June 15, 2020
(HOUSTON, TX) - Ada Cheung (MSW '06 & PhD '10) and MSW Student Jasmine Major were selected as this year's recipients of Social Worker of the Year and Student of the Year, respectively, by the Houston Branch of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). *Ann Liberman, Director of Alumni and Career Services was selected as this year's Lifetime Achievement Award honoree.
The criteria to be awarded Social Worker of the Year by NASW Texas states that the recipient must "advocate for clients, make a demonstratable contribution to social work, demonstrate outstanding leadership, contribute to a positive image for the social work profession, and takes risks to achieve outstanding results."
Recipients named Student of the Year must demonstrate "leadership, commitment to social justice, the profession and clients, and integrate social work knowledge skills, attitudes, and values."
We asked Dr. Ada Cheung and Jasmine Major to share how their time at the GCSW made an impact on the social work education and the critical role social workers play in advancing social justice for both individuals and communities.
Name: Ada Cheung, PhD, LCSW-S
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Graduation Year from the GCSW: MSW ’06 and PhD ‘10
Position: Chief Clinical Officer at the Jewish Family Service of Houston
What initially drove you to pursue your education in social work?
Curiosity. I honestly didn't know what social work was when I applied. Even after I read the descriptions of what the course curriculum would cover, I still didn't have a clear idea of what I would be doing, but I knew it sounded like "something great." I thought, "I can be anything I want to be." Out of curiosity, I decided to give it a try and allow myself to figure out more during my first year. After that, I couldn't get enough, and I developed a lifelong mission to pursue social justice. I believe that all people have the potential to change and to be better for each other. I love research, and I went on to complete my doctoral in social work!
Who is someone that inspired you to model your work and career?
I can't pinpoint just one person. It was a long social work journey with different stages and detours, including many ups and downs. Fortunately, I had professors from UH GCSW, mentors, mentees, peers, and colleagues from diverse settings who inspired me and supported me to be the social worker of the day.
What is something you would like those who are not familiar with your line of work to understand better?
I work at Jewish Family Service of Houston, a non-profit human service agency for people of all ages, all faiths and all walks of life. Besides carrying my client caseload, I am an administrator at JFS and ensure our clinical social work meets the highest standards in ethics by following the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics. Adhering to this ensures that our social work practice is guided by the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners' rules and regulations from the Department of State Health Services. Our work is driven by evidence-based practice and ensures that we have a culturally competent practice so we can provide high-quality service to individuals in the community.
How has the GCSW prepared you for what you are currently doing at Jewish Family Services?
I am grateful to GCSW for providing a safe ground for me to fall on and to get back up again. I appreciate that the design of the course curriculum covers a wide range of social work modalities. I had the opportunity to learn from the best professors doing clinical social work, fighting social justice, evaluating research, and holding the highest ethical standards. They all equipped me to step into the real world of social work, not just with an understanding of theories or conceptual paradigms, but also actions to practice and ways to speak up against unjust situations. I am fortunate that the GCSW built a robust and solid foundation for me to do my job anywhere I am.
Anything else you would like to share?
It is my honor to be nominated and selected by NASW for the Social Worker of the Year 2020 award during this challenging time when we face a global pandemic and oppressed racism. I am finding it difficult to express or describe what is weighing me down and paralyzing me, but it won't stop me from trying. Racism is part of our life and, therefore, it is a meaningful conversation to have. It is raw, and it is vulnerable. Enough is enough. We are all responsible for making it open and making it loud. It angers me when racism is ignored and minimized. Going forward, we need to talk more about it and to say no to what is unjust. We need to do our part to fight for justice.
Whatever part that you feel you can do: from googling and learning about racism, sharing a post on social media, changing your profile picture, reaching out to a friend who needs support, calling out an unjust incident in public, protesting in the city, exercising your right to vote--there are many, many things we can do to stand up for each other. Everything everyone does is influential.
As social workers, our work is essential. We make ourselves seen, we make our voices heard, we advocate for change, and we, as always, show up. We will get through the challenges in this uncertain time.
