A Celebration of Social Work

pitchers pose with the Dean Nancy Smyth.

Pitch participants, Mel LeMay, Cassidy Malough, Dean Nancy Smyth, Danial Khan, and Maureen Wopperer

Celebrating Alumni & Student Prowess

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By Jim Bisco

Honoring those who have taken their UBSSW-gained foundational skills and insights and made significant strides in the world is reason enough for us to celebrate. Add to that our students, who are beginning to make waves as they prepare for their career voyage. Our annual Celebration of Social Work, held in the fall of 2019, acknowledged both alumni award recipients and student pitch competitors.

Student Pitch Competitors

A student pitch competition was held with three students or student groups, each representing a different initiative, giving four-minute "elevator pitches" to the celebration's attendees who then voted for their top choice. The initiative that received the most votes was awarded the event registration fees. (Stacy Tromble, Swartz Memorial Award recipient, donated her monetary award to the winner).

The student pitch winner was Maureen Wopperer on behalf of Youth Task Force. "The organization I worked with for my project educated me on the plight of homeless youth, shared the data they had collected, their goals and and their plan of action," said Wopperer.  "I was stunned to win. The best part was seeing my research professor in the audience; I noted, 'It’s what you taught me, research and data.' His was the hardest class I ever had but I learned a ton." 

The runner-up pitches were made by Mel LeMay for Partnership for the Public Good, and Danial Khan and Cassidy Malough for the Social Impact Fellows Program.

Maureen Wopperer posed with colleagues and check for Youth Task Force for $2,240.

Pitch Winner, Maureen Wopperer (far right)

Distinguished Alumni Award: Luz M. Lopez, MSW, '90

Luz M. Lopez poses with colleagues.

Luz M. Lopez, MSW, ’90,  who is a clinical associate professor and the associate director of Boston University School of Social Work’s dual degree program in social work and public health, has widely demonstrated her pursuit of human rights and social justice. She has done this in her roles as an educator, mentor, researcher, social worker, and public health professional; she also has a focus on promoting justice and health for the Latino population, particularly immigrants  and women. 

Lopez’s MSW pursuit at the SSW was her first journey to the U.S. mainland from her native Puerto Rico. “My experience at UB gave me a wonderful foundation for my future career as a social worker and then as an educator. I met excellent professors who supported me as I adapted to a new language and new environment,” she related. “I started taking classes in the Women’s Studies program, and in my last year I was asked to co-teach a course. That was an amazing experience because I worked with people from different ethnic backgrounds and different ages; together we discussed the content of the class. That experience is what I later adapted to my own teaching.” 

Lopez’s interest in combining public health with social work began at UB during the early years of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. “People still had a lot of fear and stigma about it. I felt that public health would give me that bigger view while I continued with social work’s clinical perspective. The two interrelated so well,” she explained. 

She has an equal passion for human rights. “I didn’t want to see people being rejected. I wanted to change that. My Latino culture has a lot of homophobia and it was all related. There’s where my social justice began,” she said. “And now, with immigrants and refugees I’m also trying to create more of an understanding and see if policies can change so that more people can be welcomed here.” 

Distinguished Alumni Award, PhD: Molly R. Wolf, MSW, '07, PhD, '14

Susan Green, Molly Wolf, and Dean Nancy Smyth pose with award.

Molly R. Wolf, MSW, ’07, PhD, ’14, an associate professor in the Edinboro University Department of Social Work, has done notable work with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and its long-term effects. “I have examined the ways that survivors are groomed into abuse. The results of my study suggest that the grooming techniques used on survivors appear to effect current trauma symptoms, even independent of the sexual abuse itself,” she explained. “The other area of my research has been examining the ways that survivors’ current income is directly affected by their abuse experiences, with decreased income and lower income levels.” 

