FAU Hosts Virtual Symposium with Quindio University, Colombia

FAU has begun discussions with Quindio University in Colombia to explore possibilities for the social work, nursing and medicine programs at both universities to engage in research collaboration, interprofessional education and practice, as well as study abroad programs.

To kick off the conversation, the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work in the College of Social Work & Criminal Justice, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine and the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing hosted a bi-lingual (English and Spanish) symposium on November 13, 2020.  More than 250 students, faculty and staff attended the virtual event, during which they were introduced to both universities’ program offerings.


“This transdisciplinary partnership with Quindio University in Colombia demonstrates the unbridled ambition and commitment of our institution to elevate our academic excellence through international alliances that enable us to improve the lives of individuals, families and communities around the world,” said Naelys Luna, Ph.D., MSW, interim dean of the College of Social Work & Criminal Justice.


“The partnership between FAU and Quindio University provides great academic, practice and research opportunities for our students and faculty with the goal of creating healthy communities around the globe,” said Safiya George, PhD, Dean of FAU’s College of Nursing.


Faculty and administrators from both universities will continue working together to explore a more formal collaboration.  Additional details are expected in early 2021.


Student Sound Bites


“As a new student at FAU, I was more than thankful to be part of such a great collaboration… With this partnership, we are reaching out to our Latin countries to let them know that we are here to help and to grow together.” – Priscila Sanchez Ruiz, junior BSW student at FAU


“The University of Quindio is dear to our family, as we had three of my nephews recently graduate from there. I also have family in the area. I truly welcomed the warmth of the exchange… I feel that current trends of immigration in both of our countries require careful and dedicated assessment and a positive resolution to these current migratory movements.” – James Valencia, senior BSW student at FAU

From Foster Care to Future Social Worker

We sat down with Bachelor of Social Work alumna and current Master of Social Work student, Stephanie Guerra to hear her inspiring story.

Can you share with us about your experience in foster care?

It was terrifying at first because I had no idea where I was going to end up. I was happy to be removed from my abusive childhood home, but I did not know if I was going to end up in a safe place or in an even worse situation. It was hard to stay positive because most of what people hear about the foster care system is dreadful.

I lived at SOS Children’s Village in Coconut Creek from ages 15-18. I stayed in an all-girl 5-bedroom home. I experienced living with various house parents and roommates. It was difficult to form attachments because of how often people came in and out of my life. I also worked with a lot of different social workers. Some business factors were added to my life which included paperwork, court appearances, and home visits. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was a case. The living situation was not ideal; however, SOS Children’s Village and the social workers at ChildNet made feel safe and loved. I never experienced either of those two things in my childhood home.

Overall, I had a good experience and I am grateful for it. I learned how to be very self-sufficient and adaptable.  SOS Children’s Village works hard to ensure that all the children who live there are comfortable. They arranged transportation for me to stay at my high school all the way in Sunrise and worked it out so that I could continue all the sports and activities I was involved in before being placed with them.

The Village strives to provide a sense of normalcy for their children. It is easy to feel alone and neglected when being part of “the system”, but SOS Children’s Village does their best to make you feel like you are part of a family. The Village always planned activities for us to partake in, especially around the holidays. They even put together a mentoring program for the younger kids which I got to be a part.

What was it like entering foster care as a teenager?

The transition was definitely not easy. I feel like part of your high school years are for finding yourself and thinking about your future. I had so much going on at once that I felt like my head was going to explode. It was a huge adjustment and at the beginning I was doubtful about everything because up until then I was so used to living in a very toxic environment where I was deemed unworthy.

I am thankful for the workers at SOS Children’s Village, ChildNet, and Piper High School because they were understanding of my situation and worked with me to help create balance. My friends, teammates, and coaches were also very supportive. I have always been a good student, but I never thought college was going to be an option for me because of how controlling my father was. Once I was separated from him and put into the foster care system, I was introduced to so many great opportunities. For the first time in my life, I saw the possibility of a bright future.

You mentioned that ChildNet played an important role in your transition to independent living. Can you talk us through that?

Upon transitioning, ChildNet assigned me to an Independent Living Specialist, Maleah Bourda. Maleah helps to ensure that I am doing well in school, living comfortably, and always brings new opportunities to my attention. She is compassionate about her work and provides me with a safe space to talk about how I am doing and what I am feeling. She motivates me to stay focused and makes me feel like I can accomplish anything.

LaShonda Cross at SOS Children’s Village also play a huge role in my life. She has known me since I first entered the foster care system and continues to support me as I continue my journey through adulthood. She understands the hardships I face not having a family of my own and has always treated me like I am a part of hers. LaShonda knows how to bring out the best in me. She provides me with resources and keeps me connected to the Village letting me know that I’ll always have a place to call home. I consider her to be one of the most dependable people in my life.

What role did team sports play in your personal growth process?

Team sports gave me an outlet, taught me life skills, and provided me with a sense of community. I had a safe space to express myself and made amazing friends who are still a part of my life now.

Where are you currently in your academic journey, and what’s your next step?

I received my BSW in May and shortly afterwards was accepted into FAU’s Advanced Standing MSW program. I am doing the program full time and will graduate next May. I am currently finishing up my first semester and I am proud to be ending it with straight A’s. I have two more semesters to go and I will be starting an internship with the School Board of Broward County in September.

After you receive your MSW degree, what are your plans?

