Why I Give: Meet Our Alumni and Donor

Jackie McGinley surrounded by books in a library.
“The Advancement staff and I designed the award to recognize a student working in the field; to say, ‘good job’ and ‘keep going’... ”

Jackie McGinley, PhD '18

by Jana Eisenberg

It started with around $5, and “wanting to help.”

While earning her advanced degree at UBSSW, Jacqueline McGinley, PhD ’18, responded to an email appeal from the school’s Division of University Advancement (formerly Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement); it inspired an unexpected journey of meaningful giving to the school.

“The email, about the Students Helping Students Fund, said something like, ‘Would you give part of your weekly coffee money to this fund?,’” said McGinley, who is now an assistant professor in Binghamton University’s Department of Social Work.

“I do drink a lot of coffee, so that resonated,” she continued. “The second part of deciding to give was the idea of helping my student colleagues. I learned that students had actually established this fund, and it’s used for emergencies, for example, airfare to attend a family member’s funeral or help with tuition or books.”

McGinley earned her bachelor’s (sociology/anthropology) at Elmira College, and her MSW at Rutgers University (concentration in mental health/aging); she selected UB for further education after researching the region’s options.

“UBSSW stood out as a top-tier school with a long-range, innovative vision for integrating trauma-informed care and technology into the profession,” she said of applying to the PhD program. “I was fortunate to be accepted. The exceptional mentorship impressed me—I worked with Dr. Deborah Waldrop for the four years I was there; she inspired me as a scholar and educator. I also feel fortunate that Dr. Laina Bay-Cheng led my PhD cohort—she emphasized mentorship and treated the three students in our cohort as whole people. I still carry the peer mentorship we shared into my current work. I also forged a professional relationship with then-Dean Nancy Smyth, who was incredibly thoughtful and accessible even during the early days of the pandemic.”

As McGinley’s relationship with the school’s Division of University Advancement deepened, she began giving annually; she also progressed in her own career, realizing that she wanted to have a more specific impact.

McGinley’s giving now reflects her research and teaching interests, which include intellectual and developmental disabilities, end-of-life care and bereavement, and gerontological, organizational, and community social work.

“As a practitioner, I worked with people with developmental disabilities and discovered that there were few social workers in the field. I also realized that organizations experienced real difficulties recruiting and retaining high-quality employees,” she said. “As I moved into researching and teaching, I realized a disconnect between social work students and their awareness of this rewarding career possibility.”

After talking with the Advancement office, she decided to establish an annual award—not of a high-dollar amount—to acknowledge a student who showed interest in this area. “Instead of just thinking about all the problems this field faced, I wanted to do something,” she said. “The Advancement staff and I designed the award to recognize a student working in the field; to say, ‘good job’ and ‘keep going’—hoping to give them an incentive to stay in the field post-graduation.”

Her first award, established in 2016, led to the next step in McGinley’s giving journey. “The first year, the recipient was engaged at a local agency, running a grief support group around end-of-life care for people with disabilities and their families,” said McGinley. “When the agency heard she’d be receiving an award, they asked if members of their staff—and the support group—could be part of the presentation.”

In attendance the night of the event was SSW research professor emeritus, Dr. Tom Nochajski. Inspired by McGinley’s award, and in honor of his late wife, he was moved to donate funds to endow the award. It is now called the Susan Nochajski and Jacqueline McGinley Excellence in Disability Practice Award. Dr. Susan Nochajski, a clinical associate professor in UB’s Department of Rehabilitation Science and director of the Occupational Therapy Program, dedicated her life to working primarily with persons with IDD.

With the endowment in place, and in further conversation with the school’s field office and her mentor, Deborah Waldrop, McGinley decided to push further. Now, she has created the Intellectual and Developmental Disability Experiential Learning Fund, which actively encourages recipients to consider the field, offering a stipend, and requiring them to complete the school’s Social Work Practice in Serious Illness Care micro-credential program.

McGinley emphasizes that gifts don’t have to be large or extravagant to be impactful. “My annual giving ranges between $500 to $2,500,” she said. “Even though I may not be in a position to make a larger gift, or endow the award myself, I know that I can say to the advancement folks, ‘Hey, I have this idea…’—I love that they want to work with people to help realize their giving goals.”

“I hope that by the end of my career, my research will make a meaningful difference in my field—that generally takes years,” said McGinley. “There’s something about this funding that feels more immediate—every year, seeing students exploring and becoming committed to the field.”

What’s important to YOU in your giving?

To learn more about making a meaningful, customized gift of any size to the school (yes, even $5!), please contact Laura Dawidowicz at lauradaw@buffalo.edu or at 716-829-3737.