovative partnership that will benefit military veterans and School of Social Work students.

Ken Marfilius and Nick Armstrong are U.S. military veterans who have dedicated their lives to helping active military members, veterans, and their families.

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.”

Screen shot of Cabana's immersive group support technology

Cabana’s immersive group support technology for clients includes a video component with a live group setting (center), a chat feature (right), and the functionality to be anonymous and mute your microphone within the group setting (left).

Here are the highlights of this unique partnership:

Cabana Internship.

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.”

CEU/Education Credits.

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.

Research Collaborations.

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, or School of Social Work Director of Field Education Tracy Walker at 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.

Serving Country and Campus

Student Veterans Reflect on Military Service, Academic Pursuits
Portraits of Jack Pullano, Benetta,  Dousuah and Raphael Grollmus

Student veterans (from left to right): Jack Pullano, Benetta Dousuah and Raphael Grollmus

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 dressed in his Air Force gear
Pullano served four years in the U.S. Air Force, helping fuel different kinds of aircraft.)

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.”

woman in Army uniform getting stripes from two members of the military
Dousuah was a sergeant in the U.S. Army involved in supply logistics.

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.”

Man sitting on military equipment in Marine Corps gear
Grollmus served in the U.S. Marine Corps for nine years.

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.

Advocate and Friend

Falk College Remembers Professor Emeritus Alejandro Garcia
Alejandro Garcia
Alejandro Garcia, Professor Emeritus of social work in Falk College.

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.”

Alejandro Garcia received the 2013 Dan and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Award presented by then-Falk College Dean Diane Lyden Murphy on behalf of the School of Social Work.

Alejandro Garcia received the 2013 Dan and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Award presented by then-Falk College Dean Diane Lyden Murphy on behalf of the School of Social Work.

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.

A New Sports Frontier

New Course Introduces Students to Emerging Field of Sport Social Work

Portraits of Ken Marfilius nd Rachel Hamilton

Professor of Social Work Ken Marfilius (left) and master’s of social work student Rachel Hamilton collaborated to create the new Introduction to Sport Social Work course.


The idea of merging social work principles and practices with the sports industry is an emerging field, and Syracuse University is at the forefront with a new undergraduate course scheduled to start in fall 2024 in the School of Social Work at the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.

Introduction to Sport Social Work is an elective course created by Associate Teaching Professor of Social Work Ken Marfilius in collaboration with Rachel Hamilton, a master’s of social work student who’s currently interning with the Syracuse Athletics Department. Marfilius will teach the course and Hamilton will be his research assistant, and here’s an excerpt from the course description:

Introduction to Sport Social Work: Applying a strength-based perspective to promote the health and wellbeing of student-athletes through a social justice framework. Through course readings, students will learn about sport social work theory, interprofessional collaboration, and understanding well-being issues of athletes. Course assignments will help students gain knowledge in applying strength-based perspectives within engagement, assessment, and interventions with athletes.

In recent years, more professional and collegiate sports teams have added mental health professionals to their staffs. But a professional with a social work degree provides teams with what Hamilton describes as a “macro and micro mix.”

“You’ve got an individual who can see something from the micro level of the individual who’s right in front of them, but also can zoom out and look at the societal trends, the trends within athletics, and the policies in place to evaluate what can be done to improve those policies and make it easier for athletes to feel supported in their mental health and well-being,” Hamilton says.

“With social workers, it’s that vast scale and scope of skill sets that makes the difference,” Hamilton adds. “It’s not just a clinical degree. It can be, if that’s what you want it to be, but as an advanced clinical student, I’m also having to take classes like social welfare policy that are more organizationally based and macro-based. With that knowledge, even if I do just want to work one-on-one with an individual, I still have the ability and the skill set to look at it from the macro perspective.”

Jon Mitchell portrait
Jon Mitchell is the senior associate athletics director, sports medicine, for the Syracuse University Athletics Department.