I plan to work in child welfare. I want the opportunity to give back to children who are or may be at risk of being removed from their homes. I have been considering either becoming a child protective investigator or working with the school board. Both of those organizations played a huge role in getting me to where I am today. If it weren’t for the collaboration of the school board and DCF, I would not have been saved.

What are common misconceptions about the foster care system?
That the children do not get a proper education; that at the age of 18, children lose access to all support and resources; that they are left to fend for themselves; that they end up being trafficked, pregnant, or on drugs; and that all foster parents are only in it for the money.

While there are some instances of these situations taking place, it is unfair to use them to define the foster care system in its entirety. There are foster parents, social workers, and volunteers who are actively working to ensure that children in the foster care system are properly cared for. I am one success story and I know that there are many others out there.

What is your advice to children currently in foster care?

Your past does not define you! Use it as motivation to do better for yourself. Also, when times get tough try to remember that you are not alone. There are resources out there and social workers who are devoted to making life easier for you.

What’s the best thing about your experience at FAU thus far?

My favorite professor at FAU is Seth Densen. He is a phenomenal social work professor and continues to be an inspiring mentor in my life. Professor Densen is passionate about teaching and is a great advocate for his students. His class prepared me for real life situations out in the field and I am immensely grateful for his support. The knowledge he gained from working for DCF made it easy for me to open up to him about my experience with the foster care system. He inspired me to pursue my master’s degree and helped me realize that I am fit for a career in child welfare.

New Study Reveals 7 Student Preferences for Online Learning

With online education becoming increasingly popular in higher academia – and currently by necessity during this time of COVID-19 and social distancing – waves of college professors and students are finding themselves navigating the unknowns of online instruction formats and platforms for the very first time. Yet little is known about what virtual classroom techniques students feel are most beneficial to their overall learning experience.

Dani Groton, Ph.D., and Christine Spadola, Ph.D., LMHC, assistant professors in the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, are bridging this knowledge gap with qualitative data that reveals seven preferences social work students have when it comes to how they learn best online. The results of this study were recently published in the journal article titled “Variability, visuals, and interaction: online learning recommendations from social work students” in the August 2020 issue of Social Work Education: The International Journal (Routledge).

“In the absence of traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms, with whiteboards, handouts, small group discussion opportunities and other tactile learning aids, it becomes even more important for us to identify the course adaptations our students need us to make so they can grasp, engage and retain the content virtually,” said Dr. Groton, lead author.

The research was conducted using three focus groups of 25 graduate and undergraduate social work students who were interviewed about their virtual learning preferences. Drs. Groton and Spadola identified 12 thematic codes, and all three groups expressed these seven codes as being the most important to their e-learning experience:

“Even though we focused on social work students, we feel their feedback is not unique to their chosen field of study,” said Dr. Spadola, co-author.  “It is our hope that degree programs and higher ed institutions are able to use our data as a starting point for optimizing student e-learning experiences, and larger studies can be conducted to further investigate students’ ideal e-learning environments.”

This study was conducted as part of a research project funded by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Foundation  (AASMF).

Two Schools Partner to Form the College of Social Work & Criminal Justice

Introducing Florida Atlantic University’s Newest College

On July 1, 2020, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) officially welcomed its newest college: the College of Social Work & Criminal Justice, which encompasses the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work and the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice. These two sister schools have formed a strong and lasting partnership rooted in a shared commitment to advocating for justice, mobilizing resiliency and promoting equality across our one human race.  

Our nation is at the intersection of, firstly, an unprecedented global pandemic that has further illuminated the racial, health and economic disparities in our country and our world; secondly, an international movement for much-needed change in response to police brutality against Black people; and thirdly, an extremely divisive time in our nation’s history when so many are desperately seeking meaningful transformation and connections. 

The College of Social Work & Criminal Justice is well-positioned to make a deep and lasting impact in these and many other challenging areas, including reentry and reintegration, child welfare, healthy aging, mental health, the opioid epidemic, addiction, human trafficking and many others critical social problems.  Our nationally and internationally acclaimed faculty are passionately working to find answers through education, scholarship, and applied research and public service activities, as well as to inspire and prepare tomorrow’s social work and criminal justice leaders, scholars, practitioners and policymakers to effect positive change in the world. 

The College of Social Work and Criminal Justice is headquartered in the Social Science building on the Boca Raton campus and also offers classes at the University’s satellite campuses in Davie and Jupiter.  Our college offers a variety of degree programs, including: 

The college also offers three specialization certificate programs in the Sandler School of Social Work:

As well as four post-graduate certificate programs:

School of Criminology & Criminal Justice

Sandler School of Social Work

We are also proud to have long-standing partnerships with more than 350 community agencies from Miami-Dade to Vero Beach, giving our students boundless opportunities to develop meaningful service learning experience and job readiness skills in their chosen field before they graduate.

The College of Social Work and Criminal Justice also houses a number of research and service centers within the Sandler School of Social Work, including the Child Welfare Institute, the Healthy Aging Academy and the Robin Rubin Center for Happiness and Life Enhancement.

The immense faculty expertise and strong community partnerships within our two schools produce graduates who are prepared to make a difference.  Our alumni enter the fields of social work and criminal justice fully trained to analyze, implement and evaluate criminal justice and social welfare policies and practices; address discriminatory systems and processes; provide direct services to vulnerable populations; restore justice and promote equal access to care.   

