ASU honors 13 individuals, 3 community organizations with Social Work Month Awards

Gov. Katie Hobbs delivers remarks at ceremony in Phoenix

Winners of 2023 ASU Social Work Month Awards post for a photo with their awards.

Recipients of the 2023 ASU Social Work Month Awards hold their award plaques after a March 24 ceremony in Phoenix. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU


Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs joined leaders of Arizona State University's School of Social Work to pay tribute to students, faculty, staff, alumni and community organizations at the school’s annual Social Work Month Awards.

The school honored 13 individuals and three organizations for demonstrating exceptional accomplishments in social work during the past year at the March 24 ceremony on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

March is Social Work Month and the national theme in 2023 is “Social Work Breaks Barriers,” highlighting “how social workers have enriched our society by empowering people and communities to overcome hurdles that prevent them from living life to the fullest,” according to a statement by the National Association of Social Workers.

Hobbs, who earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from the school, gave welcoming remarks. She pointed out she is the first social worker elected as a state governor in U.S. history.

Many issues social workers and their clients encounter are systemic, the governor said, and require systemic rather than individual solutions. It’s why she became an advocate for public policy, she said, then began her political career as a legislator before later being elected secretary of state in 2018 and as governor last year.

“I quickly realized that if you can’t change policy, (if) you can’t change the laws, you have to change who is making them. And this is why I knew I wanted to run for office,” the governor said.

Hobbs said social work has shaped a great deal of what she hopes to accomplish as governor. She said she and her team are aware of their responsibilities to steer policies that social workers would recognize as representative of their core values.

Cynthia Lietz, Gov. Hobbs, Elizabeth Lightfoot, Social Work Month Awards, 2023

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (center) holds an ASU clock presented to her by Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Dean Cynthia Lietz (left) and School of Social Work Director Elizabeth Lightfoot (right) pose with Hobbs after the 2023 ASU Social Work Month Awards ceremony. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU

Hobbs closed by telling social workers that the importance of what they do is personal to her.

“And finally, I want all of you to know just how much you and your work means to me. I know the past few years have been especially challenging for human services professionals,” she said. “When it comes to me and my administration, you have an ally, a champion and a collaborator who honors your work and shares your values and perspectives. Together, we will continue to break barriers.”

Cynthia Lietz, a President’s Professor of social work and dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, told the gathering that the college’s mission to build more vibrant, heathy and equitable communities not only aligns with the ASU Charter, but also with “social work’s mission to enhance the well-being and meet the basic needs of all people, with a special focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.

“In other words, the Watts College would not be the Watts College without the School of Social Work — that deserves applause,” Lietz said, as the audience clapped.

School Director and Foundation Professor Elizabeth Lightfoot said before the ceremony that the awards celebrate local people and organizations whose exemplary contributions in the past year upheld the principles of service that social workers value.

"Social workers break barriers every day, assisting underserved or vulnerable individuals to get past roadblocks to improved and more satisfying lives,” Lightfoot said. “The people and organizations we honor with Social Work Month Awards show us all how important social workers are in helping so many overcome often long odds and significant impediments to better living.”

Social workers assist people with coping strategies, difficulties and challenges in their day-to-day lives, from substance-abuse prevention to help adopting a child, while clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional problems, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Social work is one of the nation’s fastest-growing professions, according to the bureau. The agency projected that jobs in social work will grow by 9% over the next 10 years, representing 64,000 more positions over that period.

Lightfoot said the School of Social Work remains dedicated to readying more students to meet the increased requirements of the future.

“In coming years, our profession will be needed to help people and organizations deal with societal challenges,” she said. “This school and its faculty are proud to be here to embrace the call to prepare caring professionals to serve and empower more people to lead productive and satisfying lives.” 

Lightfoot noted at the ceremony that Hobbs officially proclaimed March as Social Work Month in Arizona.

2023 ASU Social Work Month winners

Professional Achievement Award: Recognizes an alumnus of the School of Social Work who graduated at least five years ago and has achievements of distinction in the social-work profession to promote the general welfare of all people.

  • Matt Pate, MSW ’16, program manager for the Inmate Navigation, Enrollment, Support and Treatment Program (INVEST).

