April 21, 2024
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Touro School of Social Work Recognizes and Celebrates Achievements

The Touro College Graduate School of Social Work celebrated the Class of 2017 for its triumphs, challenges, academic achievements and outstanding community service at an annual Academic Recognition Program infused with warmth, humor and inspiration. Held at the 92nd Street Y, the auspicious event brought together more than 400 individuals, including students, faculty, staff, family members and other well-wishers.

The occasion also served as an unexpected kickoff for the Dean Steven Huberman Leadership Award for Student Scholarships, named after the school’s founding and current dean. Presenting a personal check for $2,500, and pledging an additional $2,500 in matching funds, Touro College and University System Provost Patricia Salkin, J.D., said she and her husband, Howard, were starting the fund as a “token of appreciation for Dean Huberman’s unswerving leadership.”

Visibly moved and without a moment’s hesitation, Dr. Huberman said that he and his family would also contribute $2,500 to the fund, and then others present at the gathering spontaneously began making donations to the social work scholarship fund.

Provost Salkin received the Touro National Outstanding Social Work Leadership Award at the event to mark her years as a foremost legal scholar and advocate for positive social change. Prior to assuming the position of provost for the Graduate and Professional Division in March 2016, Salkin served as dean of Touro’s Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center.

In welcoming the gathering, Dr. Huberman noted that the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—“The time is always right to do what is right”—rang true for the graduates and the profession they were about to join. And in quoting poet John Donne—“No man is an island”—Dr. Huberman credited faculty, staff and family members for supporting the students in their quest to “reach this milestone.”

Speaking on behalf of Dr. Alan Kadish, Touro College and University System president, who was in Israel with his family, David Raab, executive vice president, noted that Pirke Avot, or the Ethics of the Fathers, is a compilation of Judaism’s teachings that represent an important element of the school’s outlook and principles. “The main thing is not study, but doing” and “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it” are two aphorisms from Pirke Avot that the graduates had already put into action—in their advocacy work in Albany and their counting of the homeless, Mr. Raab said, adding, “We can’t wait to see the impact you will have in making the world better.”

David Mandel, CEO of Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services and chair of the graduate school’s Professional Advisory Committee, presented the Ohel Leadership Community Service Award to Rabbi Mimon Mamane, who did his clinical field work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

In accepting the award, Rabbi Mamane said, “I exposed myself to the vulnerability around death and the dying process, and learned a lot about life and humanity.”

The National Association of Social Workers New York City Chapter (NASW-NYC) presented the organization’s Student Award for Outstanding Community Service and Leadership to Deguyo Tehe. A native of the Ivory Coast who holds a master of public administration, Tehe has devoted himself to a project geared to helping immigrant fathers understand and adapt to American culture.

Seth Abrams was honored with the Dr. Bernard and Sarah Lander Distinguished Social Work Tikun Olam Award, which memorializes the legacies of Touro College’s founder and his wife, and pays tribute to a graduate student who “has overcome tremendous personal obstacles and is making a difference in the community,” said Allison Bobick, director of student advancement.

Through sheer force of will, Mr. Abrams recovered from not only an aortic dissection, which has a survival rate of only 20 percent, but overcame the devastating impact of a stroke soon after, said Ms. Bobick. “Our Seth does not believe in statistics,” she noted.

Although his parents were told he would never walk again, swallow or have use of his left side, and doctors recommended that he live in a skilled nursing facility, Seth “defiantly rose up from his hospital bed and said, ‘No,’” Ms. Bobick said. “With remarkable determination, courage and inner strength, he devoted all his time and energy to his rehabilitation program,” including physical and occupational therapy and speech and cognitive training,” she said. That fierce determination enabled him to enter the graduate school only a year and a half later and to graduate with a near-perfect GPA.

Ever grateful for the support he received from family and friends and to be alive, Seth vowed to give back and began volunteering in rehabilitation centers, helping patients facing catastrophic medical issues. Social work became his calling. In accepting the Tikun Olam award, Mr. Abrams noted that the wise words of Jacob Riis, the highly respected Danish-American social reformer and muckraking journalist, dovetailed with his own view of perseverance.

“‘When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times, without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.’”

Sherline Thomas was honored with the Special Recognition Award for her research at the New York Academy of Medicine that concentrated on the role of intervention in improving parenting skills.

Dr. Eric Levine, director of social work alumni engagement and financial resource development, presented Cheryl Bogdan, class of 2012, with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Ms. Bogdan is a founding member and vice president of the Graduate School of Social Work Alumni Association and serves as the lead social worker at the Queens Public Library, a position that enables her to help immigrants in a place without stigma.

In her congratulatory remarks, Dr. Nadja Graff, vice president, Touro College Division of Graduate Studies, told students to “bask in the pride of being part of a profession whose foundation is about giving and caring.” She advised the students to keep their idealism alive and, quoting poet Robert Louis Stevenson, said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

Among other highlights, the event recognized two students—Vanessa Rosa and Stephanie Plasencia—with the Latino Community Service Award; four students in the Aging Education Fellowship—Marcia Mahan-Smith, Norma Beda, Sherline Thomas and Nikisha Pearson; two students—Sasha Vandekar and Rachel Jungreis—in the Evidence-Based Practice in Mental Health Education Fellowship; five students in the Military Social Work Education Fellowship—Jesse Murphy, Meliza Figueroa-Torres, Dori Alper, Alexandr Usov and Genise Lopez-Acevedo; numerous students with the Excellence in Field Education award; 23 individuals who achieved Dean’s Academic Honors with Distinction, Cumulative GPA 3.9-4.0; and Dean’s Highest Academic Honors with Distinction: 4.0.

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