For more information
Web: fau.edu/sw-cj
Social: @FAUSocialWorkCJ on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Video: YouTube

BSW Program Ranked #3 in State

SocialWorkDegree.org has ranked the Sandler School of Social Work BSW program third in the state based on our BSW alumni’s monthly earnings just 12 months after graduation. The ranking includes only CSWE-accredited programs and is calculated using monthly salaries deducting student debt payments, as reported by the U.S. Department of Education, to derive median net incomes of our early-career BSW graduates.

“In addition to our high job placement rate, world-class faculty and newly renovated facilities, we are thrilled to have this ranking as yet another reason why future social work students should put the Sandler School of Social Work at the top of their list for a high-value educational experience,” said Heather Thompson, Ph.D., interim director of the Sandler School.

See the full rankings and monthly earning projections for our BSW graduates

WATCH: “Community Conversations” Kickoff Event

Thank you to the more than 150 students, faculty, staff and friends in the community who joined us for the kick-off of “Community Conversations: An Illuminating Discussion Series at the Intersection of Social Work and Criminal Justice”.

Naelys Luna, Ph.D., MSW, interim dean of the College of Social Work & Criminal Justice, opened the event with a warm welcome and overview of our college, followed by an insightful presentation by Wendy Guastaferro, Ph.D., interim director of the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, on the humble but mighty origins of public defenders.

Our guest panelists included Carey Houghwout, Palm Beach County Public Defender; Marcia Daley, social worker for the Public Defender’s Office; and Sevonte Miller, FAU social work alumnus and author. The conversation focused on the racial and socioeconomic inequities within the criminal justice system and how the fields of social work and criminal justice are partnering to help heal the disparities and bridge the divide. The event wrapped up with thought-provoking questions from the audience, fielded by Cassandra Atkin-Plunk, Ph.D., associate director of the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice.

The motto of our discussion series is “when we know better, we can do better”. We sincerely thank our resident experts for sharing their stories and showing all of us the many ways social workers and criminal justice professionals are now working hand in hand to help make our criminal justice system more equitable for all residents.  We also thank them for sharing practical advice for how we, as a community, can raise our voices to effect positive change.

We hope you will make plans to join us for our next “Community Conversation” in early December 2020. Details coming soon.

Watch the Video

MSW Family Therapy Students Get Online Classroom Surprise

For his last Family Therapy class of this semester, Dr. David Landsman-Wohlsifer (“Dr. David”) asked his final-year master’s students to prepare a performance piece about the impact family therapy has had on them, either personally or professionally, that they would then perform during the virtual class finale.  One student wrote a poem.  Another student performed a monologue.  Another student shared a self-made song mix that included “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background.

Dr. David noticed that many of his students began to cry as they listened.  He stopped the class and asked if everyone was okay.  They replied that, hearing the famous graduation march song had reminded them that they weren’t going to have an in-person graduation celebration this Spring due to COVID-19, and that it made them sad that they were missing out on the age-old tradition.  Dr. David dismissed his students for a 10-minute break and told them that when class resumed, he was going to share a performance piece of his own.

“I wasn’t planning to perform, but it occurred to me that my students needed a ritual,” Dr. David said.  “They needed the closure of commencement.”

When the students returned to the virtual classroom after the break, Dr. David, was donning his full academic regalia.  His husband, Jeff Landsman-Wohlsifer, LCSW, was seated beside him and wearing an FAU sweatshirt.  Dr. David asked the song-mixing student to please resume playing “Pomp and Circumstance”.  He then read each students’ name, one by one, while Jeff applauded and cheered heartily for each of them.

“My students needed this transition and to celebrate their accomplishment, and it gave me closure, too,” Dr. David said. “I needed the year to come to an end.  I needed to welcome them to the Social Work profession.  We do it every year, and it’s important. The FAU student is a special student. We have first-gen students; we have people in recovery; we have people from all corners of the world who never thought they would get a graduate degree, and I didn’t want it to go unnoticed.”

Thank you, Dr. David, for providing your students with such a creative, impromptu and meaningful surprise!

Incorporating the success of this class and how well it transitioned to the virtual learning environment, Dr. David is joining his colleagues, Dr. JuYoung Park and Dr. Laurie Suttenberg, to write an article for a special edition of Clinical Social Work Journal that will focus on the impact of COVID-19 on social work and clinical practice. Their abstract was accepted this past week, and we can’t wait to read the article in a forthcoming issue!

Implicit Bias Through the Lens of Hip Hop

MSW Alumnus Dre Johnson recently appeared as a guest lecturer at the 2020 FAU Lead and Serve Diversity Symposium. His presentation, “Implicit Bias Through the Lens of Hip Hop” was given to a full house crowd of students, faculty and staff. The popularity of the session led to Johnson being asked to return next year and give two separate presentations to accommodate more attendees. Congratulations, Dre!

Decolonizing and Embodiment: Healing Justice for HIV

In Fall 2018, Cynthia Wilks, a second-year MSW student, partnered with David Landsman-Wohlsifer, Ph.D., LCSW, to look at HIV/AIDS and Decolonizing Perspectives with Latinx clients in social work practice. The end result of that research was a poster, entitled “Decolonizing & Embodiment: Healing Justice for HIV”, which was recently accepted for presentation at the 2020 American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) Conference. The annual conference attracts social justice-minded, family/systemically-focused clinicians, researchers, and advocates from around the world.