Early Career Achievement Award: Recognizes an alumnus of the School of Social Work who graduated no more than five years ago and has achievements of distinction in the social-work profession to promote the general welfare of all people.

  • Andi Young, MSW ’22, private practice working with LGBTQ+ affirming and Health of Every Size.

Interns of the Year: Recognizes social-work students who made outstanding contributions to an agency or organization as an intern.

  • Downtown Phoenix campus: Osmara Oregon, BSW ’23, working with immigrants, Carl Hayden Community High School.
  • West campus: Kirsten Schroder, MSW ’23, Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Minor Program.
  • Tucson location: Marissa Hernandez, BSW ’23, Palo Verde High Magnet School Youth on Their Own program, Tucson Unified School District.
  • Online: Spencer Potrie, MSW ‘22, Interfaith Community Services.

Community Impact Award: Awarded to an organization or individual who exemplifies social-work values and principles and provides outstanding service of impact to the community.

  • Tempe Community Council, a nonprofit committed to addressing immediate and long-term human assistance needs in Tempe.
  • Child Health and Resiliency Mastery (CHARM), a nonprofit whose programs nurture and strengthen resiliency though evidence-based approaches that focus on coping, confidence, connection, character, contribution, control and competence.
  • The city of Tempe’s Care7 Response Team, which provides 24-hour on-scene crisis intervention services, victim assistance and social and emotional support for youths, services for veterans and community referrals.

Field Educator of the Year: Recognizes exemplary mentorship of students and excellence in collaboration with the School of Social Work to support the preparation of qualified practitioners through our signature pedagogy, field education.

  • Talia Scheletsky, MSW ’03, social worker, licensed master social worker, Skyline High School, Mesa Public Schools.

Emerging Leader of the Year: Recognizes a student nominated by peers as a future practitioner of promise and whose leadership sets an example for peers.

  • Destinee Sior, MSW ’23, interning at Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, Phoenix.

Laura Orr Service Awards: Recognizes School of Social Work staff who made contributions to improving organizational effectiveness while advancing the mission of the school. This award is named in honor of Laura Orr, who began her career with the School of Social Work on May 10, 1971. She retired in 2018 after 47 years of dedicated service.

Instructor of the Year: Recognizes excellence in classroom instruction as nominated and selected by students.

  • Irene Burnton, professor of practice, ASU School of Social Work, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Director’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession: Recognizes a social worker whose career achievements demonstrate exemplary performance in both social work practice and in a commitment to preparing the next generation of social workers through social work education or training at ASU.

  • Cora Bruno, doctorate in behavioral health, associate teaching professor, ASU School of Social Work, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

In comments before the ceremony, Bruno said the award reflects the many roles she’s had at ASU.

“Arizona State University has been a part of my life in multiple ways, including as a student, graduate, lecturer and student mentor,” Bruno said. “The last 21 years as a clinical social worker have given me an opportunity to be part of a greater system of change. I am grateful and humbled by this award and look forward to continuing to contribute to that change.”

Tempe Community Council Executive Director Octavia Harris said her organization is “extremely honored” to receive a Community Impact Award.

“Throughout our more than 50 years of history, (the council) has benefited, beyond what words can express, from the knowledge, skills and expertise of social workers on staff, at partner organizations and students in training to become social workers,” Harris said. “We are thankful for the recognition of the work we strive to do to nurture the sense of community in Tempe through demonstrating care for and about one another — always with invaluable support from social workers on staff and in the community.”

Spencer Potrie of Interfaith Community Services said receiving the Intern of the Year award was a surprise.

“It is only thanks to a couple of my mentors during the MSW program that I was nominated for this, as they took it upon themselves to recognize my efforts. Both of these mentors often stated that I am the type to be set to a task and to innovatively solve the problem,” said Potrie, who thanked his mentors, Maryann Moulinet of Interfaith Community Services and Bonnie Bazata of Pima County’s Ending Poverty Now program.

“I hope to continue this trend in my future career, wherever it may lead. Social work has allowed me to implement change for good in the lives of so many more than I could previously do on my own,” Potrie said.

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