Jon Mitchell joined the Syracuse Athletics Department in the newly created position of senior associate athletics director, sports medicine, in October 2022. Mitchell oversees sports medicine, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and mental health, and he says he’s learning from Marfilius and Hamilton the many ways in which social work principles benefit student-athletes.

“It’s never been a part of our program before, and Rachel and Ken are educating me about utilizing it because we want to have as many tools in our toolbox as possible,” Mitchell says. “In college athletics, we are continually challenged to identify new ways to best serve our student-athletes, and this program has the potential to provide us with another resource to help serve the bigger purpose.”

‘Mental Health Linchpin’

Marfilius and Hamilton are both former athletes; Marfilius was a member of the rowing team at Syracuse University, and Hamilton was a member of a varsity cross-country team in Maine that won multiple high school state championships. Hamilton’s husband is former Syracuse football player Macky MacPherson, who went on to play for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and coach Division I college football.

“We have many dinner conversations about the effects of college sports on student-athletes,” Hamilton says, smiling.

Hamilton, a student member of the Alliance for Social Workers in Sport and the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, is the first social work student to intern in the Athletics Department. Marfilius, an Air Force veteran whose primary research focus has been on military populations and veterans, had started building a course on social work and sports and was assigned as Hamilton’s field placement supervisor for her internship with athletics.

Together, they refined the course that Marfilius had started to build by incorporating that “macro” strength-based view that goes beyond general mental health support.

“It could be a student-athlete who comes from a challenging background with adverse childhood experiences and what we find, just like with the military, is that at 18 years old those experiences aren’t left behind,” Marfilius says. “They bring those with them–in addition to the pressure and the competition and the academics–and we look at both individual needs and systemic and structural needs of student-athletes and organizations.”

Marfilius says social workers can serve as a team’s “mental health linchpin,” helping directly with mental health-related issues or making referrals to other mental health professionals when appropriate. Mitchell says he views social workers as another potential source of education for student-athletes who don’t know what resources are available or have tried to cope privately with their problems because they didn’t want to seek help.

“We want to build trust by educating them and letting them know we have their best interests at heart,” Mitchell says. “If they can trust us when everything is going great, it increases the trust when things are not going as well.”

David sits amidst a crowd of people in a stadium.
David Sobczak, who was a student assistant coach for the Syracuse University football team and is now a coach at the University of Akron, pursued a Social Work degree at Falk College because it taught him how to communicate with players who didn’t come from the same background.

A Growing Demand

In addition to student-athletes, Marfilius says the new course is ideal for any student across campus who’s interested in sports administration, coaching, or working in some way with athletes from high school through professional. Falk College is a natural fit for the course because it houses the School of Social Work along with sports-related programs such as sport management, sport analytics, health, and exercise science, and starting in 2024, esports.

“I was interested in working with student-athletes, but there were not a lot of universities, if any, that have a social work program that’s so heavily integrated into a school that offered sport management and sport analytics and all those things,” Hamilton says. “I believe that’s why I was able to break into the athletics department for my internship hours.”

Hamilton says her internship started with her interest in working with student-athletes on their mental health challenges but has evolved to look at how student-athletes can be supported from a systemic level. With a guest speaker list that includes athletics administrators and coaches from inside and outside the university, Marfilius says the Sport Social Work course will provide students a similar opportunity to explore both sides.

“Just that exposure alone, and to have that understanding of what sport social work really is at a macro level, allows them to then look at their career trajectory in a different way,” Marfilius says. “But also, as a career choice, we have more folks who are entering this niche of a field.”

Indeed, the marriage of social work and sport may be the next frontier for the sports industry, which is always seeking a competitive edge. Hamilton says her long-range goal is creating a sport social work program at Syracuse that will meet what will eventually be a growing demand for social workers in the industry.

“Sports acts like a microcosm; there are leadership positions and administrative positions where you can utilize your social work skills to perform well,” Hamilton says. “There are support roles, mental health roles, and your traditional counseling roles, but also this skill set is invaluable to help navigate personality dynamics and group dynamics, and understanding the ways in which you can integrate and use those skills.”