“I am so grateful to Dr. David for providing guidance, incredible material, and the collaborative space to explore this topic,” Wilks said.  “Also, I am so grateful to FAU for supporting my development as a social worker and participation at AFTA. The opportunity to study decolonizing practices through a social justice lens has provided an excellent framework when providing volunteer services for Latinx immigrants.”

New Book Explores Brain Development in Social Context

Congratulations to Gail Horton, MSW, Ph.D., on the publication of her new book, Attachment and Neurobiology: Preconception to Young Adulthood (Cognella Academic Publishing – January 2020). Ideal for students, as well as social work and mental health practitioners, the book “introduces readers to interpersonal neurobiology and attachment to help them better understand how the brain develops across time and within a social context. The text equips social workers and mental health providers with the knowledge they need to optimize prevention and intervention efforts with clients.”

Alumna Teaching in Thailand Partners with Slattery for Pen Pal Program

Casey Dowdell, BSW alumna, recently received her TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of Other Languages) Certificate and is now teaching English to Kindergarten students in Thailand. As an undergraduate student, Dowdell interned at the Karen Slattery Educational Research Center for Child Development under the direction of Lydia Bartram, BSW and MSW alumna and Director of the Slattery Center.

“Without my internship, I do not feel that I would be prepared or driven to take on this challenge and journey,” Dowdell said. “In my short four months [at Slattery], those children made a life-long impact. It was overwhelming to see how much dedication is put in as a team to shape the future.  It helped me find this spark inside of me that I never knew was there.”

Dowdell and Bartram are now partnering to start a pen pal exchange program between their classes, since both groups of children are learning to write English. “This is an authentic way to support learning for all while also creating opportunities for sharing across cultures,” Bartram said.

Photo Gallery

NASW-FL Student of the Year and Educators of the Year

Congratulations on these much-deserved honors from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Florida!

Susana Coxaj, Social Work Student – NASW Student of the Year, Treasure Coast Chapter

Kate McCormic, LCSW, MCAP – NASW Educator of the Year, Treasure Coast Chapter

Susana Coxaj (middle) and Kate McCormic (right) as Susana accepts her award.

Dani Groton, Ph.D. – NASW Educator of the Year, Palm Beach Chapter

Dr. Groton receiving her award.

Dr. Groton (left) with Dr. Morgan Cooley, fellow assistant professor in the FAU Sandler School of Social Work.

Precious Skinner-Osei, Ph.D. – NASW Educator of the Year, Broward Chapter

Dr. Skinner-Osei, an instructor in the FAU Sandler School of Social Work, alongside three of her MSW students: (l-r) Mara Liggett, Laura Mangan, and Michelle Kerrigan.

FAU 2020 Scholar of the Year

Congratulations to Allan Barsky, MSW, Ph.D. who was named 2020 Scholar of the Year by the Office of the Provost in recognition of his outstanding performance!

Dr. Barsky was to be presented with his award at the annual Honors Convocation, April 15, 2020 at 4 PM in the University Theater. However, the event has been postponed due to remote instruction related to coronavirus prevention. All faculty and staff are welcome to attend and help celebrate this tremendous honor, and we will share the new date once announced.

Congratulations, Allan!

LEAD Day 2020

Nearly 60 BSW and MSW students – along with faculty sponsors LeaAnne DeRigne and Danielle Groton – visited Tallahassee for Legislative Education and Advocacy Day 2020 (LEAD Day)! The annual road trip gives students the opportunity to stand up and speak out on important issues facing our profession in today’s legislative arena. Upon their arrival, they toured The Kearney Center, a 24-hour emergency homeless service center where Dr. Groton previously worked, and also attended the NASW’s LEAD training at Florida State University. Students also participated in a rally on the steps of the Capitol. Way to go, LEADers!

Photo Galery


Important College Update: Exciting Changes Coming Soon!

We are pleased to announce that, beginning in Fall 2020:

  • the School of Architecture and the School of Public Administration will join the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters;
  • the School of Urban and Regional Planning will join the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science;
  • and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice & the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work will partner to become the new College of Social Work and Criminal Justice (new website coming soon!).

Check out our comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions for helpful answers related to the transition.

The Sandler School of Social Work and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice naturally pair well together because of their shared vision for effecting social change, driven by their considerable overlap in curriculum and research areas, as well as their impact objectives.

In much the same ways, the Schools of Architecture and Public Administration will find more symmetry with their colleagues in Graphic Design and Political Science within the Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. The same is true for the School of Urban and Regional Planning, which complements the Geoscience and Environmental Sciences departments within the Schmidt College of Science.

Remember that for now, it’s business as usual, with an added splash of excitement as we all look forward to this fresh, new chapter!

One Play Taught 700+ People How to Spot Human Trafficking

On Sunday, February 9, 2020, more than 700 people attended one of two performances of “Only One”, the play on human sex trafficking written by senior Criminal Justice student Abigail Howard. The riveting 45-minute play tells the story of three teens who become victims of sex trafficking and share how they got there – one lured by a false opportunity to become an actor; one who was meeting his online boyfriend for the first time in person; and one who had been groomed to believe she was in a meaningful relationship. The name of the play comes from the sobering statistic that only one percent of trafficking victims are rescued.

Following both performances, expert panelists shared invaluable safety tips with parents and youth in the audience.

