Austin, Texas – Katrina Fitzpatrick, a master’s student at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, has been honored with the 2020 Andrew Marks Student Advocacy Award by the Texas Field Educators Consortium.

The bi-annual, Texas-wide award is given in memory of Andrew Marks, a senior clinical lecturer at Texas State University. Fitzpatrick was recognized for her advocacy on behalf of individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

“I have been advocating for autism awareness and acceptance ever since my son was diagnosed, more than 10 years ago,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is the reason why I chose social work as a career path as a non-traditional student in my 40s.”

Last October, the Texas Board of Social Work Examiners changed its Code of Conduct to no longer prohibit social workers from turning away clients on the basis of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. After widespread state and national protests against this decision, the board’s executive committee held a virtual public meeting with opportunities for public testimony.

At the public meeting, Fitzpatrick delivered a testimony where she presented statistics about children diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disabilities and comorbid mental health disorders, their high rate of unemployment they they become adults, and the high degree of overlap between the neurodiverse and LGBTQIA communities.

“I explained how the change in the Code of Conduct put this population at risk on multiple levels and from the very professionals who are supposed to help them,” Fitzpatrick said. “My voice was one of my that influenced the board’s decision to overturn their original ruling and reinstate the anti-discrimination protections in the Code of Conduct. I am glad that I had the opportunity to have a small role in shining a light on the importance of learning about and meeting the needs of the disability community.”

The award is given to one bachelor’s student and one master’s student in a social work program at a Texas university. Students self-nominate and a faculty member must co-sign the nomination. The award is given during Social Work Advocacy Day, an event organized every two years by NASW-Texas.

The award commemorates the work of Marks, who had a long history of advocacy in Texas. Marks worked for NASW from February 1998 to June of 1999 as the program coordinator. Later, as a professor at Texas State, Marks encouraged students to be politically active and to be advocates within the social work profession.