Social Work  News

O’Donnell Honors Family Heritage in Military Service, Now Serves Fellow Veterans Through Social Work


Nathan stands in front of an American flagEveryone remembers where they were when they first heard the news. It was a day that lives were changed forever. Yet in the midst of devastating loss on Sept. 11, 2001, many responded in the spirit of courage and hope. Nathan O’Donnell ’20 was one of them.

A high school student at the time, O’Donnell decided to join the U.S. Air Force upon graduation. “I felt called to serve my country,” he says. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and use the skills that the Lord gave me to serve our nation.”

O’Donnell shares in a family legacy of military service. His father served in the Army for four years, and his two younger brothers are in the Air Force. “Growing up, I was always proud of my family’s accomplishments and service,” he says. “I am very honored to have the opportunity to serve with them and continue to honor our family name.”

His paternal grandfather, Edward Joseph O’Donnell, served in both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army for a total of 26 years. He enlisted at age 17 before finishing high school. When he returned to Syracuse after World War II, he enrolled in business administration at Syracuse University in the late 1940s.

Today, his grandson Nathan is following in his footsteps as he finishes his junior year at the University.

Born and raised in Syracuse, O’Donnell has many memories of cheering on the Orange in the Carrier Dome. He always dreamed of attending his hometown university, but he had other goals in mind following high school. “I wanted to serve in the military and have the chance to see the world.”

Little did he know his time in the military would later lead him to study at Syracuse University. “While in the military, I had the opportunity to do a few different jobs,” he says. “I enlisted initially as an F-15 Eagle maintainer and later cross-trained into the medical career field as a mental health technician and substance abuse counselor. I really enjoyed working with my fellow service members and their families to overcome challenges.”

O’Donnell’s experience as a mental health technician inspired him to continue his life of service, this time in the field of human services. That’s when he enrolled in the School of Social Work in Falk College. “I am so blessed to have the opportunity later in life to make my dream come true and attend Syracuse.”

With the help of dedicated staff in the school’s Office of Field Instruction and their many connections with agencies and organizations throughout the region, O’Donnell completed an internship at the Syracuse Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in the fall, where he hopes to start his career as a social worker. “I would first like to work at the VA in order to give back to fellow veterans.” He envisions someday taking his skills to other settings, as well, including the Syracuse public school system.

In the meantime, connecting with others in the University’s veteran community continues to be a major highlight of his college experience. “It has been fun to see what classes we have together,” he says. “We are able to go through the same experiences together.”

O’Donnell says he has found a supportive community at Syracuse: “Overall, my experience as a student veteran at Syracuse has been amazing. There have been so many people that have been put in my path that have been so helpful and welcoming. My transition from military service to civilian and student life could not have gone more smoothly. Syracuse University is truly a place for veterans.”

After completing his bachelor’s degree, O’Donnell plans to continue his education at Syracuse and pursue a master of social work degree.

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

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

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

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

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

Falk College welcomes new faculty and staff


Entrance to Falk CollegeSyracuse University’s Falk College is pleased to announce the appointment of new staff members who have joined Falk College in the past academic year, including Nikki Beckwith, director of dietetic internship program, Trinity Benton, kitchen technician, and Deana Hansen-Danis, procurement coordinator in the Department of Public Health, Food Studies, and Nutrition; Bradford Ducre, computer consultant in information technology, and; Lisa Liparulo, internship placement coordinator in the Department of Sport Management.

It also welcomes ten new faculty members, Chaya Charles, Jennifer Genovese, Ryan Heath, Bryce Hruska, Kenneth Marfilius, David Meluni, Jessica L. Garay, Sara Vasilenko, Bhavneet Walia, and Najah Zaaeed.

Chaya Lee Charles, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.G., C.D.N.

Assistant Teaching Professor, Nutrition
Nutrition & Food Studies

Chaya Charles joins the Department of Nutrition & Food Studies as an assistant teaching professor in the nutrition program.

Prior to her appointment as assistant teaching professor, Charles has worked as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Nutrition & Food Studies at Falk College since 2014. In addition, she is currently a consultant dietitian for Sodexo at Menorah Park and senior nutrition consultant for Oswego County Opportunities. She has previously held titles such as outpatient dietitian, clinical dietitian, and nutrition services manager at various health care facilities.

Charles completed both her B.S. degree in nutrition, and her M.S. degree in nutrition science at Syracuse University. Her master’s thesis is titled “Comparing Vegan and Vegetarian Attitudes, Beliefs and Perceptions with Risk for Disordered Eating Behavior.” She is also published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Charles is a board-certified specialist in gerontological nutrition, a registered instructor for the National Restaurant Association’s ManageFirst Program courses, ServSafe certified, and certified in food and beverage cost control. She is the recipient of the 2014 Sodexo Clinical Innovation Award, 2011 Sodexo Northeast Regional Dietitian of the Year, and winner of the 2010 National Sodexo Nutrition Outcomes Study.

