October 16, 2018  

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School of Social Work Takes 5 Top Honors at State Conference

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It was nearly a clean sweep for The University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Social Work at the state’s largest professional conference for social workers.

The school captured five top honors at the annual National Association of Social Workers-Mississippi Chapter Conference held last month in Biloxi: graduate student of the year, faculty/staff lifetime achievement award and all three of the student poster categories that were recognized.

“Our faculty and students deserve lots of credit for these accomplishments,” said Dr. Tim Rehner, director of the School of Social Work. “They have each contributed much energy and time in order to receive these awards. Recognition like this from our professional social work organization is confirmation that our faculty and students are doing the right stuff.

“It is great to see students doing the things that will enable them to have a greater impact after they graduate. They give me lots of hope for the future of social work.”

In addition, a USM social work alumnus won the NASW-MS Social Worker of the Year award.

Krystal Porter Bradley of Purvis, Mississippi, was named the NASW-MS Claire Nowlin Graduate Student of the Year. She and Sidney Smith of Gulfport, Mississippi, were also recognized as the respective graduate and undergraduate students of the year nominated by the School of Social Work.

Delories Williams, the school’s undergraduate program coordinator and an instructor, won the NASW-MS Lifetime Achievement Award. Williams, who is retiring in June, has worked at the School of Social Work since 1996 and is also a member of the advisory boards for the Salvation Army and the Pearl River Valley Opportunity Head Start program. 

Only three poster categories were recognized this year, and all the winners were USM students:

  • Bachelor of Social Work Empirical Research Poster: Reginald (Jojo) Virgil, Petal, Mississippi
  • Master of Social Work Empirical Research Poster: Anna O’Dell, Pass Christian, Mississippi
  • Master of Social Work Literature Review Poster: Lindsey Hardin, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

‘A Really, Really Great Honor’

Bradley knew of her nomination by the school but was stunned by being selected as the top graduate student in the state. “It’s still a shock to have won both,” she says. “I’m very honored that others see good work within me. I had no idea about graduate student of the year for Mississippi, so that was a really, really great honor and surprise to me.

“That lets me know I’m doing something right to have touched people … and not just personally but professionally as well. It pushes me to know that if I’m touching the lives around those that I’m working with and going to school with, then it gives me hope that I can impact the lives of clients that I’ll encounter in the future.”

Williams says she struggles with the term “lifetime achievement,” but is grateful for the honor. “I was very surprised. And I think I was surprised because I don’t necessarily see a ‘lifetime achievement’ award. … Those words imply that I’ve done a lot of stuff for a long period of time,” she says with a laugh.

“And I don’t necessarily see what I do on daily basis as an achievement. … Or that it should be honored in some way or recognized in some way. It’s work, it’s what I do, but it’s what I love to do. So it’s really a purpose for me and not necessarily a job for me.”

 ‘Higher-Quality Students’

This is the third consecutive year that USM students have won all the top poster awards; before this year, NASW-MS named just one poster winner each from the undergraduate and graduate categories.

Sherry Gilkey is officially the school’s academic support and advising specialist, and unofficially its poster coordinator and research consultant for students and their faculty mentors. She says the poster awards reflect the higher-caliber students USM is attracting to social work.

“We are accepting higher-quality students who want to lean forward and take advantage of opportunities to grow professionally as well as academically,” she says. “They can take the skills of doing this research and apply it across their educational career and professionally, too.

“There are skills that they learn from doing research: What does good research look like, what are credible resources? You’re doing a literature review to become expert, to know the literature that is out there. And possibly taking it a step further and doing empirical research.

“Once they get out in field, they may or may not be interested in doing research and studies, but it is good to know how to do appropriate research, in a literature review sense.”

‘An Honor … and Humbling Experience’

Charles Araujo of Jackson, Mississippi, was named the social worker of the year. Though retired from state government after 38 years, he remains active as an adjunct instructor at Jackson State; volunteer advocacy coordinator for NASW-MS; and executive director of the nonprofit Social and Economic Justice Center of Mississippi.

“Being recognized is always an honor, as well as a humbling experience, to know that your peers value what you do,” Araujo says. “It reinforces my desire to continue to advocate for social justice and economic justice.”

The School of Social Work had a strong presence at this year’s conference, with 15 of the 19 student posters; 12 of the 37 presentations by faculty, staff and students; and five more presentations by alumni.

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Learn more about the USM School of Social Work.

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