A Celebration of Social Work

student pitchers with the Dean.

Acknowledging alumni who are doing good & doing well


By Jana Eisenberg

Last October the school hosted a Celebration of Social Work – the fun and casual event combined our alumni awards with a new element: a competitive student pitch.

In her opening remarks, Dean Nancy Smyth pointed out that alumni continue to be an important part of the school community, acting as ambassadors for both the school and social work education in general. “It’s amazing to see what our alumni are doing with their degrees, whether they’re in traditional or non-traditional social work environments,” said Smyth.

She also noted that alumni can and do continue to make a difference for current social work students, whether it’s investing in the school financially and/or giving time or guidance for the next generation of social workers by mentoring or providing internship and field opportunities.

Rita Andolina, MSW ’88, executive committee member of the UB Alumni Association board of directors, added her welcome, noting that social workers, in their practice or research, make outstanding contributions while maintaining “a positive attitude and a drive to help others.”

The Distinguished Alumni Awardees for 2018 are Dr. Toby Laping, MSW '63, Dr. Nancy Kusmaul, PhD '13 and Lisa Kaseman, JD/MSW '06. The fast-paced event included brief introductions from a colleague, then a brief acknowledgment from the award recipient. Thanks to all who attended!

Distinguished Master of Social Work

Alumni Award

Kristin Surdej, MSW ’00, principal of Laping Surdej Associates, gave the introduction for Laping, who is an acknowledged leader in geriatric care management in the region; in the 1980s, Laping pioneered the area’s first private geriatric care management agency, Laping, Sayers Associates (since changed to Laping, Surdej Associates).

“Toby’s dedication and positive impact are evident from her long, successful and diverse career as a social worker, philanthropist, educator and entrepreneur,” said Surdej. “She’s impacted the community on so many levels, working for years as a classroom, field and public educator, a mentor and field supervisor. She is gracious and generous.”

“She’s personally invested in others, giving service to people, one professional at a time,” added Surdej. “Her contributions are lasting—she had a long running column in Forever Young magazine; she’s provided legal services for the elderly and disabled; and served on the Dean’s committee. Though she calls herself ‘essentially retired,’ she never stops working. She continues to consult to those providing services for older citizens; she was a founder of the nonprofit Canopy of Neighbors.”

Surdej wrapped up by saying that this is one of many honors that Laping has received, and acknowledging her own experience with Laping as a role model.

In Laping’s brief and characteristically enthusiastic comments, she thanked her husband for his understanding of her commitment to her profession. She thanked Surdej, who took over the Laping firm around 2008.

“[Dean] Nancy [Smyth] and the school are doing a wonderful, creative job, exploring and teaching students new ways and new understandings of how social work can function,” she said.

Distinguished PhD in Social Welfare

Alumni Award

The next honoree, Nancy Kusmaul, PhD '13 was introduced by fellow alum Rebecca K. Eliseo-Arras, PhD ‘16, MSW ‘08. Kusmaul, who is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, specializes in organizational culture, trauma informed care and the impact of trauma experiences on the workforce.

“She’s an amazing social work colleague and great and reliable friend who cares for students, friends and family. She’s dedicated to her goals and humble about her accomplishments.”

Living up to that assessment, Kusmaul acknowledged the honor being bestowed on her with humility. “I’ve only been a PhD and a social work faculty member for about five years,” Kusmaul explained. “My goals include improving services for older adults and their caregivers, and my research has focused on direct care workers. I couldn’t do it without my friends.” She added that she enjoys being part of her BSW students’ “aha” moments every day. She also thanked her UBSSW mentors from her dissertation committee, including Tom Nochajski, Deborah Waldrop and Dean Smyth.

Louis H. Swartz

Memorial Award

In her introduction of the next awardee, retired UBSSW Field Education Coordinator Zoe Koston acknowledged her father, longtime UB Professor Louis Swartz, for whom the JD/MSW award is named. He instilled in her a sense of determination, and the belief in the circular philosophy of both giving back and paying it forward. The Louis H. Swartz Memorial Award is a way of doing that, she said.

