And the envelope goes to…five members of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work (SHS) community! At the annual NASW Texas Capital Area Branch Awards Ceremony held in April, Assistant Clinical Professor Starla Simmons, LCSW-S, and Assistant Professor of Instruction Shane Whalley won Social Worker of the Year awards. Kiki Avilez, Iris Baughman, and Izzy Madaelil were selected as Social Work Students of the Year. All were chosen for their “outstanding contributions to our community’s social wellbeing and the social work profession.”  

Being honored in this way is a full circle moment for Whalley, who won the Student of the Year award from NASW Texas 20 years ago. “It is lovely to be recognized by my peers as I was graduating with my MSSW and now 20 years in and toward the end of my career,” Whalley says. 

Simmons, who believes she won the award in recognition of her work as former interim executive director of Black Mamas ATX and her advocacy for students, says, It feels really special to be recognized for all the different roles and projects I’ve supported in the last few years.” 

Madaelil, an SHS MSSW 2023 graduate, feels honored to be recognized for her work as a graduate assistant for the Office of the Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility and as a Dean’s Ambassador. As someone whose “professional journey has been searching for a place where I feel at home,” she says, “the award made me feel like I’ve really been seen, wanted, and valued in a field where there are few people of color, particularly those from the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community,” she explains. 

While completing her degree at the SHS, Iris has served as a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Professional Development. Lovdy Grossman, Director of Professional Development at the SHS, describes Iris as “a thoughtful and talented student [who] applies her passion for social work with her keen eye for detail and scholarship to ensure that continuing education programming, at the SHS and beyond, provides meaningful opportunities for professional development.” 

Clinical Assistant Professor Rene Gaitan shared some examples of why Kiki was selected as recipient of this award. “As an international field student in Oaxaca, Mexico, Kiki left a long-lasting impression on the children she worked with through her care, commitment, and advocacy.  Kiki took the initiative to develop and present a gang prevention workshop, advocated for environmental safety, and highlighted the need for financial support to overhaul the agency’s technological communications infrastructure.” As a result of Kiki’s work there, the community in Oaxaca has requested a continued and longer UT student engagement there.  

Congratulation to all the award winners – hook ‘em!