Of particular note in Wolf’s research is her look at both perpetrators and victims. With her Edinboro colleagues, she has just completed the first portion of a study where offenders were asked how they groomed children into abuse. “We are creating a measure that can be used by clinicians to assess the offenders’ awareness and commission of sex offenses via grooming behaviors towards children,” she said. “The other way that this research prevents abuse is that it can be used to educate the public about grooming behaviors so that they can recognize signs of abuse in their community.” 

She credits her SSW experience for providing the gateway to her flourishing research work. “The professors truly cared about my learning experiences, and it was honestly because of them that I began my PhD career,” Wolf said. “My MSW program served as the foundation for my PhD work, and both sets of learning experiences proved invaluable for me as I began my research career. My MSW work taught me how to be a skilled clinician, which is working with clients on a micro level. I used those experiences in my social work with many different populations, all of which were trauma survivors. My PhD work taught me how to effectuate change on a macro level through my research.”

Louis H. Swartz Memorial Award: Stacy A. Tromble, JD/MSW, '07

Stacy Tromble posing with colleagues at award ceremony.

Stacy A. Tromble, JD/MSW, ’07, received the award honoring the SSW faculty member who established the first JD/MSW program in the U.S. As Swartz exemplified the ideals of social justice through his 40 years of work and advocacy, so has Tromble in her decade-plus, focusing on military veterans disabled in service. 

Inspired by her father’s service in the Marine Corps, Tromble did pro bono work on behalf of veterans before joining the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) in 2015; she is now the director of Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Litigation.

“We work with a lot of veterans who have compound physical and mental health disabilities,” she explained. “The education that I received at UB helped me prepare for this work. We educate other lawyers and advocates to help veterans obtain the benefits that they have been unfairly denied. The analytic abilities that I learned in both schools has helped me in my day-to-day representation of veterans.”

Significant to Tromble was that both the Law and Social Work schools were grounded in practical, pragmatic, experiential learning. “What sets both schools apart is that there is a real focus on bringing practitioners as well as academics into the classroom so that we can better understand and learn from people who are making an impact in our communities,” she said.

She noted that getting veterans and active duty military personnel the benefits to which they are entitled is a daily struggle. “Some of our veterans can be tied up in the system for almost a decade; by the time they get here, they’re very frustrated. At NVLSP, we provide them the legal help they need to secure the benefits they’ve earned through service to our country. We’ve had major class action victories that have created impact for large groups of veterans,” said Tromble. “I go home every day very happy that I’ve done something to make a difference in our veterans’ lives. And, I can do that, in part, because of the education that I received at the University at Buffalo.”

Outstanding Volunteer Award: Edo G. Vander Kooy, MSW, '77

Edo G. Vander Kooy poses with colleagues with award at award ceremony.

Edo G. Vander Kooy, MSW, ’77, applied for a supervisory position that had opened where he worked after graduation and was told he needed to have some supervisory experience to be considered. The SSW provided that opportunity, saying to the ambitious new social worker, “We’ll get you a graduate student to supervise.” That was the beginning of a 40-year field education tenure for which Vander Kooy was honored.

He has been hailed for his dedication to and support of interns; he has nurtured many positive relationships with them, even hiring some along the way. He was noted for his thorough assessments, helpful to budding social work careers. “Assessments have always been an interest of mine; I seem to have done well in my career in supervisory positions that involve direct service,” Vander Kooy said. “Over time, the field has expanded with evidence-based practices and trauma-informed care— it’s been really fascinating for me to see that growth and development.”

Susan Green, clinical professor and co-director of the Institute on Trauma and Trauma-informed Care, said that Vander Kooy was ahead of his time when it came to programming. “He was doing traumainformed work before it was widely known and evidence-based treatment that was highly effective.” 

Although he retired from full-time work in July, he continues as a parttime consultant with Community Missions of Niagara Frontier, where he has served as manager of intensive psychiatric rehabilitation treatment and personalized recovery-oriented services for the past 24 years. Vander Kooy also continues as a field educator. “I supervise a graduate student currently and have completed the application to accept one next year,” he said.