Areas of specialization: Vegetarianism and disordered eating behaviors, malnutrition prevention in the elderly, cardiovascular and diabetic nutrition counseling, nutritional intervention for wound healing, weight loss counseling, meal planning guidance and the provision of nutritious menus in institutional and home settings.

Jennifer Cornish Genovese, A.C.S.W., Ph.D.

Assistant Teaching Professor
School of Social Work

Jennifer Cornish Genovese joins Syracuse University’s Falk College as an assistant teaching professor in the School of Social Work. She has previously taught in the College’s Department of Human Development and Family Science and in the School of Social Work, including courses such as Power, Conflict, & Violence in the Family; Interpersonal Competence; Family Systems Theory; Advanced Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups; and Practice with Children, Adolescents, and Families.

Genovese is a NYS Licensed Certified Social Worker and has worked in private practice as a psychotherapist for 30 years. She specializes in the treatment of abused children and adolescents. She is a clinical consultant for the NYS Department of Social Services and facilitates monthly support groups on secondary traumatic stress of child welfare workers in multiple Central New York counties. She is also a program and ministry consultant for the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Upstate NY Synod.

Genovese has presented for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Professional Symposium in Chicago, IL and for NASW’s Annual Meeting. She was previously employed by St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center as the outpatient clinic manager of the Mental Health Services Department. Genovese formerly served on the board of directors for Girls Inc. and the Mohawk Valley Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. She was the co-host of two long-running radio programs in Syracuse, NY: Teen Talk on 93Q FM and Parenting Matters on 570 AM and 88 WAER FM.

Genovese completed a Ph.D. in child and family studies and M.S.W. at Syracuse University’s Falk College, as well as a B.A. in sociology from the State University of New York College at Cortland.

Areas of specialization: Assessment and treatment of physically and sexually abused children and adolescents, treatment of bereavement, loss and trauma in children, adolescents, and identification and intervention of secondary traumatic stress of child welfare workers.

Ryan D. Heath, M.A, L.C.S.W., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
School of Social Work

Ryan Heath joins the School of Social Work as an assistant professor. Heath’s research seeks to understand how out-of-school programs (e.g., extracurricular, afterschool and summer programs) promote the social-emotional development of low-income youth, students of color, and other historically marginalized youth. To improve the reach, quality, and impact of these programs, his work aims to elucidate how extracurricular programs interface with other social-ecological contexts that affect youth, such as schools, peers and families, and to identify the potential mechanisms through which extracurricular programs influence youth’s social-emotional development and educational attainment. He has been involved in several research projects, most recently as a collaborator on the “Becoming Effective Learners—Out-of-School Time Study” with The Consortium for School Research at the University of Chicago. Heath has published in Youth & Society, Urban Review, Urban Education, LGBT Health, and Pediatric Research. He is also co-author of the research report, Foundations of Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework.

Prior to joining Syracuse University, Heath taught classes on research methods and cognitive-behavioral therapy at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. As a clinical social worker, Heath has implemented cognitive-behavioral interventions with adolescents and youth groups in both school-based and community settings. He previously worked as a clinical director for Chicago Adventure Therapy, as a school-based therapist at UCAN, as a therapeutic learning coach for Project EDGE of OMNI Youth Services, and as a teen outreach program coordinator at Health Quarters.

Heath earned a master’s degree in clinical social work and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. As a doctoral student, Heath received a pre-doctoral fellowship from the Institute of Education Sciences and the University of Chicago Committee on Education, and completed a graduate certificate in interdisciplinary education sciences. He completed a bachelor’s degree in science with honors from Brown University.

Areas of specialization: Adolescent development, extracurricular and out-of-school programs, social-emotional learning, educational attainment, youth social services, school and community partnerships.

Bryce Hruska, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Public Health

Bryce Hruska is an assistant professor in the Falk College public health program where he has served as a research assistant professor, postdoctoral researcher, and project manager for the public health program. He was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health.

Hruska’s research focuses on better understanding how psychological stress “gets under the skin” to impact physical health. Since coming to Falk College, his work has primarily consisted of overseeing the operations of two research projects: “Environmental Toxicants, Race, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children” and “The Psychosocial and Physiological Consequences of Taking and Not Taking Time Off from Work.”