Beyond the Battlefield

Social Work Assistant Professor Xiafei Wang Provides a Broader Understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Xiafei Wang Portriat
Xiafei Wang, assistant professor of social work

Since 2014, June has been designated by the federal government as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, bringing attention to the serious mental health condition some individuals develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening or traumatic event.

While PTSD is often discussed as it relates to the veteran population, data from the National Center for PTSD show that veterans are only slightly more likely to experience PTSD than the general population. Around 7% of veterans and 6% of all adults will have PTSD at some point in their lives and approximately 12 million adults suffer from it in any given year.

To shed further light on this important topic, SU News interviewed Xiafei Wang, an assistant professor of social work in Falk College. Wang studies the transmission of intergenerational trauma, how trauma-affected individuals and families can develop resiliency, and how such factors as race, gender, disability, and military service impact trauma and resilience. Wang shares her insights and research on these topics and more in this Q&A.

New Program Connects Law and Social Work Disciplines to Assist Veterans

Goidel Law Group Internship Fund seeks applicants for 2023-24 academic year. Graduate social work students encouraged to apply by June 30.
Three students talk in front of a Veterans building.

Syracuse University law students at the VA Headquarters in D.C.

Veterans often face a unique set of legal issues related to their service that require specialized knowledge and understanding to resolve. Those issues can become increasingly complex as veterans age, further intersecting with various aspects of physical, social and emotional well-being. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 80% of U.S. military veterans are over the age of 55.

At Syracuse University, the College of Law and the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics have formed a partnership to help veterans, and especially aging veterans, access the legal services they need and obtain the benefits they have earned and deserve.

Staffed by attorneys from the College of Law’s Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic, law students and graduate social work students, the Legal-Social Work Partnership program provides free, high-quality legal services for veterans, such as assistance with disability claims and discharge upgrades, benefits counseling and more. The partnership also works to educate veterans about their rights and how to navigate the legal system.

The partnership operates under the College of Law’s Office of Clinical Education, where Syracuse law students apply doctrinal law while representing clients under the supervision of faculty-mentors.

The Legal-Social Work Partnership places an emphasis on addressing the social determinants of health. By assisting veterans with housing, employment, aging and other issues, the Legal-Social Work Partnership can help reduce veteran homelessness and suicide rates and improve the lives of veterans and military families.

Elizabeth Kubala, teaching professor in the College of Law, is the executive director of the Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic. “The veterans we assist often have needs and challenges outside the scope of our legal representation,” she says. “Bringing a social work perspective into our legal clinic will not only result in better overall outcomes for our veteran clients, but also a better understanding by the students of how to best serve veterans.”

As Syracuse law students and social work students learn how their respective disciplines interact in real-world practice settings, this program is building a stronger legal system that can address the holistic needs of clients.

Wendy Goidel Portrait
Wendy Goidel

While there are law firms that employ social workers in their practices, it is still quite uncommon. Syracuse University alumna Wendy Goidel ’84, Esq., the founding and managing member of Goidel Law Group PLLC and its Estate Planning & Elder Law Center, is one of the few who is leading the way. Goidel is the founder and co-developer of Concierge Care Coordination, a holistic practice model, which merges geriatric social work with legal planning.

“While the interdisciplinary model in an elder law context is natural and essential, it should be replicated and embraced in other practice areas—such as matrimonial, family, medical malpractice, personal injury and criminal—where legal problems are intertwined with social, medical and emotional issues. There is no doubt that clients and their family members receive far superior services, strategies and solutions when attorneys and social workers advocate and collaborate,” says Goidel.

Goidel established the Goidel Law Group Internship Fund to support social work graduate students interested in working at the intersection of law and social work, particularly with older adults, through the Legal-Social Work Partnership program at Syracuse University. Students will receive $5,000 stipends for their internship year while working within the Legal-Social Work Partnership.

