Winter 2021

Alumni News

Read about the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients.

Letter from the Alumni Advisory Board Chairs

Dear School of Social Work friends and family,

On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work Alumni Advisory Board, we want to take a few moments to share more about what we have found to be an extremely meaningful and valuable experience since we graduated from the school.

After graduating from the master’s program, both of us realized that maintaining the important connections we developed during our time in graduate school would take a bit more effort than when we were going through the program. As chair and vice chair of the Alumni Advisory Board (AAB), we have been able to remain connected to the school and fellow alumni.

AAB serves as a bridge between Pitt Social Work and the larger social work community. We are committed to connecting and engaging current students and faculty with alumni of the school. We do this in many ways, including hosting network­ing events and professional development opportunities as well as recognizing alumni excellence.

One of our favorite aspects of the board is that there is truly something for everyone. The larger board is made up of three subcommittees. The engagement subcommittee’s primary focus is on making sure that the school’s current students are aware of and connected to the board and the school’s alumni. The programming subcommittee plays a significant role in supporting the school’s events that are open to alumni participation, such as networking and volunteering opportunities. The membership subcommittee focuses on both recruiting and maintaining alumni members of the board.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a number of new and exciting opportunities that all alumni can participate in, including our Alumni Speaker Series, in which we spotlight the expertise of school alumni, and Pitt Social Work Mentoring Week, for which we use the virtual Pitt Commons platform to connect alumni with current students.

If you are interested in becoming a member of AAB, have questions about member­ship, or are interested in any of the events mentioned above, please reach out to us at

Stay safe; stay well; and, as always, hail to Pitt.

Jessica Murray (MSW ’14)

Chair, Alumni Advisory Board

Talia Landerman (MSW ’19)

Vice Chair, Alumni Advisory Board


2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Each year, the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work recog­nizes a select group of alumni with its highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award. These individuals have achieved the highest standard of professional integrity and personal conduct, have advanced knowledge of the social work profession, and have supported public and social policies that ensure equal rights for all.

On October 19, 2020, Pitt Social Work honored its newest Distinguished Alumni Award recipients. More than 110 people from 13 states gathered virtually to celebrate the honorees and their work in the field.

Following the award presentations, the honorees joined a panel discussion moderated by MSW Program Director Yodit Betru that touched on timely and critical issues, including the impact of COVID-19 on social work, efforts toward racial justice and equity, the role of coalition building in professional life, and the importance of stress management.

Although the awards ceremony could not be held in person as in previous years, the virtual event was filled with joy and inspiration as attendees filled the chat box with greetings, notes of congratulations, and acknowledgments of the recipients’ impact in their communities.



Assistant Dean for Academic Programs, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University

Jan M. Ivery is assistant dean for academic programs at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and an associate professor of social work at Georgia State University in Atlanta. In addition to her degree from Pitt Social Work, Ivery holds a BA in sociology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in human behavior, research methods, community development, and nonprofit management.

Ivery has published journal articles and book chapters on how to leverage community partnerships to develop programs and services for such client populations as older adults, caregivers, and ex-offenders transitioning from prison into the community. Her research on collaborative partnerships explores systemic and environmental factors that influence program development and implementation in economically diverse communities.

During the 2017-18 academic year, Ivery was a visiting scholar in the Social Justice Transdisciplinary Core at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she worked with colleagues to develop the framework for a policy lab to address poverty and inequality in the city of Richmond. She has served in multiple leadership roles in social work education and macro practice, including as former cochair of the Council on Social Work Education’s Council on the Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education and as current interim cochair of the Association for Community Organization and Social Action.



Cofounder and CEO, The Better Institute

Jody Bechtold is a licensed clinical social worker, an international certified gambling counselor, and a board-approved clinical consultant in the international gambling treatment field. She is the cofounder and CEO of The Better Institute. Bechtold serves on the board of directors of the International Gambling Counselor Certification Board and on the advisory board of Gamban, a gam­bling-blocking software used worldwide.

In addition to previously teaching as an adjunct professor at Pitt Social Work, Bechtold has conducted numerous continuing education training sessions and workshops, training more than 200 clinicians in the region in the treatment of problem gambling. Her research with Pitt Social Work professor Daniel Rosen helped to form a local tech and mental health start-up company.

