Future Social Work Leaders Honored with NASW-NYC Awards

May 15, 2009 @ 4:00 am

For Immediate Release
May 15, 2009

New York, NY – Two 2009 master of social work candidates at Columbia University School of Social Work (SSW) have been selected to receive prestigious awards from the National Association of Social Workers-New York City Chapter.  The awards will be presented during the School’s Commencement Ceremony at Beacon Theatre on May 20. 

The Georgia L. McMurray Award is given to only one student out of all six graduate schools of social work in New York City.  The award recognizes outstanding accomplishments and contributions made to services to children and families by a graduating student.  This is year Julianna Gwiszcz is the recipient of the city-wide McMurray Award. This is the fifth consecutive year that a Columbia University student has won the Georgia L. McMurray Award.

Gwiszcz specialized in Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming with a focus on Family, Youth and Children’s Services. Through her education and service experiences, she developed a special interest in and passion for enabling positive youth development. Gwiszcz witnessed the marginalization of young people because of such factors as poverty, race or sexual orientation,  and because ubiquitous societal messages convey that they do not count or that their voices do not matter.  By actively involving young people in their communities and schools and by engaging them in personal and social exploration, Gwiszcz found that she was able to support them to reach their full potential. She chose to pursue a master’s in social work over other disciplines because “a career in social work enables me to empower young men and women to apply their knowledge, talents and aspirations to bring about change in their own lives, their communities, and their world.”  Gwiszcz is currently exploring positions in both higher education institutions as well as community-based programs and plans to eventually pursue a doctoral degree.

“I am honored to receive this prestigious award, an honor I share with the entire Columbia University School of Social Work community, my colleagues, family and friends. I hope to continue to make them proud in my lifelong pursuit of social justice and equality for all.”

Lauren Polakoff will be honored with the chapter’s Student of the Year Award, which recognizes students who have demonstrated professional commitment, identity and values through student leadership, practicum practice or academic projects.

Polakoff specialized in Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming with a focus on aging. Her interest in gerontology began when she learned that her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  Her experience with her grandfather led her to seek out ways to help other older adults, including founding an exercise program for residents of an assisted living facility in her hometown of Princeton, NJ.  While attending college, she created an autobiography program in an Ithaca, NY facility that helped residents to discuss and record their life stories.  She worked for a major advertising firm after college, but sought a more meaningful profession.  Polakoff’s volunteer experience at the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged ultimately led her to turn her passion into a career and to apply to the School of Social Work to gain “an educational foundation at the graduate level from a world-class program.”  Polakoff aspires to become a leader and innovator in the field of aging, to create and implement programs that will alleviate the challenging economic and social obstacles confronting our expanding older adult population.

“It is a privilege for me to receive this honor,” says Polakoff. “The School has truly provided inspiring experiences, enabling me with many unique opportunities in the field of aging, a field about which I am so passionate. I’m especially thrilled that this award acknowledges the importance of social work professionals in aging.”

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world with 150,000 members.  NASW-NYC represents the collective expertise and experience of more than 10,000 members in New York City.