A person is giving a lecture
Goidel gives a lecture

“Collaborations between law students and social work students are essential in addressing the legal problems impacting the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans,” says Ken Marfilius, Falk College assistant dean for online and distance education and associate teaching professor in the Falk College School of Social Work. “Social work students will play a key role in connecting veterans to community resources beyond those typically addressed through legal representation, having a direct and immediate impact on veterans and their families.”

“In addition to addressing the critical needs of veterans, this project illuminates the needs of one of the fastest growing populations on our planet, and that is of aging individuals,” says Carrie Smith, chair of the Falk College School of Social Work. “Collaborative work among an increasing number of experts at the intersection of law and social work will be essential in addressing the myriad needs and concerns of this population.

“We are very appreciative of the pioneering work being led by Wendy Goidel in addressing these aims,” she adds.

Through the Goidel Law Group Internship Fund, two social work graduate students at Syracuse University will be selected annually for the Goidel Law Group Internship Fund. Students do not need to be enrolled in Syracuse University’s J.D./master of social work dual degree program to be selected. Interested students must apply online by June 30, 2023, for the 2023-24 academic year.

For more information about the Legal-Social Work Partnership program or the Goidel Law Group Internship Fund, please contact Elizabeth Kubala, 315. 443.8420 or, or Kenneth Marfilius, 315.443.5586 or

Class of 2023 Social Work Awards

Class of 2023 Honored with School of Social Work Awards
View of and auditorium with students

Undergraduate Director and Assistant Teaching Professor Nadaya Brantley (left) asks award winners to stand and be recognized during the School of Social Work awards ceremony in Grant Auditorium.

The School of Social Work in Falk College would like to recognize and congratulate its Class of 2023 undergraduate and graduate award winners! Here’s a list of the winners, a description of the award, and comments about the awardees from Social Work faculty:

Keith Alford Diversity and Inclusion Award – Khin Aung and Ashley Homer

The Keith Anthony Alford Diversity and Inclusion award is named in honor of Dr. Keith Alford, formerly the Syracuse University Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (2018-2021), M.S.W. Program Director (2016-2018), B.S.S.W. Program Director (2008-2012), and Director of the School of Social Work (2016-2019).

Khin Aung (undergraduate)
“Khin came from a Thai refugee camp. Her native country is Myanmar (Burma), and she now lives with her family in Syracuse. Khin is doing her social work internship at Interfaith Works to gain work experience and serve the immigrant and refugee populations. Her goal is to make the best of her education and use the skills she has acquired to best serve the immigrant and refugee populations as a social worker.”

Ashley Homer (graduate)
“Ashley, a native of Syracuse, is focusing on clinical practice. Ashley currently works as a social work intern at Corcoran High School in Syracuse, where she attended. Ashley intends to work in a position that will enable her to continue supporting youth who face social challenges and serve as a liaison between this population and community resources.”

Elizabeth Brown Thoreck Undergraduate Student Achievement Award – Chevon Janczuk

Awarded to a non-traditional aged undergraduate student who is in good academic standing in the academic arena and field placement setting.

“Chevon is currently employed with Liberty Resources in its developmental disabilities department as a direct support professional who provides community habilitation. She is also employed with Community Action Partnership in Canastota, New York, as a housing facilitator who supports the homeless population. Her interests in the social work field are within the criminal justice system and military population. Chevon will complete her M.S.W. at Syracuse. She will intern at the Veteran Justice Outreach program in Auburn, New York, where they provide services to veterans within, and recently released from, the criminal justice system.”

Bachelor of Science in Social Work Award – Alexandra Vroman

Awarded to a School of Social Work graduating senior in good academic standing who is involved in social work activities, serves the community, and makes meaningful contributions to Syracuse University.

“Alexandra has loved spending her senior year interning at Webster Elementary School and discovering her passion for school social work. After graduating with her B.S.W. and bachelor’s in psychology, she will attend Syracuse University’s Advanced Standing M.S.W. program and intern at SUNY Upstate’s Child and Adolescent Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic. She is excited to continue her social work education and work toward clinical licensure.”