  • Dr. Calli Cain, producer, panel moderator, and Assistant Professor in the FAU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Pastor Alfredo Castro, Ministry Relations Director of Glory House of Miami
  • Special Agent Katina Hernandez, Homeland Security Investigations and South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force
  • Sgt. Carlos Lisboa, Coordinator of the Palm Beach County Human Trafficking Task Force
  • Alex Ortiz, Director of Business Development for the Child Rescue Coalition
  • Dr. Heidi Schaeffer, President of the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches
  • Alma Tucker, International Network of Hearts

Attendees learned that victims and traffickers represent all genders, ages, races, income levels and sexual orientations, and that Florida ranks third in the nation for reported cases of trafficking. The panelists also shared safety tips – such as the importance of keeping gaming and smartphone devices in a common area of the home, to have open dialogue with kids of all ages on how to establish safe physical and information boundaries; and where to go for more information:

Panelists also encouraged all attendees to add the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888 to their phone contacts and report any suspicious behavior. As Special Agent Hernandez said, “If it turns out to be a false alarm, great. But if it turns out to be trafficking, you’ve saved a life.”

Photo Gallery


Justice-Involved Youth and Trauma-Informed Interventions

(L-R) Laura Mangan, Michelle Kerrigan, Mara Liggett and Dr. Precious Skinner-Osei

Three ambitious Master of Social Work students just had their first journal article published! Congratulations to MSW students Mara Liggett, Laura Mangan and Michelle Kerrigan, as well as Dr. Precious Skinner-Osei, Instructor in the FAU Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, and Dr. Jill Levenson, Professor in the Barry University School of Social Work, on their successful collaboration and publication in Justice Policy Journal:

Skinner-Osei, P., Mangan, L., Liggett, M., Kerrigan, M., & Levenson, J.S. (2019).  Justice-involved youth and trauma-informed interventions. Justice Policy Journal 17(1)

“Mara, Laura and Michelle were very hands-on and got to experience the publishing process and collaboration with someone from another university,” Dr. Skinner-Osei said. “Our article covers a very powerful and relevant topic and illustrates how dire the need is for social work and criminology/criminal justice to work together.”

The students began their research for the article when they were all undergraduate students in Dr. Skinner-Osei’s research class.  Now as master’s students, they worked in partnership with Drs. Skinner-Osei and Levenson to complete the article and see it published.

“This was an exceptional opportunity for undergraduates to work with two amazing authors and professors,” Liggett said. “We are so grateful to Professor Skinner-Osei for her support and guidance in the process. The more we can understand about the treatment of incarcerated youth, the more we are able to carve a path for their success.”

In Memoriam: Our Namesake, Harvey Sandler

(L-R) Gary Rubin (son-in-law), Harvey Sandler, Robin Rubin (daughter), Phyllis Sandler (spouse), Amy Ross (daughter), David Ross (son-in-law)

With heavy hearts, we would like to express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the Sandler family for the untimely passing of Harvey Sandler, a pillar of our Palm Beach County community and specifically our School. In 2017, Harvey Sandler, along with his wife, Phyllis, generously donated $7 million to the School of Social Work, thus naming and endowing The Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work at Florida Atlantic University.

Words cannot describe the loss we are feeling within our School and College at this time. Harvey Sandler and the entire Sandler family have continually supported the School with their transformative gift, compassion, kindness and generosity. Carrying Harvey’s vision, their generous gift has allowed for the renovation and expansion of our facilities that include a state-of-the-art auditorium, a student study lounge, additional classrooms to accommodate the growth of our academic programs, and a future center for Substance Use Disorder and Recovery Research. In addition to the naming and endowing of our School, the Sandler family has been integral to the funding of students’ scholarships through the annual Phyllis Sandler Heart of Social Work event, which is the School’s largest fundraiser. Additionally, students who are actively involved in community service efforts receive direct support from the Sandler Family Scholarship. Furthermore, Harvey and Phyllis’s daughter, Robin Rubin, has recently established the Robin Rubin Center for Happiness and Life Enhancement within the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work. This center aims to offer programming for students, faculty, staff and community members to enrich, nurture, and improve their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Harvey and Phyllis’s legacy thrives throughout the Boca Raton and surrounding community. Their legacy includes naming the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler Center at the Levis JCC, the Harvey & Phyllis Sandler Pavilion and the Sandler Medical Plaza at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, and so much more.  Harvey and Phyllis were members of the Federation’s Ketubah Society, and The Federation’s Sandler Family Major Gifts Event was named in their honor.

We could not be more honored that Harvey and Phyllis Sandler chose to support our School because they saw the difference it makes in the community and the world. Each and every one of our faculty, students, alumni and community partners helps to carry on their legacy of giving to and transforming our community.  We are eternally grateful for Harvey’s and his family’s legacy and their belief that the world can be a better place by educating and training social workers devoted and committed to the service of those who are most vulnerable in our society.  We cannot fully express our admiration for their continued service and support to our School and the surrounding community.

Our hearts and prayers are with Harvey’s beloved family, who were the center of his life, including his wife, Phyllis Sandler, his children, Robin Rubin (husband, Gary), Amy Ross (husband, David) and Larry Schumacher (wife, Andrea), in our community, and Ricky Sandler, and Andrew Sandler (wife, Aurily) of New York, all who continue Harvey’s passion for philanthropy and community building. Harvey also had 17 grandchildren who share his commitment to helping others, and three great-grandchildren.

As a way to continue Harvey’s legacy, the Sandler family has encouraged donations be made in memoriam for Harvey Sandler to the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work.