Name: Jasmine Major
Preferred Pronouns: She, her, hers
Graduation Year from the GCSW: August 2020
What drew you to continue your education in social work?
Although I was initially drawn to social work by my ability to incorporate aspects of my interests into my career, a combination of personal and educational experiences has confirmed my interest in this profession. It has led me to pursue an MSW after obtaining my BSW from the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) in May 2019. My family is very service-oriented, and I am a third-generation social worker with my grandmother, older sister, and aunt, all serving as social workers before me. As a result, I grew up in an environment in which I continuously witnessed the devastating effects of social problems (e.g., poverty, mental illness, ageism) on my community, and I was also able to see how my family members assisted affected individuals during times of distress. My personal experiences have had a large hand in formulating the initial desire to work with disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. Still, my MSW experience has provided an atmosphere in which I have been able to develop an in-depth understanding of the population that I am most drawn to – children, adolescents, and families. Further, I have been able to gain the knowledge and tools needed to work with a multitude of other traditionally marginalized populations.
Who has inspired your work and your career?
Dr. Heather Goltz, an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Houston-Downtown, has been a constant source of inspiration throughout my collegiate journey. During my undergraduate years, Dr. Goltz built on my foundational knowledge of social work as my professor in three courses and assisted me in linking my interests to research opportunities as my faculty mentor. With Dr. Goltz's guidance, I embraced the art of perseverance and leaned into my inner resilience when encountering obstacles. As a graduate student, Dr. Goltz continues to inspire me to achieve my aspirations. Through her wisdom, I have discovered that there is no expiration date on goals. One can fulfill their wishes now or even three decades from now; the key is to maintain the inner desire to do so. I am thankful that I am on target to achieve some of my ambitions at such a young age, but I know that others may need a little more motivation. To them, I say, "Take all the time that you need." but eventually come back and take charge of those aspirations and then say, "What's next?" as you conquer other ambitions.
What do you believe set you apart from others nominated for this recognition?
To quote Steven Parks, my field instructor for the 2019-2020 academic year, "I know you still have much to learn, but like your fellow students, you come in with the heart of a social worker [and] that is something that cannot be taught."
I have always been an academic, but the most important lesson that I have learned in life is that authenticity is a more reliable way of living than the act of keeping up appearances. I believe that the other nominees each had their version of what makes them authentic in their desire to assist micro, mezzo, and macro systems that have systematically silenced and conditioned us to believe that they are not worthy of justice. My commitment to authenticity includes remaining curious about the world around me as well as about the clients. I have also come to an understanding I cannot be perfect in my efforts, but I can be consistent.
This consistency has led me to continually develop innovative ways of practicing social work, align myself with social work values and ethics in a personal and professional sense, and practice self-reflection and growth.
How has the GCSW prepared you for your career/social work specialization?
Beyond providing a curriculum that has been challenging and enriching, the Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) has offered several opportunities for additional learning through campus events. I am especially grateful for Dr. Amber Mollhagen's support through the SHINE scholarship program. As a recipient of the SHINE scholarship, I have been able to engage in additional networking and professional development opportunities. Additionally, the Field Office's efforts allowed me to match with a field placement that has intensified my drive to provide clinical services for children and adolescents experiencing behavioral health challenges.
Why do you believe organizations must recognize the work of social work students?
Throughout my time at the GCSW, I have met colleagues from a variety of backgrounds - some who are first-generation college students like myself, some who juggle full households, and some who are in vastly different waters after changing careers. Despite the various individual journeys that we have taken to intersect at the GCSW, we have all poured time and energy into mastering our craft as social workers.
It is essential to recognize the work of social work students because while many of us are at the beginning of our careers, we have taken strides to establish our commitment through our advocacy, research, and the development of micro and macro projects (inside and outside of the classroom). Acknowledging and honoring the work of social work students lets us know that while we may be students, our impact and commitment to the profession is still seen and felt by the community.