Scholastic Excellence Award, Undergraduate – Emily Clapper

Awarded to the student with the highest cumulative GPA among graduating seniors.

“Emily is a current intern at Toomey Residential and Community Services, where she spends most of her time engaging with clients in the Children’s Community Residence program, a residential facility for children and adolescents with significant mental and behavioral health diagnoses. Upon graduation, Emily will continue her education at the Boston College School of Social Work in their Advanced Standing Master of Social Work program with a concentration in children, youth, and families.”

Catherine Mary Esposito Achievement Award – Emily Schaefer and Kallie Minarik

The Catherine Mary Esposito award is presented to outstanding undergraduate and graduate students who have demonstrated a commitment to clients with developmental disabilities and are in good academic standing, but more importantly have had success working with people with developmental disabilities.

Emily Schaefer (undergraduate)
“Emily is a social work intern at the Jowonio School, an inclusive preschool serving children of all needs. Upon graduation, Emily will continue her education at Fordham Graduate School of Social Service in their Advanced Standing Master of Social Work program. Emily is extremely passionate about creating a more inclusive environment for all children.”

Kallie Minarik (graduate)
“Kallie took part in the behavioral health department for her field placement. She worked with clients individually, with families, and with groups. Kallie currently wants to work with clients and families between infant mental health and veterinary social work. She states that although this will be working with ‘two completely different areas, that is the beauty of social work.’”

Rhonda B Cohen Prize in Gerontology Award – Jacob Handanyan and Peter Hernandez

The Rhonda B. Cohen Prize in Gerontology is named in honor of Rhonda Cohen, who graduated from the M.S.W. program in 1983 and passed away at a young age. She was an advocate for the elderly. The award criteria include cumulative GPA, community service, and an interest in working with older adults.

Jacob Handanyan (undergraduate)
“Jacob is currently completing his undergraduate field placement at Syracuse Jewish Family Services, working with the aging population and differently abled individuals, and conducting group and individual visits. Jake intends to continue his education at Syracuse University to complete his master’s in social work.”

Peter Hernandez (graduate)
“Peter’s first placement was working with the elderly at an assisted living home, and his second placement was working with children with disabilities. He has worked with high-needs children and on suicide prevention with veterans. Peter is currently the Social Services Director for a nursing and rehabilitation home, and his future plans involve pursuing his L.C.S.W. and providing services to adults.”

Virginia Insley Award – Andrew Carroll (graduate)

Awarded to an outstanding Social Work M.S.W. Health Care Concentration student who is interested in maternal and child health.

“Andrew is currently interning at the Upstate Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic. This pertains to his interest and goals and has been very helpful in cultivating an enriching learning environment that he intends to use in clinical practice going forward. Andrew has found this to be an invaluable experience and plans to apply the plethora of knowledge he has gained to his future work, always striving to identify and implement unique treatment modalities to best meet the unique needs of his clients.”

Carrie Jefferson Smith Social Justice Award – Kathryn Scully (graduate)

Awarded to a student who has demonstrated a commitment to social justice, particularly in improving the lives of victims impacted by the continuum of domestic violence.

“Kathryn is currently interning at Elmcrest Family Transitions (EFT), a program that is a specialized sexual abuse service. Kathryn works with youth in the community who have a history of problematic sexual behaviors and those who have been victims themselves. She recently interviewed for a full-time position at EFT, where she hopes to begin working after graduation.”

Mary Pat Cotter Remembrance Award – Malika Nobles (second-year graduate student)

Awarded to a School of Social Work graduate student for contributions to substance abuse and HIV/AIDS.