He has most recently published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, as well as Environmental Research, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, and Social Science and Medicine, among others. He has published book chapters in the Handbook of Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine and in Trauma and Substance Abuse: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment of Comorbid Disorders, Second Edition.

Hruska has presented his research at conferences including the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the American Psychosomatic Society, and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. He has made multiple media appearances promoting the research that he and his collaborators are performing, and he serves as an invited reviewer for a number of peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Traumatic Stress, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Stress and Health, Addictive Behaviors, and Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

Hruska earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in experimental psychology, with concentrations in health psychology and quantitative methods, both from Kent State University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Akron.

Areas of specialization: Traumatic events, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress and health, occupational stress, recovery experiences, quantitative methods.

Kenneth James Marfilius III, L.C.S.W., D.S.W.

Visiting Teaching Professor
School of Social Work

Kenneth Marfilius joins Falk College as a visiting teaching professor in the School of Social Work.

While active duty, Marfilius served in the U.S. Air Force Biomedical Science Corps in multiple roles: active duty clinical social worker, mental health therapist, family advocacy officer in charge, and as manager of the alcohol and drug prevention and treatment program. He was commissioned in 2013 and was discharged in 2016 having obtained the rank of captain. At the Barksdale Air Force Base, Marfilius served in a variety of mental health roles related to sexual assault prevention and response, suicide prevention, and traumatic stress. Marfilius has also worked for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs at the Syracuse VA Medical Center in the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans Program, and as a disruptive behavior committee member.

Marfilius previously taught courses such as Social Work Practice in Mental Health and Introduction to Military Culture and Social Work Practice, as well as guest and continuing education lectures at Falk College, and has presented for the Supportive Services for Veterans and Families (SSVF) and at the Association for Humanistic Counseling National Conference. He recently guest lectured at the University of Pennsylvania on “Trauma— Informed Care, Housing First, and Critical Time Intervention for Veteran Homelessness.”

Marfilius is honored with a National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal. He is a recipient of the U.S. Air Force Health Professions Scholarship and the U.S. Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and has twice been awarded the Barksdale Air Force Base Medical Operations Squadron Company Grade Officer of the Quarter.

Marfilius earned a doctorate in clinical social work (D.S.W.) and master of social work (M.S.W.) from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in public health from Syracuse University.

Areas of specialization: Military mental health, military families, veteran social work, homelessness, domestic violence, suicide prevention, substance use prevention and treatment, and military culture and social work practice.

David Meluni, M.S.

Assistant Teaching Professor
Sport Management

David Meluni is a teaching professor in the Department of Sport Management, where he served as an adjunct over the past four years.

Meluni has over 18 years of experience in the sport industry, including two years as vice president of sales and business development for both 805 Stats and Infinity Sports and Entertainment. He also spent five years as the vice president of sales at SIDEARM Sports. In his tenure at SIDEARM, he negotiated and signed agreements with the University of Texas, University of Kansas, the Heisman Trophy, and the Maui Invitational as well as with several Division I, II and III institutions.

He has also worked with the New York Collegiate Baseball League as a member of its executive team. Prior to working in the digital space, the Syracuse native spent 10 years with IMG College, the multi-media rights holder at Syracuse University, where he maintained a client base of over $1.1 million per year.

Meluni serves on the board for the Camillus Softball and Baseball Association, coaches multiple travel teams for the Camillus Wildcats, and is a volunteer assistant coach for the West Genesee varsity baseball team.

Meluni earned a bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College in sport management, where he also acted as captain and NCAA All-Region Infielder for the Bombers’ baseball team. In 1999, he was selected to attend the prestigious NCAA Leadership Conference. He then attended Florida State University as a graduate assistant in the Seminoles’ ticket office and earned a master’s degree in sport administration. He worked as a marketing assistant at FSU, assisting with football, women’s volleyball, men’s basketball, baseball, and softball.

Areas of specialization: Sport sponsorship sales, ticket sales, technology in sport and sports marketing and promotion.

Jessica L. Garay, M.S., R.D.N., F.A.N.D.

Instructor, Nutrition
Nutrition & Food Studies

Jessica Garay joins the Department of Nutrition & Food Studies as an instructor in the nutrition program.

Previously, Garay worked at Utica College as an assistant professor of biology: physiology & nutrition since 2016. From 2010-2016, she was an adjunct instructor at Syracuse University and has held positions at Onondaga Community College and George Washington University, as well as the Washington Cancer Institute and Food Bank of Central New York.

Garay is published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, the American Journal of Human Biology, and Current Biomarker Findings, among others. She has presented at the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Conference and the NYS Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (NYSAND) Annual Meeting.

