2024 Homecoming award winners and Dean Judy Postmus

The event showcases an extraordinary assembly of social work professionals whose transformative efforts are reshaping communities and healing lives.

In a vibrant celebration of innovation, advocacy, and compassionate service, the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) celebrated its distinguished alumni at the annual Alumni Association Awards Ceremony during the school’s 2024 Homecoming on March 8, 2024.

The event showcased an extraordinary assembly of social work professionals whose transformative efforts are reshaping communities and healing lives. These awardees, each a beacon of change, underscore UMSSW’s enduring mission to cultivate leaders poised to tackle society’s most daunting challenges with empathy and expertise.

Ezra Buchdahl, MSW ’88, received the Innovation in Social Work Award for his visionary leadership in guiding residential and school programs for children and families at Catholic Charities. Buchdahl’s approach transcends traditional methods by incorporating his rehabilitation support dog, Carmen, into his practices, bringing an added layer of comfort and healing to those in need. This unique blend of compassionate care and innovative strategies not only supports vulnerable populations but also underscores the transformative power of social work in effecting systemic change. Buchdahl’s creative integration of animal-assisted therapy into his work has left an indelible mark on the lives of many, showcasing the profound impact of empathy and innovation in the field. 

The Outstanding Recent Graduate Award was presented to Melvis Asongwed, MSW ’16, who has emerged as a leading figure in the intersection of social work and criminal justice. Asongwed’s pioneering work in forensic social work is opening new pathways for justice and rehabilitation. Her commitment to providing comprehensive care to youths in the criminal justice system and her advocacy for forensic mental health underscore the evolving role of social workers in addressing complex societal challenges. Asongwed’s dedication to providing holistic care to young individuals entangled in legal challenges demonstrates a profound commitment to reshaping their futures through supportive and rehabilitative measures. By championing the cause of forensic mental health, Asongwed is playing a pivotal role in transforming the landscape of social work, making it an indispensable ally in the pursuit of a more equitable and just legal system. 

The Emeritus Award was bestowed upon Patricia Cronin, MSW ’79, for her over four decades of dedication to child abuse prevention and family support. As a former executive director of The Family Tree and a key figure in Maryland’s child welfare advocacy, Cronin and her work have had a profound impact on the state’s approach to child safety and family resilience. Her innovative strategies and tireless advocacy have played a significant role in transforming the framework within which family welfare services operate in Maryland, leading to more effective and compassionate approaches to protecting vulnerable children and empowering families. Cronin’s career is a testament to the power of dedicated leadership and the profound difference one individual’s passion and commitment can make in the lives of countless families and children. 

Holly English, MSW ’13, received the Field Instructor of the Year Award, recognizing her exceptional role in mentoring future social workers. English, a leader in pediatric mental health, has been instrumental in fostering collaboration between medical and mental health providers to improve service accessibility. English’s innovative methods in integrated care serve as a blueprint for how social work can bridge gaps in the health care system, ensuring that the most vulnerable populations receive holistic support. Through her tireless dedication, English embodies the core values of social work, making her a role model for her students and professional peers. 

Jenna Koch, MSW ’24, was recognized as the Student of the Year, a distinction that underscores her unwavering commitment to fostering social equity and enhancing mental well-being. Koch’s journey in social work is marked by her academic excellence and impactful fieldwork, notably her involvement with Twist Out Cancer, an organization that provides psychosocial support to individuals touched by cancer. Through this collaboration, she has demonstrated a deep understanding of the power of social work to heal and unite communities, even in the face of life’s most daunting challenges. Her recognition as Student of the Year is not just a personal achievement but also a beacon of hope for the transformative potential of future social workers under her influence. 

Lee Westgate, MSW ’06, was honored with the Alumni of the Year Award for his transformative work as a transgender advocate and his contributions to social work policy, practice, research, and education. Serving with distinction as a faculty member at UMSSW, Westgate has earned widespread recognition for his comprehensive and empathetic approach to behavioral health, particularly highlighting his dedicated efforts to support the LGBTQIA+ community and those individuals confronting the challenges of chronic and life-threatening illnesses. His unwavering commitment to promoting health equity and embedding trauma-informed practices into the fabric of social work have not only significantly advanced the discipline but also served as a beacon, guiding the next generation of social workers toward a future where innovation, inclusivity, and compassion are at the heart of their practice. Through his scholarly work and practical engagement, Westgate has demonstrated a profound understanding of the complex interplay between social identities and health disparities, thereby enriching the educational experience for students and setting a stellar example of professional excellence and social responsibility. 

The UMSSW Alumni Association Awards Ceremony not only honored individual achievements but also reaffirmed the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s commitment to nurturing leaders who address the pressing needs of our society. Through their diverse contributions, these awardees exemplify the spirit of service and innovation that defines the University of Maryland School of Social Work. 

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