“Malika works at ACR Health, where she has held many different positions working with high-risk individuals with infectious diseases such as HIV/HCV. She currently interns at Credo Community Center in Watertown, New York, where they provide outpatient treatment services for individuals struggling with addiction. Credo’s mission, values, and philosophy on client-centered care spoke volumes to Malika and resonates with the type of social worker she hopes to become. Malika would like to one day open her own women’s safe haven, a nonprofit organization that epitomizes the lessons and experiences that both ACR Health and Credo Community Center have provided.”

Kenneth J. Marfilius Student Veteran Award – Jazmin C. Avila and Robert Ryan

The Kenneth J. Marfilius Student Veteran Award is presented to a graduate student in good academic standing who is a military veteran. The award is based on grade-point average, community involvement, and contributions to Syracuse University contributions.

Jazmin C. Avila (undergraduate)
“Jazmin completed her field placement at a therapeutic crisis response program that worked with youth who did not meet the criteria for inpatient but needed additional support navigating anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Jazmin is an U.S. Army veteran hoping to work with adolescents who have experienced trauma, more specifically youth that are victims/survivors of sex trafficking.”

Robert Ryan (graduate)
“Robert is a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliarist and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and he is completing his M.S.W. internship at Confidential Help for Alcohol and Drugs (C.H.A.D.). He is president of Social Workers United, a member of the Student Veterans Organization, and a member of the University’s Diversity Committee. Robert is employed as the Cayuga County Democratic Deputy Elections Commissioner, and has future goals of becoming an L.C.S.W., earning a doctorate, and working in higher education.”

Interested in a career in social work? Visit the School of Social Work to learn more about its academic programs, experiential learning, and career opportunities.

Syracuse a Good Place for Veterans

Syracuse Ranked #5 on LawnStarter’s Best Cities for Veterans
Kenneth James Marfilius Portrait
Kenneth Marfilius

To commemorate Veterans Day this year, LawnStarter ranked 2023’s Best Cities for Veterans, where they looked at cities with high populations of veterans and determined it by ease of navigation of resources, housing affordability, employment, educational opportunities, and other metrics. The city of Syracuse was ranked #5 overall on this list of 200.

Kenneth J. Marfilius, DSW, LCSW, assistant dean of online and distance education and associate teaching professor of social work at Falk College, spoke to why Syracuse is ranked so high on the list. “Here at Syracuse University, we are committed to distinguishing Syracuse as the premier university for veterans, military-connected students, and families. We have a National Veterans Resource Center that cultivates and leads innovative academic, government, and community collaborations. This serves as the center of Veteran life on the campus of Syracuse University, the local community, and across the Central New York region.”

Read the interview below:

What are three of the best but undervalued programs or nonprofits benefiting veterans?

Veterans have the drive to succeed, and their experience in the military helps them develop leadership skills and learn new skillsets that are valuable in the civilian world. Unfortunately, veterans often face high unemployment rates, housing instability, and other challenges when they return to civilian life.

There are a plethora of programs providing support for veterans who want to find a good career path after leaving the military. These organizations provide important resources such as education, housing, occupational opportunities, and counseling.

Here at Syracuse University, we are committed to distinguishing Syracuse as the premier university for veterans, military-connected students, and families. We have a National Veterans Resource Center that cultivates and leads innovative academic, government, and community collaborations. This serves as the center of Veteran life on the campus of Syracuse University, the local community, and across the Central New York region.

Syracuse University is also home to the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). IVMF is higher education’s first interdisciplinary academic institute, singularly focused on advancing the post-service lives of military veterans and their families.

Across the nation, there are also local Vet Centers and VA Hospitals and a robust VA benefits and claims system. This system is designed for those veterans who may be diagnosed with military-related mental health or physical challenges and may be eligible for service-connected disability compensation and treatment.

In addition, there is a program called Support Services for Veteran families serving low-income veterans, providing supportive services and case management to prevent the loss of a veteran’s housing or identify new safe, stable, and affordable housing for the veteran and their family.

