Since the late 1970s, the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work has annually recognized a select group of alumni with its highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award. These individuals have achieved the highest standards of professional integrity and personal conduct, have advanced knowledge of the social work profession, and have supported public and social policies that champion equal rights for all.
The school honored the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients on October 19, 2021. This year’s virtual celebration kicked off with greetings and well wishes from 10 past recipients from the 1980s through 2020. Dean Betsy Farmer then announced the 2021 honorees, who joined a panel discussion to share more about their individual career journeys, their thoughts on future opportunities for the field of social work, and the importance of self-care as we navigate uncertain times. Following the discussion, attendees mixed and mingled in the virtual networking lounges.
Thank you and congratulations to the winners!
Distinguished Alumni Award for Social Work Education
Christopher Robinson (MSW ’07)
BSW Program Director and Assistant Professor of Social Work, Penn State
Christopher Robinson is an advocate, educator, and licensed social worker. Before joining the faculty of Penn State Greater Allegheny, Robinson spent 11 years at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), where he led the Associate of Science program in social work at the CCAC South Campus. Robinson also serves as manager of cultural competency for the UPMC Center for Engagement and Inclusion, where he collaborates on and develops strategic diversity initiatives that focus on culturally competent patient care, eliminating health disparities, enhancing language access services, and reducing community trauma.
A native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Robinson holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Jackson State University and a doctorate in education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in addition to his Pitt Social Work degree. He is cofounder of the Western Pennsylvania Council of HBCU Alumni and the greater Pittsburgh alumni chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Robinson was a 2020 recipient of the NISOD Jackson State University Excellence in Teaching Award and a 2021 New Pittsburgh Courier Men of Excellence honoree.
Distinguished Alumni Award for Social Work Practice
Kathi R. Elliott (MSW ’08)
CEO, Gwen’s Girls
Kathi R. Elliott earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Chatham University in August 2014 and completed dual master’s degrees in social work and nursing at the University of Pittsburgh in 2008. She has close to 30 years of experience in social service and community and individual mental health treatment. Advocacy and giving back to others in need is a value that was instilled in her by her mother, the founder of Gwen’s Girls, the late Commander Gwen Elliott.
Kathi Elliott has served as CEO of Gwen’s Girls since 2015. A visionary leader, she has been instrumental in establishing the Black Girls Equity Alliance, an interdisciplinary collaborative that is addressing systemic inequalities that exist within the juvenile justice, health and wellness, child welfare, and education systems locally and nationally. Elliott currently serves on the boards of Chatham University and ACLU Pennsylvania.
Regional Impact Award
Corey Lakins (BASW ’03, MSW ’04)
Founder and CEO, AIMED Human Services
Corey Lakins serves as founder and CEO of AIMED Human Services; founder and CEO of Sensible Home Healthcare, LLC; and founder and CEO of Kingdom Business Service. Lakins’ passion for navigating the complex care system for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and mental health disorders has been her charge for more than 30 years. Her mission to ensure that the individuals she serves receive inclusive and person-centered care and that their desires, interests, and values are taken into consideration is evident in the everyday lives of those she has helped. Lakins established Sensible Home Healthcare to make life more manageable for the elderly and disabled who choose to retain their independence and stay in their homes. To help ensure its success, Lakins oversees the operational and financial plans to guarantee that Sensible Home Healthcare operates effectively and efficiently.
Kingdom Business Service specializes in transforming the client’s signature story into a business idea. Lakins masterfully coaches her clients in the art of step-by-step online digital platform and content creation. The 5-Figure Global Course coaches and trains clients to acquire the mindset to scale their businesses.
Outstanding Field Instructor Award
Jessica Souply (MSW ’14)
Supervisor, Therapeutic Preschool, Family Resources
Jessica Souply, a licensed social worker and strengths-based family worker, is the supervisor at Family Resources’ Therapeutic Preschool, which serves children ages 3-5 who have experienced trauma and have behavioral needs, mental health diagnoses, autism spectrum disorders, and other special differences that benefit from specialized intervention. Prior to her current position, Souply was the program’s social-emotional learning coach and worked for Family Resources’ in-home services program.
Souply’s professional interests include the intersection of social work and education, trauma-informed care, and anti-racism in early childhood education.
Rising Star Award
Anette Nance (MSW ’20)
Director of Partnerships for Family Support, University of Pittsburgh Office of
Anette Nance is a dynamic professional who is a servant-minded leader. She is an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran and served eight years honorably in the U.S. Marine Corps. In addition to her Pitt Social Work degree, she holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, which provides a theoretical foundation for her work as a social service practitioner. She has done advocacy work for veterans locally, regionally, and nationally. For this work, she was one of 10 student veterans nominated for 2020 Student Veteran of the Year by Student Veterans of America, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
As a master’s-level social worker, Nance is involved with a variety of nonprofits within the Pittsburgh area. Recently, she was appointed to Governor Tom Wolf’s Commission on African American Affairs because of the work she’s done in the Western Pennsylvania region. She currently works for the University of Pittsburgh in the Office of Child Development as the director of partnerships for family support. The work she does for Pitt provides a macro social work lens that aids in program development, implementation, and an array of other services for more than 25 family support centers in Allegheny County in conjunction with the county’s Department of Human Services.
Do you know a Pitt Social Work alum who is making an impact on the field at a local, regional, national, or international level? Nominate them for a Distinguished Alumni Award! Descriptions of the award categories and nomination form are located at socialwork.pitt.edu/alumni/distinguished-alumni.