Garay is the recipient of a 2016 Emerging Dietetic Leader Award from the NYSAND and currently serves as its public policy coordinator. Garay has held several roles with the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group and is currently the research chair. Her other volunteer work includes serving as an evidence analyst for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics’ Evidence Analysis Library, and as a member of the American Dairy Association North East’s Sports Nutrition Advisory Panel.

Garay is completing a Ph.D. in science education, specializing in exercise science, from Syracuse University. She earned an M.S. in exercise science, specializing in nutrition and eating behaviors, from George Washington University. She completed her dietetic internship at the Yavapai County Health Department in Prescott, AZ. She completed a B.S. in nutritional sciences and a B.S. in human development at Cornell University.

Areas of Specialization: Fetal programming, nutrition and athletic performance, dietary supplements.

Sara A. Vasilenko, M.S., Ph.D.

Sara Vasilenko joins the Department of Human Development and Family Science as an assistant professor.

Prior to joining Falk College, Vasilenko served as a research assistant professor in Health and Human Development and as a research associate in the Methodology Center at Pennsylvania State University. There, Vasilenko was a postdoctoral fellow in the Prevention Research Center and Methodology Center after working as a graduate assistant in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Prior to her time at Penn State, Vasilenko held a research apprentice fellowship in the Department of Epidemiology and worked as a research assistant in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University.

Vasilenko’s research spans topics related to adolescence and young adult health, sexual behavior, and drug use. She is currently a subcontract PI on a grant from the Office of Adolescent Health, which focuses on how multidimensional risk factors moderate effects of teen pregnancy prevention programs, and co-investigator on a National Institute on Drug Abuse grant focusing on how substance use and its predictors vary by age. Vasilenko is published in journals such as the Journal of Adolescence, Journal of Adolescent Health, Journal of Early Adolescence, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Journal of Sex Research, and Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Vasilenko is the recipient of a 2006 Graham Endowed Fellowship, Pennsylvania State University College of Health and Human Development. She currently is a consulting editor of the Journal of Research on Adolescence and a member of the Society for Research in Child Development, among others.

Vasilenko earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and a B.A. in English from Kalamazoo College.

Areas of specialization: Adolescent and young adult development, sexual behavior, developmental methodology, substance use.

Bhavneet Walia, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Public Health

Bhavneet Walia is an assistant professor in Falk College’s public health program. Walia joined Syracuse University in 2015 from Western Illinois University where she was an associate professor of decision sciences and founding director of the business analytics post-baccalaureate certificate program.

Her fields of specialization include health economics and health econometrics. Her research and scholarship include 14 peer-reviewed journal articles that have appeared in leading journals of applied economics, health policy, and environmental policy: the American Journal of Economics & Sociology, the Journal of Economic Education, and the Southern Economic Journal, and two in Renewable Agriculture & Food Systems, Economics Letters.

The recipient of numerous awards and distinctions that include the Provost’s Award for Excellence at Western Illinois University and the WIU College of Business and Technology Award, both for excellence in campus internationalization, Walia is presently associate editor of the Academy of Economics and Finance Journal. Her professional affiliations include the Academy of Economics and Finance and the American Economic Association.

Walia’s present research efforts are focused in three areas: early child health interventions and cognitive development; mortality and behavioral effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and related neurodegenerative diseases; and markets for health care in the United States.

Walia holds a Ph.D. in economics with an econometrics specialization from Kansas State University, where her dissertation was entitled, “Three Essays in Health and Labor Economics.” Her master’s and bachelor’s degrees, both in economics, are from Punjab University in India.

Areas of specialization: Health care markets and policy, early childhood development, environmental health, labor market policy, statistical expertise in applied statistical programming and methodology, health statistics, biostatistics, health information systems, labor statistics, analysis of National Longitudinal Surveys, and other social and behavioral statistical analyses.

Najah Zaaeed, E.M.P.A., M.S.W., Dr.PH.

Assistant Teaching Professor
Public Health

Najah Zaaeed joins the Department of Nutrition & Food Studies as an assistant teaching professor in the public health program.

Since 2016, Zaaeed has taught as an adjunct professor in public health at Syracuse University and at SUNY Oswego. Zaaeed previously served as a mental health specialist for Interfaith Works of Central New York and as a social worker for the Islamic Society of Central New York.

Zaaeed’s research interests are in aging with intellectual and developmental disabilities, maternal and child health, effectiveness of ecological models for health awareness at global levels, and refugee health. Zaaeed authored a chapter in the book Refugee Education: International Perspectives from Higher Education and NGOs. She is also published in the International Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Journal of Refugee and Global Health and has presented at the North American Refugees Health Conference.