Make a Memorial Donation

To make a donation via check, please make payable to FAU Foundation, Inc. and write your desired fund designation on the memo line (“Social Work General Fund” or “Heart of Social Work”). Then please mail your check to:

FAU Foundation, Inc.
777 Glades Road, ADM 295
Boca Raton, FL 33431

In Our Voices: Lived Experiences of Mothers with Substance Use

Dr. Heather Howard and Dr. Marianna Colvin recently presented a PhotoVoice study which seeks to implement positive social change through the use of participants’ voices and documentary-style photographs. This particular PhotoVoice study hopes to shift maternal policy on substance use from punitive to more public health approaches.

The presentation included a panel discussion with women who used documentary photography to share their struggles with substance use while parenting and navigating dependency court. The discussion was guided by Dr. Howard and Dr. Colvin’s community-based research and the recent research article, “Mothers with Opioid Use Disorder: Moving Toward Justice, Wellness & Engagement” co-authored by Drs. Howard and Dr. Wendy Guastaferro. Featured speakers included Niki Tartal, Meagan Bailey and Miranda Duncan.

“I can’t thank Dr. Howard, Dr. Colvin, Niki, Meagan, and Miranda enough,” said a forensic social worker who works for the Office of Criminal Conflict and Regional Conflict 4th District.  “Those three women shared so candidly and beautifully. The panel discussion just talked about the insights they took away from your session. The attorneys truly took so may issues that were spoken about to heart. Niki, Meagan, and Miranda did true advocacy work today.”

Photo Gallery

Congratulations Fall 2019 Graduates

On Friday, December 13, 2019 we watched as 227 bachelor’s graduates, 19 master’s graduates and 2 doctoral candidates walked across the commencement stage to receive their diploma from the College for Design and Social Inquiry at Florida Atlantic University.

To all of our graduates, it has been our pleasure to have you in our classrooms and to watch you grow and learn in your programs.  Whether you are continuing your education or ready to apply your knowledge in the world, we look forward to watching your next chapter unfold. Remember that we are here for you and rooting for your success each step along the way.

Be well and best wishes!

  • Bachelor of Architecture
  • 105 Bachelor of Arts
  • 13 Bachelor of General Studies
  • 15 Bachelor of Public Management
  • 17 Bachelor of Public Safety Administration
  • 59 Bachelor of Social Work
  • 8 Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning
  • Bachelor of Urban Design
  • Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Science
  • Master of Urban and Regional Planning
  • Doctor of Philosophy

Want to explore the degree programs in the College for Design and Social Inquiry at FAU? Call our Academic Advising Team today: (561) 297-2316

Fall 2019 Commencement Gallery

Now Open: Robin Rubin Center for Happiness & Life Enhancement

The Robin Rubin Center for Happiness & Life Enhancement is now officially open! The Center hosts free, guided meditations every Monday and Tuesday from noon to 12:45 for students, faculty and staff. In addition, the special events calendar for the Center is growing by leaps and bounds!

On November 21st, the Center hosted the founders of Womaze, a free app centered around self-empowerment for women. The event was held in the Sandler School of Social Work auditorium with a packed house of FAU faculty and staff members, as well as many members from the community. The audience engaged with the presenters in a meaningful conversation about how to thrive through the holiday season using self-care techniques.

The Robin Rubin Center for Happiness & Life Enhancement is on a mission “to provide programming for students, faculty, staff and community members to enrich, nurture, and improve their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.” And it is well on its way!

Stay tuned for the new Center’s website coming in early 2020 and please be on the lookout for communications about future events coming soon.


“Investing In Yourself in 2020”

Thursday, January 16 | 12-1 PM | SO-112

Donna Drucker, LCSW will guide us through mind, body, spirit and relationship balance and help us build a customized action plan for the new year.


Faculty Honored as Guest Coach

A warm Owls shout out to Dr. Precious Skinner-Osei… wait… make that COACH Skinner-Osei! She was recognized as “Faculty Guest Coach” during the November 9th FAU football game, with special sideline access. Thank you to former BSW student and current MSW Advanced Standing student Dante Cousart for nominating Dr. Skinner-Osei for this much-deserved recognition.

Watch the Video

Podcast Feature: Ask a Scientist

Be sure to catch Dr. Christina Spadola, Assistant Professor, as she discusses how sleep can impact our health and behavior, and how alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine may impact your night of sleep on the podcast, Ask a Scientist, hosted by Dr. Ata Sarajedini, Dean of the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

The journal, SLEEP, ranked Dr. Christine Spadola’s research study on the relationship between caffeine and sleep quality as a 2019 Top 5 article based on impact metrics.

Welcome Home!

All of our Sandler School of Social Work colleagues, faculty, staff, and students are, once again, back home in the SO-308. That means the major renovations project is complete! The student lounge is open, classrooms are in use, the auditorium workshops are in full swing, and offices are abuzz with activity – including the new Advising Services office in SO-113. If you haven’t yet visited the new facilities, stop by and say hello!

Photos of the New 3rd Floor Space

CSWE Master’s Minority Fellowship Awardee

MSW student, Cynthia Wilks was just awarded a CSWE Master’s Minority Fellowship! After graduation, Cynthia hopes to become a therapist who uses decolonizing narrative therapy to affirm the dignity of Latinx people, promote healing from contemporary and historical trauma, and enhance their wellbeing in and self-fulfillment.

Division of Research Mentoring Program

In order to foster the exchange of ideas and best practices in funded research, senior colleagues with significant extramural funding experience have the opportunity to be paired with tenure-track and research faculty members who wish to be mentored and commit to submitting a fundable research proposal at the end of the one-year mentoring period.