Our local communities are often the strongest advocates and assets for our veteran populations, as they are our neighbors and support systems. For example, in the Central New York region, an organization called Clear Path for Veterans offers art programs, canine programs, peer support programming, and culinary programs for veterans. These types of programs can be found across the nation, and I encourage our veterans and their families to engage in these types of programs as they assist in finding strong support among social connections and like-minded people—serving as protective factors against the many challenges our returning Veterans face.

These programs play an essential role in helping veterans reintegrate into society after serving our country proudly. Veterans looking for help can find information on their local facility’s website or call the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, and press 1, or text 838255 to connect with a VA responder.

What is one way local and state governments can better support their veterans?

Local and state governments can support veterans by providing resources and programs specifically tailored to their needs. Some examples of government-sponsored programs for veterans include job training, financial assistance, and mental health counseling. By supporting military veterans and their families, we are investing in the future of our nation and showing our appreciation for their service.

To really sustain improvement in veteran health, we must first understand the need to sustain improvements in overall public health. Before an individual raises their right hand to become a service member, they are a civilian. Upon completion of their service, they transition out of the military and end up back in our local communities, part of the social fabric of our society.

I have previously served as an active-duty Air Force officer as a mental health clinician and worked for the Department of Veteran Affairs Healthcare for Homeless Veterans Team. As a result, I have seen firsthand that serving in the military in and of itself is not necessarily the sole reason a veteran may be experiencing mental health challenges. While military service may be a contributing factor, we must understand that prior adverse childhood experiences, including pre-military trauma, are a significant risk factor for the development of PTSD or mental health disorders.

Our local communities and state governments must work together on preventing society’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences and build the capacity to create knowledge around ongoing resilience-building when faced with adverse experiences. This can be done through the implementation of parent support programs, peer support systems, family-centered schools, and access to quality and safe education.

Furthermore, access to medical care; stable, safe, and affordable housing; food, transportation; and internet for the technological advancements in our society are critical for the public health of our nation. The single most important factor in developing resilience in children is to a have stable, safe, and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.

Programming must be done on a local, county, state, and national level. Our children will eventually become service members and we want them to not only survive but thrive in the face of adversity before, during, and after their time in service.

What is one thing civilians can do to show support this Veterans Day and beyond?

There are many ways civilians can show support for our veteran community and their families. Educating oneself about the unique challenges that veterans face and how you can best support them is the first step.

Volunteering with organizations that help support veterans and their families and actively listening, without interruption, to what a veteran has to say about their experiences or struggles advances all our understanding. Patience is critical when communicating with a veteran, as they may have experienced things beyond your comprehension.

We must continue to work on reducing the stigma around mental health issues among veterans. There is strength in reaching out, and social support protects all of us. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply call a veteran and ask how they are doing, expressing that they are not alone. It is important to engage in this messaging, so our veteran community and their families do not feel othered and begin to isolate, which only perpetuates the risk involved for those experiencing mental health challenges.

What is the best way to prevent veteran homelessness?

When mental health is left untreated for extended periods of time, there could be several consequences. For example, waiting to seek treatment could impact relationships and occupational function, which are risk factors for homelessness. Individuals with untreated mental illness make up a significant portion of Americans experiencing homelessness.

The VA is committed to ending homelessness among veteran populations. There are coordinated outreach efforts across the nation that connect homeless or at-risk veterans with housing opportunities, employment services, and health care.

We have engaged state and local leaders that have committed and implemented efforts focused on ending veteran homelessness. The VA implemented a housing-first approach, ensuring veterans experiencing homelessness can move into housing with wrap-around services, as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Housing first intently focuses on removing barriers to housing and accepts veterans regardless of financial history, substance use or abuse, and even criminal history. Transitional housing must act as a bridge in an effort to house our veterans as quickly as possible.

Partnerships with local landlords is critical to moving veterans out of homelessness. These partnerships increase housing supply and secure housing units more efficiently. Once the veteran is housed, we must work to maintain the housing unit by connecting the veteran to employment opportunities, health care, legal services, and community programs.

Page 1 of 4