Zaaeed is the recipient of the 2017 Selma Andrews Award from Loma Linda University, 2013 Global Health Institute, Loma Linda Research Funding, the 2013 Fadel Education Foundation Scholarship, and the 2008-2010 Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Fellowship from the Islamic Society of North America. She is also a board member of the Society of North American Refugee Healthcare Providers.

Zaaeed earned a Dr.PH. in public health, specializing in health promotion and education, and global health, from Loma Linda University. She earned a M.S.W. and executive master of public administration from the School of Social Work and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, respectively, at Syracuse University. She also earned two graduate certificates in gerontology and international leadership and non-governmental organizations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse. She earned a B.S. in paralegal education from Chancellor University.

Areas of specialization: Global health and mental health, health education and promotion, social media and health outcomes, addiction and wellness, gerontology, disability studies, maternal and child health, refugee health and social service needs

Falk College celebrates the 60th anniversary of the School of Social Work


The Falk College School of Social Work commemorated its 60th anniversary at a celebration event Friday, April 21 at Drumlins Country Club in Syracuse. Guests were welcomed with remarks from Keith Alford, director of the School of Social Work, as well as Diane Lyden Murphy, dean of Falk College. Xenia Becher, internship placement coordinator in the School of Social Work, presented a special selection from Michael Carrera’s Lessons for Lifeguards.

In recognition and appreciation of their commitment and dedication to the profession of social work, “Excellence in Service Awards” were presented to three alumni: Madalyn Smith ’78, clinical social worker, convener, round table of faith leaders, InterFaith Works; Pedro Abreu ’02, school social worker, Seymour Dual Language Academy; and Patricia Moore ’85, discipline chief of social work, outpatient clinic coordinator, Hutchings Psychiatric Center.

“As an alumna of the School of Social Work, it is a special privilege to celebrate the School of Social Work and its sixty years of contributions to social work education and practice at both Syracuse University and in the surrounding community and region,” says Diane Lyden Murphy, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D., dean of Falk College. “The school’s leadership and dedication to the embedded mission of social responsibility, social justice and advocacy, in many ways, are what make it the heart of Falk College. Through its 60-year history at Syracuse University—from the early days of civil rights activism, community work in the Great Society years, to involvement with veterans at Fort Drum and the Watertown region, to the extensive and complex issues of our present era—the school has developed true partnerships both in the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York State and beyond, where more than 6,000 alumni continue to bring assistance and change in an expansive number of settings such as social service, behavior health and healthcare agencies, refugee sites, political settings, schools and the academy.”

“Collectively in celebrating 60 years of social work education, we brought together campus colleagues, students, alumni, and community partners on one special evening,” says Keith Alford, Ph.D., A.C.S.W., director of the School of Social Work “The charge for the next 60 years is to continue the quest of our anniversary theme: Embracing the dignity and worth of humankind. This theme embodies a strengths-based perspective, identifying the positive attributes of people. Given such national challenges as racial divisiveness, citizenship struggles for undocumented immigrants and political polarization, the need to uplift one another seems more necessary now than ever before. The value of humanity is priceless.”

Keith Alford giving presentation
Keith Alford, Ph.D., A.C.S.W., director of the School of Social Work, presents a proclamation from Joanne M. Mahoney, county executive, which declares April 21, 2017 “Syracuse University School of Social Work Day” at the school’s 60th Anniversary Celebration event April 21 at Drumlins Country Club in Syracuse.

A proclamation from Joanne M. Mahoney, county executive, declared April 21, 2017 “Syracuse University School of Social Work Day.” Mayor Stephanie A. Miner proclaimed the date “Syracuse University School of Social Work Community Recognition Day.”

Karen Kirkhart, professor in the School of Social Work, spoke on the school’s history. Social work at Syracuse University dates back to the 1930s, when students were offered undergraduate courses in social work through the department of sociology and College of Home Economics. It wasn’t until 1952 that the American Association of Schools of Social Work decided Upstate New York was in need of a separate school of social work, specifically at Syracuse University.

With a grant from the Rosemond Gifford Charitable Corporation, the Syracuse University School of Social Work was founded, the 61st school in the country to be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education in 1957, and the first such school in New York State outside of Buffalo and New York City. About a decade later, the school began to attract international students from nations such as India, Egypt, Korea, Canada, and the Philippines.

The school exclusively offered a master’s degree program until 1971 when it admitted its first undergraduate class. In 1975, it became one of the first Council of Social Work Education accredited social work bachelor’s degree programs in the country, and the very first to be accredited in Upstate New York.

