Touro College Graduate School of Social Work honored the 120 members of the Class of 2018 with an awards celebration at the 92nd Street Y, bringing together the graduates, their families, and friends with faculty and staff to recognize the students’ achievements.
Emotions ran high as class members were congratulated individually and collectively for their leadership, tireless commitment and service to those in need, and academic accomplishments.
“Welcome to the profession!” said Founding Dean Steven Huberman, Ph.D. “Touro will always remain your academic home. We appreciate your hard work and achievements.”
The afternoon’s festivities began with a luncheon in honor of a cohort of 58 MSW students who have been able to pursue their MSWs because of a $2.5 million federal grant that is providing scholarships to economically disadvantaged students. The grant is funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Dean Huberman announced that the government would continue to fund the scholarships next year, making it possible for current recipients to continue receiving aid and for new applicants to apply.
“These students have defied every odd. It’s a myth that if you come from difficult circumstances you cannot succeed,” he said while proudly revealing that the Class of 2018 scholarship recipients are graduating with an average GPA of 3.7.
‘Change Agents to The Nth Degree’
Darla Spence Coffey, Ph.D., MSW, president and CEO of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the national association of accredited social work programs and the sole accrediting agency for social work in the United States, addressed the small cohort: “The HRSA grant is not a gift. You have earned it. The world greatly needs you now more than ever. You are change agents to the nth degree.”
Two recipients, Christian Rodriguez, class of 2018, and Keren Blum, class of 2019, spoke movingly, expressing their gratitude for the support of Touro and its senior administration, the dean, and Dr. Coffey and CSWE for help in obtaining and sustaining the funding.
They also thanked eight-term former U.S. congressman Steven Rothman, who recently joined the GSSW’s Professional Advisory Board. In brief remarks, Rothman, a former mayor, judge, and a lawyer, congratulated the students and urged them to always remain involved in their communities.
Said Rodriguez: “The HRSA grant appeared at just the right time and provided me with the hope I needed to keep moving forward.” Class valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA, Rodriguez was chosen by his classmates and the faculty to be the school’s student speaker at the Division of Graduate Studies commencement on June 14 at Lincoln Center. While earning his MSW, he was part of the school’s Military Social Work Education Fellowship program, which provided enrichment seminars that developed his clinical skills in helping veterans as well as a prestigious field placement at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at NYU Langone Health.
‘A Leader’s Leader’
Dr. Coffey was the keynote speaker at the annual academic recognition program that followed. Dean Huberman called Dr. Coffey a “leader’s leader” as he presented her with the school’s National Distinguished Social Work Leadership Award and a shofar as a symbol of self-awareness and social justice.
David Raab, executive vice president of the Touro College and University System, greeted the soon-to-be graduates on behalf of Touro President Alan Kadish, M.D., and Touro leadership. Raab quoted an adage from Ethics of the Fathers that is meaningful to social workers. “In a place where there is no person, you try to be a person.” He provided examples: an elderly parent without children available to help; a child unable to cope whose parents are at a loss what to do; or a community lacking in services and no one is doing anything about it. “This is the role in life you have selected … to step into situations where there is no one else capable or willing to step up,” he said. “In a place where there is no person, you have chosen to be the person. We at Touro salute you for your choice.”
Numerous awards were given out. Outstanding Community Service and Leadership Awards were given to Veronique Green, who is running for a seat on her local community board in Brooklyn, and Anita Szalontai, a native of Hungary, who was a leader in the students’ partnering with their peers from the University of Michigan Flint campus on a virtual Town Hall meeting on water as a human right. A third award winner, Sheryl Frishman, was not able to attend.
David Greene and Benjamin Heisler received the Student Award from the National Association of Social Workers-New York City Chapter for serving as liaisons to the organization, arranging workshops and providing the students’ perspective to NASW-NYC. Heisler also served as student body president for two years, during which he organized events such as a blood drive and a career-development seminar.
Twenty-one students received academic honors with distinction for cumulative GPAs of 3.9–4.0. “You’re works in progress,” said Associate Professor of Clinical Social Work Steven Krantz, D.S.W., LC.S.W, who himself was recently honored with the 2018 Presidential Award for Excellence in the teaching category. “Go out there open to the learning. It will never end for you — embrace it.”
Tikun Olam Award
Raquel Samet received the Dr. Bernard and Sarah Lander Distinguished Social Work Tikun Olam Award, which memorializes the legacies of Touro’s founder and his wife, and pays tribute to a graduate student who has overcome tremendous personal obstacles and is making a difference in the community.
Despite multiple challenges, Samet “turned pain into purpose,” maintaining perfect attendance, completing her studies with a “near perfect” GPA, and earning the respect of her peers and professors alike, who view her as a strong and influential leader in the MSW program, said Director of Student Advancement Allison Bobick, MSW, LMSW.
“Raquel models the key features of an individual with resilience … particularly the ability to go beyond one’s own ordeal and direct one’s energy to the wellbeing of others,” Bobick said.
Tzipora Langner received the Ohel Leadership Award from David Mandel, CEO of Ohel Children’s Home & Family Services. Jhavon Kornegay received the research award for her examination of how working conditions and job stress impact the health of the child welfare workforce. She presented her research at the New York Academy of Medicine’s 12th annual Social Work Night. Leidy DeLeon received the Latino Leadership Scholar Award.
Director of Social Work Alumni Engagement and Financial Resource Development Eric Levine, DSW, LCSW, presented Deborah Marchuk, LCSW, Class of 2012, with the Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award for her commitment to professional excellence, devotion to community service, and commitment to nurturing colleagues and future social-work practitioners.
Marchuck currently provides psychotherapy to children, teens, and adults as a social worker at Long Island Counseling and Anxiety Center in Cedarhurst, NY. Also receiving the Distinguished Alumni of the Year award but not present was president of the Alumni Association Bobby Staley, Class of 2008.
Numerous students in the school’s fellowship programs were recognized: Farrah Denis, Veronique Green, Lindsay Ingenito, and Edwin Taveras in the Aging Education Fellowship; Benjamin Heisler, Ludean Maitland, Christian Rodriguez, and Lea Wersan in the Military Social Work Education Fellowship; and Christina Arnao, Ashley Cohen, and Jhavon Kornegay in the Evidence-Based Practice in Mental Health Fellowship. Fifteen students received recognition for excellence in field education, and nine students were honored for excellence in field education with distinction.