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A Saint Rose graduate student was recently honored by the New York State Social Work Education Association as Master Social Work Student of the Year.

The award was presented to Kara Lewis G’23, a graduate student from Worcester, New York, during the association’s annual meeting in Saratoga Springs on October 19 through 21. The award is given on the basis of academic standing, social work leadership skills, and significant contributions through involvement in the social work program, campus activities, service to the community, or scholarly activities. Nominations for Master Social Work Student of Year come from across the state, as the association provides a network for faculty, deans, directors, field instructors, students, practitioners, and administrators to exchange knowledge and information regarding social work education and related issues in the state and region.

“I first met Kara when she was applying to the program, and it was clear she had been meticulous in her research about graduate schools. She had a sense of how to build on her existing skills and experiences to help others in a larger way. She closely identified with our mission to promote constituents’ emotional, physical, economic, spiritual, and social well-being and with the values of the social work profession,” said Janet Acker, associate professor of social work and MSSW program director at Saint Rose.

“Throughout her studies, she has remained steadfast in learning about and promoting these pillars of well-being and health, not only in her work with clients, but in her interactions with faculty and peers, and in her advocacy work helping to feed the community. Kara embodies the best of the profession, working individually and systemically as an advocate for social justice and change.”    

Grace Magee, another Saint Rose student in the MSSW program at Saint Rose, also gave a presentation during the conference called  “Social Work Students Views on Holistic Therapy.”

We recently talked to Lewis about her award.

Why did you choose the field of social work?

Prior to the pandemic, I was working as a chef in NYC. Upon getting furloughed, I moved back upstate to work on a farm and reevaluate my life. One of the reasons that I was drawn to cooking was because food makes people feel good. Being able to provide comfort to people through food was always very rewarding to me; however, a lifelong career in kitchens did not feel sustainable. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in social work because I realized I wanted to help people feel better inside their brains. We spend more time with ourselves than we do with anyone else and thus I feel it is so important to strive to improve our relationship with ourselves. If we can change the way we think and feel within our own skin, we have a better chance at improving our relationship with others.

What does it mean for you to receive this award?

I am so honored to receive this award. If you asked me 10  years ago if I would ever be interested in attending a graduate program, I would have told you no. I had this self-narrative that I was someone who couldn’t do something as hard as graduate school. I embarked on a major life change nearly four years ago that allowed me to rebuild my relationship with myself and how I took on the world. I remember in my second semester at Saint Rose, when we were back in the classroom (after the remote period during the pandemic), having a moment where I felt like I was truly at home – that this was the work I was meant to do. I am so happy I made it here.  

What made you pick Saint Rose as the place to study social work?

I received a bachelor’s degree in international relations and journalism from the University of the West of England in 2013. I had an amazing experience studying abroad. My academic experience forced me to think critically about how language affects our understanding of the world and those around us. When looking into master programs for social work, I was immediately drawn to Saint Rose. The social work webpage, on the college’s website, outlines the pillars of well-being that encompass the core values of the program. I loved that the program’s approach was so all-encompassing. Dr. Acker, the program director, took time out of her busy schedule to speak to me over the phone about the program and made me feel incredibly welcome before I had even applied. I am so happy that I chose Saint Rose. My academic experience here has been incredible. The professors within the department push students to think critically, share their experience working in the field, and genuinely care about us. I feel so lucky to have been able to be part of this program.  

What are your career plans – is there a special area of social work you’d like to practice in?

My career plans change often! I am very interested in the fields of mental health and substance use disorder. I currently work at Hope House, an addiction treatment organization in the Capital Region, and I intern at Albany Medical Psychiatric Outpatient Center. Research supports the fact that most people who suffer with addiction have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis; yet, our current treatment modalities do not provide adequate care to address both disorders in one setting. One long-term goal I have is to advocate for the combination of the New York State Office of Substance Abuse Services and Supports with the Office of Mental Health so we can provide wrap-around services to help individuals truly recover. 

By Kaseem Gomez