In 1972, the School of Social Work established one of the nation’s first programs focused on aging research: The All-University Gerontology Center, which allowed students across the University to pursue a concentration in aging. Today, it exists as the Syracuse University Aging Studies Institute, established in 2011 and co-directed by the School of Social Work and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Today, the ASI is includes more than 40 faculty affiliates.

Over its history, the school has established a number of signature learning experiences that students enjoy today, such as Legislative Policy Day, an annual event that started in the late 1990s that exposes students to pressing policy issues and the importance of advocacy, now sponsored by alumnus James Stone ’64 MSW, who attended the anniversary celebration. In addition, the annual Alan B. Mirken immersion trip to New York City, which since 2002 has exposed students to historical social work sites and provided one-on-one engagement with human services agencies. The school continues to enrich its well-established study abroad program in Strasbourg, France, as well.

The school was first housed at 400 Comstock Avenue, and moved to South Crouse Avenue, Brockway Hall, and Sims Hall before finding its current home in White Hall, part of the Falk College Complex. In 2001, the School of Social Work became part of the College of Human Services and Health Professions, which in in 2007 was renamed the College of Human Ecology, and in 2011 was renamed the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.

Today, the School of Social Work exists as a perfect example of Falk College’s comprehensive educational approach: theory-to-practice learning, the combination of a rigorous classroom curriculum and intensive internship requirements. To date, the school has 180 internships in 53 agencies across 8 counties. Many of the school’s current field placement sites represent long-lasting relationships with community organizations, where social work students have been placed for internships and field placements since the 1950s and 60s.

The school boasts 6,586 total alumni. It expects to add roughly 130 from the Class of 2017.

Research training program for veterans now accepting applications


reu-2016To improve access to undergraduate research experiences in the area of trauma for groups typically underrepresented in this research, including veterans, a collaborative venture between Syracuse University’s Falk College, SUNY Oswego, and SUNY Upstate Medical University is now recruiting students for its 2017 program June 5-29 on the Syracuse campus.

The Undergraduate Trauma Research Training program is a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Education for Undergraduates (REU) opportunity directed by Brooks B. Gump, Ph.D., MPH, Falk Family Endowed Professor of Public Health, and co-directed by Karen Wolford, Ph.D., Professor Department of Psychology and Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program in Trauma Studies at SUNY Oswego and includes other faculty from these institutions as well as SUNY Upstate Medical University. This program brings together veterans and non-veterans in a safe environment to pursue trauma research activities.

This month-long immersion program involves coursework, mentored student-faculty interactions, and the development of a research project. Participating students receive a $3,000 stipend for attending the summer session. Room and board are provided free of charge, as needed.

The program, now in its sixth year, draws on personal experiences of veterans who understand the nature and context of traumatic events. By gaining a scientific understanding of trauma, students who complete the program gain essential tools they can use to improve the quality of life for themselves and others, including veterans. Read more about one REU participant’s experience here.

The program is purposefully structured to span one full year. Following the summer program, students continue their research under the mentorship of REU faculty during the Fall semester. Finally, students are expected to present their research at a national conference in Spring, 2018. The travel and registration expense for the conference is provided to the student through this program. For more information about the program, and to submit application for it, click here to go to the Syracuse University REU website or contact Ivan Castro at The application deadline has been extended to March 14, 2017.

Interest in history, appreciation for human rights pave career path for Keith Alford


“The African proverb, ‘I am because we are, and because we are, therefore I am,’ celebrates the interconnectedness we all share,” explains Keith A. Alford, associate professor of social work. Alford firmly believes actively understanding another person’s life journey is not only enlightening and rewarding, but is an essential mindset professional social workers must embrace. In speaking of his own life journey, Alford recalls the positive influence of his parents and extended family, which ultimately drew him to the profession of social work.

Alford was born in Columbia, SC, and attributes his tireless work ethic to his parents. His father was an insurance salesman turned barber. “Most days from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., James Granville Alford served his customers well. His work ethic rubbed off on me and I still feel the professional allegiance to get the job done my father unknowingly bestowed,” Alford recalls. He fondly recollects his mother using her summers developing creative lesson plans to better engage students for the coming school year. Marilyn Johnson Alford was an elementary school social studies teacher and a strong proponent of public education. “In 1976, the bicentennial year of our nation’s founding, she was responsible for producing a school-wide assembly program about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Our home was adorned with red, white, and blue memorabilia and posters highlighting historical figures and events associated with 1776 she eventually used for the assembly program. I believe this ignited my interest in history and more specifically, my appreciation for human rights.”

