School of Social Work celebrates 40 years in Tucson


Paul Atkinson

Dozens of alumni, students and members of the Tucson community took part in festivities celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Arizona State University School of Social Work in Tucson. The October event featured panel discussions, research presentations and an evening reception with drawings and remarks from Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons.

“It was pretty clear throughout the whole day, as well as into the evening, what this program means to the community and how invested community members are in the school,” said James Herbert Williams, director of the School of Social Work. “It was just really heartwarming.”

Juana Ambrose hugs Josefina Ahumada as her husband Frank looks on.

Alumna Juana Ambrose hugs Josefina Ahumada at the 40th Anniversary celebration of the School of Social Work Tucson component.

One of the panel discussions featured alumni from different decades talking about their own experience with the school. In the early years, being an ASU social work student took complete dedication, as classes were held wherever the university could find classroom space. It also meant a weekly commute to Tempe for a day full of classes.  

“My travel consisted of getting up at 5:00 in the morning to be at classes at 8:00 and sometimes not getting out until 7:00,” said Vanessa Seaney, a 1992 alumna.

The Tucson component, as the program is called, created lifelong friends for many graduates. Patty Valera counts many former classmates as close friends.

“When we used to present during classes, I used to tell them: ‘Folks this is the best place to practice, because all of us know each other and trust each other,’” said Valera. “We were able to support each other to become good social workers.”

Several of the 40th-anniversary sessions focused on current research in the Tucson community. Assistant professors Mary Ellen Brown and Katie Cotter Stalker discussed their crime intervention study involving high crime areas in Tucson.  Brown and Cotter Stalker were joined by project coordinator Nadia Roubicek and representatives from the Tucson Police department and City Manager’s office. The discussion included a public health official and representatives from a nonprofit and a neighborhood involved in the three-year, $1 million program funded by the Department of Justice. Called “Thrive in the 05,” researchers are working with community members, nonprofits and police to reduce crime in the 85705 zip code.

Other presentations by faculty showcased research on whether infant carriers can help substance-exposed newborns in neonatal intensive care units; the outcomes of costs of providing housing and emergency shelter for people in need; and a prevention program called Go Grrrls and Guy Talk.

“You can see why the Tucson component has been here for 40 years, and why the community supported it that long, because they see what the program means to the community and how the program has helped the community,” said Williams. 

The evening event took place at the Tucson Museum of Art and featured Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons drawing caricatures of alumni, faculty and staff. The School paid tribute to professor emerita Ann Nichols, who started the Tucson program literally out of the trunk of her car in the 1970s.

When the ASU professor heard that students would drive from Tucson to attend class in Tempe she began traveling to Tucson to teach a course. Enough students showed interest that she was able to establish the Tucson component in 1978. Nichols was given a framed ceramic plaque thanking her for her “long-standing commitment to the School of Social Work, the students, and the Tucson Community.” Nichols retired in 2009. An endowed scholarship/fellowship was established in her name at the time.

The evening celebration also paid tribute to Josefina Ahumada, longtime coordinator of field education for the Arizona State University School of Social Work in Tucson. Fitzsimmons drew a caricature of Ahumada dressed as Wonder Woman with the title “Best @*! Social Worker West of the San Pedro.”  

David Fitzsimmons draws a caricature of Josefina Ahumada

David Fitzsimmons draws a caricature of Josefina Ahumada during the 40th anniversary celebration of the ASU School of Social Work Tucson component at the Tucson Museum of Art.