Bechtold has presented on problematic and disordered gambling at numerous confer­ences locally, nationally, and internationally. Shortly after her 2019 TEDx Talk in Pittsburgh, she was the keynote speaker on problem gambling at the first-ever international Beacon of Hope conference in Mauritius. She has coauthored chapters on gambling disorders in the fourth edition of the “Social Workers’ Desk Reference,” which is scheduled for release in 2021. Her book, “The Gambling Disorder Treatment Handbook: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals,” which she coauthored with Alyssa Wilson, will be published in early 2021.



Executive Director, Staunton Farm Foundation

Since 1998, Joni S. Schwager has served as executive director of the Staunton Farm Foundation, a private family foundation that awards grants in the field of behavioral health in 10 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Founded in 1937, the foundation sees a future in which behavioral health is understood, supported, and accepted. Schwager has helped the foundation to distribute more than $40 million during her tenure. She has served on numerous boards and committees, including LEAD Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Health Funders Collaborative, and Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, and has participated in many community activities. Schwager spent the first half of her career working as a clinical social worker at Jewish Family and Community Services Pittsburgh and in private practice, specializing in women’s issues, including eating disorders and trauma.



Social Service Supervisor and Grievance Officer, Kane Glen Hazel Community Living Center

Prior to returning to school as a nontraditional undergraduate student, Maxine Thomas drove a school bus in the McKeesport Area School District for 17 years. After completing her bachelor’s degree, Thomas worked as a caseworker for Kane Community Living Centers for eight years before being promoted to social service supervisor. Today, she works at the Glen Hazel Community Living Center as a social service supervisor and grievance officer. She enjoys the opportunity to build relationships with and advocate for residents and their families.

Thomas has taught Introduction to Social Work as an adjunct professor at Carlow University. In addition, she has been a Pitt Social Work field instructor for many years and continually provides a safe space for students to develop their knowledge and skills in gerontological social work practice. Thomas makes her home in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, where she is active in her community as an elected school board member, the superintendent of Sunday schools at Bethlehem Temple Church, and a foster parent to several children.



Mental Health Therapist, Familylinks

Johnnie R.M. Geathers is a mental health therapist for Familylinks who works with children in first through third grade at Pittsburgh Carmalt PreK-8 using the therapeutic classroom model. Outside his work in the field, Geathers does community work for his fraternity, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc., where he holds three positions: community service chair for the Beta Omicron Omega alumni chapter in Pittsburgh; director of community service for the Atlantic Coast Region; and national coordinator for Much More Than A Hashtag, an initiative that he cofounded to educate the community on voter registration, citizen review boards, the jury selection process, and property taxes. Geathers also speaks regularly on the topics of mental health and wellness to diverse audiences as part of his work to destigmatize mental health treatment for communities of color and increase equity in mental health services.


Organizing Training Lead, Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ

Gabriella Jones-Casey began working with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) during her time at the University of Pittsburgh, first as a graduate intern/ campus organizer and then as a union organizer. In 2014, she worked as a labor organizer with the Fight for $15 campaign, a project of SEIU. Jones-Casey then moved on to become a coordinator in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where she was responsible for coordinating strikes by hundreds of fast-food workers across the state and building relationships with ally organizations to encourage participation in parallel actions to fight for economic justice. After three years with the Fight for $15 campaign, she transitioned to an internal organizing field representative position with SEIU Local 32BJ (Property Service Division). In November 2019, she became an organizing training lead for Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Do you know a Pitt Social Work alum who is making an impact in the field on a local, regional, or national level? Nominate them for a Distinguished Alumni Award today! Descriptions of the award categories and nomination form are located on the Distinguished Alumni section of the Pitt Social Work website at


The Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) presented its inaugural Larry E. Davis Award for Excellence in Race Research in 2020. The award will be given annually to an outstanding researcher focused on race and racial justice issues. Award recipients are influential thought leaders in their disciplinary areas whose projects have local and national impact on both policy and practice. The award is named for Pitt Social Work Dean Emeritus Larry E. Davis, who founded CRSP in 2002.

The inaugural recipient of the Davis Award is Michael A. Lindsey (PhD ’02). Lindsey is a noted scholar in the fields of child and adolescent mental health as well as a leader in the search for knowledge and solutions to generational poverty and inequality. He is executive director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University, the Constance and Martin Silver Professor of Poverty Studies at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, and an Aspen Institute Health Innovators fellow.

At the McSilver Institute, Lindsey leads a team of researchers, clinicians, social workers, and other professionals who are committed to creating new knowledge about the root causes of poverty, developing evidence-based interventions to address its consequences, and rapidly translating their findings into action through policy and best practices.

Read more Class Notes and the In Memorium sections.