“Listening to my mother talk about the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, I was drawn to Thomas Jefferson’s words and wondered, do they ring true for every person?” As a young African American boy in the late 1960s and teenager in the late 1970s, Alford recalls a number of racial and racialized incidents that did not make sense to him given the poignant text of the Declaration of Independence. “I came to the realization that oppression and prejudicial attitudes exist in many forms. Because of these ills, many people are disenfranchised, held back from achieving their true potential or actualizing their inalienable rights,” says Alford.

Given these experiences and the positive influence of his family, Alford embraced the empowerment a career in professional social work promised. He majored in history and sociology with a concentration in social services. Upon graduation, he was employed by the Child Protective Services division of Darlington County Department of Social Services in Hartsville, SC. He decided to pursue his Master of Social Work degree at The Ohio State University where he also earned his doctorate with a specialization in family therapy.

Alford joined the Syracuse University faculty in 1996. His areas of expertise include mental health service delivery to children and families, culturally specific human services intervention, child welfare, contemporary rites of passage programming and loss/ grief reactions among African American families. In 2015, his edited book titled, Rural Families and Reshaping Human Services, was published. Again this summer he will teach two courses addressing self-care as a researcher and racial and cultural variations in response patterns associated with veterans and PTSD during the four-week National Science Foundation-supported Research Education for Undergraduates program (see story, page 18).

“I am committed to ensuring that students leave my classroom competent in engaging diverse populations. Seeking to understand another person’s journey is hard work. It requires relinquishing preconceived notions and being open to stories that may address the ‘isms’ of society. We must listen when stories are told. Appreciating diversity is not enough. Actively embracing the worth and dignity of all individuals should be our goal,” says Alford.

Training students in effective trauma treatment


“Once you start working in trauma, you see it everywhere,” says Tracey Musarra Marchese, social work professor of practice in Syracuse University’s Falk College and a practitioner in the community working with individuals and families. “Because of the amount of trauma out there, we need to have more people trained in treating it.”

And Marchese is doing just that.

Marchese, who also holds a clinical faculty appointment in the Department of Psychiatry at Upstate Medical University, provides EMDR Therapy basic training for psychiatry residents and community practitioners. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR Therapy, helps people of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric disorders, mental health problems, and somatic symptoms. EMDR was originally studied on Vietnam veterans with PTSD and continues to be used to treat veterans with PTSD.

“Because EMDR is an integrative therapy, it appeals to many clinicians who are trained in other types of therapies,” says Marchese. “Additionally, it offers students and clinicians the opportunity to develop more advanced skills that are specific to treating trauma.”

EMDR targets past experience, current triggers, and future potential challenges. This therapy helps clients decrease or eliminate the distress from a disturbing memory while improving the client’s view of the self and creating coping mechanisms to resolve present and future anticipated triggers. EMDR is designated as an effective treatment by the American Psychiatric Association, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization, and many other international health agencies.

Marchese was exposed to EMDR Therapy early during her career working as a psychotherapist/clinical social worker helping clients with depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

She is an EMDR International certified therapist and an EMDRIA-approved consultant, which means she has completed EMDR training, engaged in more than 300 EMDR clinical sessions and 20 hours of consultation with an EMDRIA-approved consultant, and attended numerous continuing education workshops on advanced applications of EMDR Therapy. She recently became an EMDRIA-approved EMDR Basic Trainer, a role held by only approximately 100 clinicians worldwide.

“It is so rewarding to help people relieve emotional pain. I love to see people transform their lives because they transform the way they think and feel, thanks to EMDR.”

Kingson honored by with the 2015 Purpose Prize


Nancy, a lawyer and former faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Eric, a professor of social work at Syracuse University, share a four-decade friendship. Both have created encore roles – for Nancy, returning to work after raising her family, and for Eric, channeling his early political activism into the social-policy sphere, focusing on Social Security. Their joint experience and established professional alliance gave rise to a national organization and coalition to preserve and expand Social Security.

Their encore evolutions have been gradual, they say, guided by their early mentors. People like Robert Ball, Wilbur Cohen, and many others proved that late-life activism is one way of giving back – and pressing forward.

To counter well-financed campaigns to undermine and undo Social Security, Nancy and Eric created Social Security Works (SSW) and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition (SSSC), including over 350 organizations – think tanks, unions and groups focused on the rights of women, people with disabilities, the older population, people of color, low-income Americans, veterans, ‘Netroots’€™ organizations, and others. Together, the coalition they formed represents over 50,000,000 Americans who have been mobilized to sign petitions, write and call Congress – and vote.