The proposal submitted by Dr. Wendy Guastaferro (mentor) and Dr. Laura Backstrom, Asst. Professor in Sociology (mentee) as part of the mentoring program was awarded! Dr. Backstrom is going to work on a grant proposal for a study that will use a mixed methods design to assess decision-making processes in Early Childhood Courts with a focus on the role of community members (Guardian ad Litems, foster parents, and advocates) and social network analysis to examine the impact of the court’s actions on children whose parents come before the court.

The proposed study will follow a subsample of children through age 8 and utilize court and Department of Children and Families data to examine child well-being outcomes.

Dr. Morgan Cooley (mentee) has partnered with Dr. Nancy Jones (mentor) in Psychology on a proposal that was also awarded! Dr. Cooley’s work will be working to identify and understand risk and protective factors at the individual, family, and system levels in order to improve the well-being of foster youth, parents, and child welfare professionals.

Mentors receive $1,000 for research support, and mentees receive a course release, up to $2,000, plus travel funds up to $500 to visit a Program Officer.

Special Statement in the Aftermath of Hurricane Dorian

Looking due east toward the Bahamas, just 60 miles away from FAU’s nearest beach.

Earlier this week, our neighbors in the Bahamas, specifically in the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island, were catastrophically impacted by Hurricane Dorian. We recognize that there will be many more weeks and even years of recovery that take place. While we are still learning of the full impact of the storm, what we know for sure is that our Bahamian brothers and sisters are a strong, resilient group who will rise from Hurricane Dorian’s aftermath. That said, they are in tremendous need of your support. The Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work encourages all students, alumni and all friends of the Sandler School of Social Work to get involved in the relief efforts aiding those most significantly impacted by the storm. From donating much-needed supplies, to participating as a volunteer, to making a monetary donation to organizations equipped to help, there are many ways you can make a difference right away.

Click here for ways you can get involved today.  Thank you for your generosity.

FAU Excellence in eLearning Award Winner

Congratulations to Brandy Macaluso, who was just awarded the 2019 FAU Excellence in eLearning Award for Adjunct Faculty! This honor comes with a $1,000 stipend, a certificate, a digital badge and opportunities to serve as a leader in future FAU eLearning Community of Practice events.

5th Annual Behavioral Health Conference Presenters

Dr. Keith Platt (left) and Dr. Christine Spadola (right) both presented at the United Way 5th Annual Behavioral Health Conference.

Dr. Platt presented on “Mindfulness-Based Intervention in Substance Use Disorder: Evidence of Relapse Prevention”.  Dr. Spadola, who co-presented with graduate student Cindy Wilks (center), spoke on “Promoting Sleep Health to Promote Mental Health”.

Cindy was also recently awarded a scholarship from the International Association for Social Work with Groups (IASWG) and was invited to speak at their annual symposium in New York earlier this month.

“I Never Knew I Could Have a Major Impact”

Tarcel King graduated with her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree in Fall 2018  from the FAU Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work and has recently been accepted into the Master of Social Work (MSW) program here at FAU. She is also an Outreach Peer Specialist at The Lord’s Place, a non-profit organization committed to “breaking the cycle of homelessness”.  Check out this touching story of how Tarcel is making an impact in the lives of individuals and families through her work at The Lord’s Place:

“Helping Helen” – published by The Lord’s Place on May 15, 2019

Change Agent of the Year Faculty Award

During their April 17 awards ceremony, the FAU Weppner Center for LEAD & Service-Learning named Instructor Robin Rubin, Instructor in the FAU Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, the Change Agent of the Year. Rubin was nominated by Emily Kilgore, a senior social work student and member of the Elite Owls.

“Receiving this award that is student-nominated means so much to me,” Rubin said. “Making a difference in the lives of students at FAU is my passion!”

Congratulations, Class of 2019!

On Thursday, May 2, 2019, 289 bachelor students, 139 masters students and 9 doctoral students – including the inaugural cohort of the first Doctor of Social Work program (DSW) in the state of Florida – accepted their diplomas from the College for Design and Social Inquiry at Florida Atlantic University. To all of our graduates, it has been our pleasure to have you in our classrooms and to watch you grow and learn in your programs.

Whether you are continuing your education or ready to apply your knowledge in the world, we look forward to watching your next chapter unfold. Remember that we are here for you and rooting for your success each step along the way.

As you move forward into your future, remember the words of Dr. Manny Gonzalez, DSW Program Coordinator and Associate Professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, “Know what you know, know what you don’t know, but know what you know well.”

Be well and best wishes!

  • 28 Bachelor of Architecture
  • 121 Bachelor of Arts
  • 21 Bachelor of General Studies
  • 10 Bachelor of Public Management
  • 18 Bachelor of Public Safety Administration
  • 62 Bachelor of Social Work
  • 18 Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning
  • 11 Bachelor of Urban Design
  • 2 Master of Nonprofit Management
  • 5 Master of Public Administration
  • 1 Master of Science
  • 127 Master of Social Work
  • 4 Master of Urban and Regional Planning
  • 2 Doctor of Philosophy
  • 7 Doctor of Social Work

Want to explore the degree programs in the College for Design and Social Inquiry at FAU? Call our Academic Advising Team today: (561) 297-2316

Spring 2019 Commencement Gallery


Explore FAU 2018 – College Expedition

More than 100 prospective students and family members visited the College for Design and Social Inquiry during the “College Expedition” portion of Explore FAU 2018.  It was a great opportunity for Owl hopefuls to visit the colleges and departments they’re most interested in and speak with faculty and existing students about what it would be like to be a student in their respective degree programs.

