Fifty years after the University at Albany’s School of Social Welfare was created, it seems to be in very capable hands.
Professor Katharine Briar-Lawson, who has served as dean of the School of Social Welfare since 1999, won the International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award from the National Association of Social Workers earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
The award is given to an “individual, group or organization that has significantly advanced the public image of professional social work. Last year’s winner was U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
A Connecticut native, Briar-Lawson is a 1968 graduate of Columbia University, the college most closely connected to the fostering of social welfare as a profession.
“In 1964 the U.S. declared a war on poverty and passed an act enabling college students to get summer jobs,” Briar-Lawson said. “I went to Harlem that summer and began considering social work as a career. The country was on this path to eradicate poverty or at least reduce poverty, but they needed a work force to do that so there was this huge infusion of interest in social work.”
In the half-century since, interest in social work has not subsided, Briar-Lawson said.
“We have very high rates of applications to our program, and we’re seeing that all around the country,” she said. “With the Affordable Care Act, mental health issues now get better coverage, and it’s social workers that do the majority of mental health care in the country. We’re seeing new departments pop up in universities all over the country, and the jobs are there.”
The Sarnat Award carries a $3,000 prize, and is named after Rhoda G. Sarnat, a retired clinical social worker and a former faculty member at the University of Southern California Graduate School of Social Work.