  • Formed and co-led a diverse coalition and campaign to remove Social Security from the deficit fights that dominated U.S. government policy discussions.
  • Established a sustainable organization with wide national reach.
  • Developed information, education, lobbying and citizen advocacy campaign, via traditional and new media, that helped to shift the policy discussion and advance ideas about expanding, rather than limiting, Social Security.

Starting in 2010, SSW and SSSC have shaped the policy debate, developing education materials, creating media and legislative strategies, training grassroots leaders and bringing together academics and policy experts. Together with allies in Congress, they forestalled benefit cuts – and promoted the idea that Social Security is a solution. Expanding it could help address a number of challenges, including the looming retirement income crisis, the economic insufficiency many retirees experience, related financial pressures on family caregivers and income inequality.

Eric and Nancy are using their encores to reinforce the essential human values that underpin Social Security – the responsibility to care for others; the value of hard work and fair rewards; dignity; the common good; and a fundamental understanding that we are all connected. “With the SSSC’s broad-based, diverse coalition, we are no longer on the defensive, but instead, advancing the cause. It’s been a sea change,” Eric said. Key to that future is mentoring a number of talented staffers in their 20s and 30s – the next generation of Social Security’€™s protectors. Eric aims to move the political agenda further as a Congressman; he’s taken a leave from SSW and SSSC to run for office in 2016.

In March 2015, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn), with 54 original cosponsors (and 70 cosponsors by November, 2015), introduced a bill to expand Social Security benefits and restore Social Security to long-range balance. This is just one of more than a half dozen Social Security expansion bills introduced since the SSC was created.

Just as their mentors devoted their “old-age” years to protecting and advancing Social Security, Nancy and Eric are inspired to do likewise. “We are heightening our advocacy with the passage of time – for the sake of our children, grandchildren and all the generations that follow,” said Nancy. “This is our passion, our encore and our legacy.”

MSW students focus on mental, behavioral health needs of veterans, military personnel and their families


Four advanced standing MSW students received Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant awards as a part of the Upstate New York Mental and Behavioral Health Education Consortium (UNY-MBHEC). This initiative’s focus is to increase the capacity of the social work profession in Upstate New York to serve the mental and behavioral health needs of veterans, military personnel and their families, and residents of medically underserved rural communities.

Consortium efforts are led by Principal Investigator, Dr. Carrie Jefferson Smith, director of the School of Social Work, and co-Investigator, Kristin Esposito, field placement coordinator, School of Social Work. The project is supported by a three-year, $480,253 competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration.

The School of Social Work has partnered with the Syracuse VA Medical Center on this program since 2013. This year’s cohort who will begin field placements in Fall 2014 with the Syracuse VA Medical Center include:

  • Ashley King will be working in the VA’s Homeless Program.
  • Sonya Mangovski will be working with the VA’s Crisis Intervention team.
  • Karen McClenthan will be placed with the Military Sexual Trauma/Behavioral Health program.
  • Theresa Taylor will work with the VA’s Psychotherapy Team through individual and group therapy programs that support individuals with mental health challenges such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, loss and grief.

In 2013, the School of Social Work announced it is part of a consortium of upstate New York schools, led by the University at Albany’s School of Social Welfare, to support behavioral health initiatives for veterans. This collaboration underscores the Falk College, its School of Social Work and Syracuse University’s long-standing commitment to veterans and military families through interdisciplinary scholarship to address issues impacting this community.

MSW students focus on mental, behavioral health needs of veterans, military personnel and their families


2015-2016 marks the final year for the HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration grant authorized by the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148). Lead by Principle Investigator Carrie Jefferson Smith, DSW, ACSW and Co-Investigator Kristin Esposito, LMSW, the primary objective of the grant project is to address mental and behavioral health needs of veterans, military personnel and their families, and residents of medically underserved rural communities with limited or no access to services. By providing specialized, evidenced-based training in trauma informed care, inter-professional practice, military social work and cultural competency, the grant project aims to increase the capacity of skilled social work professionals in upstate New York.

Syracuse University’s School of Social Work has partnered with the University of Albany, University of Buffalo, Binghamton University, Nazareth College, University of Brockport and Roberts Wesleyan College in the Upstate New York Mental and Behavioral Health Education Consortium (UNY-MBHEC). This collaborative partnership is predicated on common purposes, shared resources, mutual accountability for outcomes, and commitment to continuous quality improvement. This year’s cohort who will begin field placements include:
Dana Bowers will be focusing on the Military Sexual Trauma/Behavioral Health program.
Lisa Ching will be focusing on palliative/hospice care.
Karlee Roberts will be focusing her experiences in OIA/OEA.
Justin Scott will be focusing his experiences in the homeless program.

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