The Division of Social Work at Indiana University Northwest honored 35 graduates from its Master of Social Work (MSW) program during an emotional hooding ceremony on April 18.
Degree candidates for 2008 joined their family, friends and faculty members for an evening of food, recognition and reflection as they celebrated the impending conclusion of three intensive years of study. Because the MSW program, which is part of the College of Health and Human Services, is a practicum-heavy evening program serving many working professionals, the MSW degree requires three years and unwavering student dedication for completion.
As many of this year’s graduates noted during their brief remarks, their commitment to the MSW program was shared by their families – husbands and wives, significant others, parents, and children.
“I thank God for my mother … and my two kids, Darius and Justin, for being patient with me,” said graduate Denise Boone, of Gary. “Because Mommy wasn’t home a lot. But they always made sure I had a plate. I thank God for them. I wish my cohort all the best luck in the world. And to my supervisors … look out, I’m coming!”
Parents provided crucial moral and financial support for many MSW students.
“It’s been an exciting time for everyone, so I just want to congratulate my fellow graduates tonight, and also thank my parents for essentially letting me be a squatter at their home for three years, for free,” said graduate Gina Budzevski, of Merrillville.
David Westhuis, Ph.D., executive director of the IU Division of Social Work, which is headquartered at IUPUI, said Friday’s hooding ceremony was meant to honor the graduates’ families for their contributions to the students’ success.
“The folks here who are graduating are only graduating because their family members have supported them,” Westhuis said. “If it were not for the support of your family members, you would not be graduating from this program. This is a way for the students to thank the families as much as it is a congratulations for the students.”
Westhuis said the IU Northwest MSW program is known for the routinely high caliber of its students. Many students that come through the Northwest program, he added, are the first in their families to earn an advanced degree. Westhuis said the program’s first-rate faculty is a prized commodity throughout the statewide division.
“In terms of valuing this campus, we (at IUPUI) frequently steal some of your faculty from here,” he said. “That tells you the respect we have for the quality of the faculty that are here.”
Graduate Twan Stokes, president of Zeta Pi, the IU Northwest chapter of the Phi Alpha National Social Work Honor Society, recounted the group’s efforts this year to make a difference in Northwest Indiana through fundraisers and educational outreach. The group tackled AIDS awareness, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, the impact of methamphetamines in Northwest Indiana, and other issues through a combination of volunteerism, fundraisers and informational campaigns.
“Most of all, we sought to invest in the sustainability and viability of future honor society activities through tireless fundraising,” said Stokes, of Gary, who cited a t-shirt fundraiser, raffle and bowl-a-thon as noteworthy revenue streams for Zeta Pi. “This year, our Phi Alpha Honor Society began with about $179. Through our fundraising efforts, we will be able to leave our future honor society members more than six times that amount, with about $1,200. This will give upcoming members a realistic opportunity to impact local societal challenges.”
Twenty-six of the 35 2008 MSW graduates are members of the Phi Alpha honor society, meaning they maintained grade-point averages of 3.5 or better. Stokes thanked her fellow Zeta Pi officers – treasurer Katrina Miller, vice president Robert Latiker, secretary Shannon King, and project coordinator Samantha Grooms – for their tireless efforts on behalf of the honor society and the 2008 MSW cohort.
Grooms was named the MSW Outstanding Graduate for 2008.
“I’m honored to be able to represent my cohort in this way,” Grooms, of Griffith, told the audience. “This has been a wonderful experience these past three years. I’ve learned a lot about being a social worker, about being a better social worker. But, more importantly, I’ve learned a lot about being a better person. I want to thank the faculty, staff, and my peers for teaching me so much and preparing me for my future. I am going to miss our three-hour classes discussing how we are going to change the world.”
The April 18 hooding event was very well attended by students and their guests. Associate Professor Frank Caucci, Ph.D., interim director of the IU Northwest MSW program, said that a number of students had expressed concern over the per-student guest limit, indicating that many people had shared in these graduates’ success.
“I gather that anybody here tonight is very, very special to the students,” Caucci said. “Welcome one and all.”
The 2008 MSW graduates include: JENNIFER HOOPER, of LaPorte (Mental Health and Addictions, degree conferred December 2007); DENISE HOWARD BOONE, of Gary (Mental Health and Addictions); GINA BUDZEVSKI, of Merrillville (School of Social Work); SHAUNTELL DENISE CHEW, of Merrillville (School of Social Work); TIANA CODY, of Hammond (School of Social Work); JENNIFER A. COWGER, of Schererville (Mental Health and Addictions); KAREN LEE DRAKE, of Merrillville (School of Social Work); KATRINA M. EUBANKS, of Gary (Mental Health and Addictions); JEFFREY H. FERRELL, of Hobart (Mental Health and Addictions); SHERYLIN FREELAND-MCGRADY, of Gary (School of Social Work/Leadership); SAMANTHA MARIE GROOMS, of Griffith (Mental Health and Addictions/Leadership); MARY BETH GYURE, of Portage (Mental Health and Addictions); FAIRFAX H GREEN, of Gary (School of Social Work); DASHAWN B. HUNTER, of Richton Park, Ill. (Mental Health and Addictions); VASHONTE JAMES, of Portage (Mental Health and Addictions); CHRISTIANN KALINA, of Hammond (Mental Health and Addictions); SHANNON D. KING, of Merrillville (Mental Health and Addictions); ROBERT J. LATIKER, of Crown Point (School of Social Work); ERIN PAULETTE MILLER, of Crown Point (Leadership); KATRINA ANN MILLER, of Cedar Lake (Mental Health and Addictions/ School of Social Work); KELLY ANN POLONCZYK, of Merrillville (Mental Health and Addictions); MEAGAN M. RAPPATTA, of Portage (Mental Health and Addictions) MICHELLE LYNN SAUNDERS, of Gary (Mental Health and Addictions); SANDRA RANAE SCHAEFFER, of Valparaiso (School of Social Work); MICHELLE SHELTON, of Hammond (Mental Health and Addictions); CLAUDIA SOLIS, of Schererville (School of Social Work); TWAN S. STOKES, of Gary (Leadership); RUBAN SUAREZ, of Hammond (Mental Health and Addictions); MICHELLE MARIE TAGGART, of Hobart (Mental Health and Addictions); DAVID BRIAN TINSLEY, of Merrillville (Mental Health and Addictions) JACOB ALLEN SHERRON, of Crown Point (Mental Health and Addictions); KRISTI J. STRICKLAND, of Valparaiso (School of Social Work); WILLIAM GLENN WHEATON, of Merrillville (Mental Health and Addictions); EBONY T. WILLIAMS, of Merrillville (School of Social Work); DAWN MARIE BELL, of Portage (School of Social Work, degree to be conferred August 2008); and MICHELLE ANN ROGOWSKI, of Griffith (School of Social Work, degree to conferred August 2008).