FAU Graduate Research Day + AFTA Scholarship Recipient

MSW student Haidee Cano represented the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work well at the FAU Graduate Research Day and won first place in Community Engaged Research. Morgan Cooley, Assistant Professor, also served as a judge at this event.

Cano is also the recipient of an American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) Diversity Scholarship and will attend the AFTA Conference in Oakland, Calif., this June.

Congratulations, Haidee!

Students Visit Tallahassee for Legislative Education and Advocacy Day

On April 3rd, 2019, 67 undergraduate and graduate students and two faculty members – Associate Professor LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Danielle Groton, Ph.D. – from the Sandler School of Social Work attended Legislative Education Advocacy Day (LEAD) in the Florida state capital of Tallahassee. This annual event encourages students and professional social workers to “stand up and speak out on important issues facing the social work profession in today’s legislative arena… supporting legislation that impacts our profession and our clients,” according to the National Association of Social Workers – Florida Chapter (NASW-FL), which represents approximately 4,500 social workers throughout the state.

This year’s legislative priorities included:

  • Increase funding and accessibility for mental health with a focus on school safety.
  • Increase behavioral health services to address the opioid crisis in Florida.
  • Promote and support legislative efforts and policies that are aligned with social, economic and environmental justice and oppose policies and actions that are not.
  • Promote Telehealth and social work mobility licensure legislation.

Reflections on the New Zealand Mosque Shootings

On behalf of the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, we extend our deepest condolences to the victims and their families, and our sympathy, support, and love for the Muslim community in New Zealand and around the globe.

As we learn the details of the March 15thshooting that killed 49 worshippers and wounded many others in two Christchurch mosques, we may feel shocked, angry, and sad. A house of worship is supposed to be a sanctuary, a refuge for prayer, reflection, and community comfort. That the alleged gunman would broadcast live footage of the mass murder on social media makes the situation even more disturbing and cruel.

We must not allow these horrifying events to spawn further acts of Islamophobia, White supremacy, or violence. We must counter the narratives of hate and intolerance with the messages of acceptance and respect for the dignity and worth of all people, regardless of religion, ethnicity, refugee status, or other social identity affiliation. We must identify people at risk of committing violence and intervene in a compassionate way to prevent such atrocities. We may not have all the answers, but inaction is not an option. Even small acts of kindness, respect, awareness, compassion and caring may have powerful effects.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm, our School in partnership with the FAU Brain Institute and the FAU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, will host the 2019 Violence Summit, which offers a series of workshops discussing violence from different perspectives.  Our keynote speaker is Dr. Jeremy Richman, Yale University Department of Psychiatry and father of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim, Avielle Richman.

We are honored to have such a strong showing of community support at this sold-out event. Our time together tomorrow could be an important step as we work together to tackle this complex issue and to create a community where diversity is not only embraced – but celebrated.


Naelys Luna, PhD
Professor and Director
Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work

Broward County Schools’ Social Work Intern of the Year

Congratulations to our Master of Social Work, Jennifer Karson, who was just named Broward County Schools’ Social Work Intern of the Year! We sat down with Jennifer for a quick Q&A to see what she has planned once she graduates with her MSW degree in May.

Q: What does it mean to you to be awarded this honor?
Receiving this award is such an honor for me, as I believe a social worker’s role in a school is critical to the growth and achievement of the students and their families. Throughout my internship with Broward County Public schools, I have been fortunate enough to work in all levels of the school setting, including individual and group counseling with students, community outreach for families in need, and working with the school’s administrative staff and teachers on ways to increase social-emotional learning throughout the school. This award is very meaningful to me because of how meaningful this internship has been to both my professional and personal development.

Q: What role has the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work at FAU played in your journey thus far?
The Sandler School of Social Work could not have been a better choice for me to receive my Masters in Social Work. It has provided me with the opportunities necessary to challenge and support my professional and personal development. Each professor and member of the Sandler School of Social Work ensure that each student is receiving the necessary clinical knowledge and practice experience to move forward and start a career after graduation as a competent and caring social worker.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan on continuing to work with youth in an educational/school setting and work toward gaining my licensure.

Q: What would you ultimately like to become in your social work career?
I ultimately would like to be a School Social Worker, but I also have a passion for advocacy and policy development so I am hoping to be in a position in the future that includes the two.

Q: What advice do you have for incoming freshmen who are considering studying social work?
Really explore all the opportunities that come your way so you can find what you are truly passionate about. And once you find what that is, take the initiative and immerse yourself in the field of social work through practice and coursework, and take advantage of everything this field has to offer!

We look forward to watching Jennifer’s exciting future continue to unfold!

National Association of Social Workers – FL Chapter Awards Top Honors

The Florida Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers recently awarded their annual top honors. Congratulations to these familiar faces who were among the big winners!

Palm Beach Unit

Assistant Professor Heather Howard, MSW, Ph.D., LICSW – “Social Work Educator of the Year”
Master of Social Work student Haidee Cano – “Social Work Student of the Year”

Broward Unit

Instructor David Landsman-Wohlifer, Ph.D., LCSW – “Social Work Educator of the Year”
Doctor of Social Work student Taryn Jamarillo – “Social Work Student of the Year”

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