In her introduction of Lisa Kaseman, JD/MSW '06, her colleague Joan Hoover described her as “compassionate, considerate, tough, fair, candid, real and passionate about helping anyone she encounters anywhere.”

Kaseman, who is a regional vice president at Conifer Real Estate Development, Construction and Management, uses her law background and her social work training in the real estate field, leading the development team for New York, and “impacting lives at a social level, showing a commitment to alleviating homelessness in Rochester,” added Hoover.

Kaseman thanked her family and friends, as well as Conifer’s in-house counsel, Susan Jennings, who had nominated her for the award. “I’m appreciative of Conifer’s residents—the people we serve every day,” said Kaseman. “My time at the School of Social Work taught me the importance of celebrating diversity, and the differences that we can make in each other’s lives.” She wrapped up by announcing that she’d be donating the stipend associated with the award to Veterans Outreach.

Entrepreneurial Social Work Students, Pitching for Their Cause

Frequently, alumni and friends express an interest in giving back to the UBSSW. And there are many ways to do it, depending on individuals’ preferences and abilities. Some volunteer as field educators, mentors and advisory board members. There is also literal giving—making donations to help the school and our students in various ways and via various avenues.

An exciting new opportunity for alumni and friends to support the school was presented at October’s Celebration of Social Work—the newly formatted event included both the alumni awards (see story page 10) and this chance to support a student-led initiative.

It worked this way: three students or student groups, each representing a different initiative, gave brief, live “elevator pitches” (a timed three minutes) to the Celebration attendees. After hearing all of the pitches, the attendees voted for their top choice—the initiative that earned the most votes was awarded 100 percent of the event registration fees, which totaled about $950.

Challenge2Change Social Action Initiative

The first pitch was presented by students Krista Regdos and Erika Vertigan. They talked about a successful leadership development program for high school students, already begun by a UBSSW contingency, through which MSW students conduct intergroup dialogues with diverse Western New York high school students to develop and implement social action plans that will enhance cross-cultural understanding and social justice locally. The newly empowered high school student leaders are bridging cultural differences in meaningful and positive ways—at the end of the semesters, they put their plans into action to create real-world impact by hosting community forums and advocacy events among other possibilities.

The funds would be used to help the schools create the unique student-driven social actions to create greater cultural understanding, tolerance and acceptance.

Adaptive Sports Tools for the Visually Impaired: A Social Impact Venture

MSW student Cheney Brockington described how, as part of the 2018 Social Impact Fellows program, she and her MBA partner Lauren Weiss were placed at Olmsted Center for Sight. While there, and with their mission to create social change, they identified immediate barriers to participation in sports for individuals with visual impairment. Lacking adaptive strategies, many of these individuals experience inequalities. Brockington and Weiss designed an adaptive sports athletic product, as well as an online adaptive sports resource guide, which promote inclusivity in physical activity. Addressing such inequalities, said Brockington, falls within the purview of the social work field.

Students Helping Students Fund

In her pitch, MSW student Priscilla Kabilamany noted that, while social work graduate students are working to make differences in others’ lives, empowering and advocating, that sometimes they themselves need a hand. That is why the UBSSW Students Helping Students Fund was created: to help current students through emergencies that might otherwise disrupt their progress towards earning their degree. The fund, which is supported through donations from students, faculty/staff and alumni, offers one-time financial assistance for immediate and current emergency situations. Awards of up to $600 are granted upon review and approval of a student’s request for assistance.

The anonymous votes, made by placing a chit in one of three buckets to indicate the voters favorite, were tallied during the break. The winner emerged as Challenge2Change—all the causes are worthy ones, of course, and anyone who would like to support any of our many student- and school-led initiatives is invited to contact Mary Glenn at (716) 829-4773 or glenn@buffalo.edu or go to tinyurl.com/ubssw-giving to make your gift.

Thank you again to all who participated, and on behalf of our excellent students and their creative, passionate work.