Social work students selected as HEALS Scholars

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Three headshots of Heals Scholars Faustina Fortunato BSW’21, Tigist Kiflu MSW’21, and Eleanor Sonnabend MSW’21.

Three students in St. Catherine University’s social work programs were selected as the 2020–2021 Social Work Healthcare and Leadership Scholars (HEALS): Faustina Fortunato BSW’21, Tigist Kiflu MSW’21, and Eleanor Sonnabend MSW’21.

Funded by the New York Community Trust and awarded by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), HEALS “aims to develop the next generation of social work leaders who will stand ready to lead efforts to address system-level changes, heighten awareness of prevention and wellness, and address the issues of structural racism that are embedded in social institutions,” according to the Council on Social Work Education website.

St. Kate’s social work program is one of 10 social work programs across the country selected to participate in HEALS. Unlike individual scholarships or grants, the HEALS program works with St. Kate’s overall program, which in turn chooses the individual recipients. Along with a tuition stipend and travel grant, each HEALS Scholar is provided with multiple educational and leadership opportunities. The St. Kate’s social work faculty and staff guide the St. Kate’s HEALS Scholars and tailor their HEALS experience to their education.

Exemplifying St. Catherine University’s mission to educate women to lead and influence, St. Kate’s social work program is distinguished by an emphasis on relationship-centered care, socially responsible leadership, interprofessional education, and collaborative practice initiatives. HEALS scholars have the opportunity to engage in leadership opportunities in their field, including participation in the St. Catherine University Health Summit, attendance at a Day at the Capitol event to advocate for an issue that relates to their education and passion, and participation in additional relevant education, policy, networking, and professional development events.

HEALS Scholars also participate in an elective course focused on interprofessional practice that examines healthcare teams and their roles, responsibilities, and outcomes. “St. Kate’s HEALS program is rooted in social justice and healthcare access. We look at social work not just as a clinical practice, but how it can help in community and policy settings as well,” says Sharyn DeZelar, PhD, MSW, LICSW, assistant professor of social work and a co-coordinator for St. Kate’s HEALS program.

St. Kate’s HEALS program has a strong mentorship program guided by a leadership council made up of each student’s field supervisor, social work community members, and previous HEALS Scholars, which meets with students and HEALS faculty coordinators. “The council members discuss trends and strategies in the field, supporting the students and answering questions from their social work experience,” DeZelar says. “This provides students with focused conversations on real-world social work applications and issues, while also facilitating a direct connection to look at the bigger picture in overall health and well-being.”

Throughout the coming year, each St. Kate’s HEALS Scholar will also collaborate with scholars from the other 10 participating schools to plan and lead a webinar series. The webinars are all rooted in contemporary topics that relate to social justice and policy, such as “Health Equity/Racism in Healthcare/White Supremacy in Healthcare”, “Transgender Health”, and “Medical Rationing and Disability Health.”

Meet the 2020–2021 HEALS Scholars

Faustina Fortunato BSW’21 has volunteered in healthcare settings in the United States and in London, where she trained as a psychiatric nurse. “I am dedicated to the care of older adults because in my culture we hold them in high esteem as they’re senior citizens who in turn have cared for us,” Fortunato says. Through her HEALS experience, Fortunato will participate in an interprofessional education experience at Carondelet Village, a senior living community that is a shared ministry between the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the Presbyterian Home & Services. “I look forward to a great time learning at my internship at Carondelet Village and through HEALS,” Fortunato says.

Tigist Kiflu MSW’21 is looking forward to her HEALS experience to address the issues of structural racism that are embedded in social institutions. Through HEALS, Kiflu will have the opportunity to talk with policymakers and connect with social workers from around the country to discuss essential issues. She is especially excited to present and learn from other presenters during the HEALS webinar series. Kiflu says, “My experiences as a person of color have taught me how to be non-judgmental, how to demonstrate empathy, and how my improbable journey can inspire others. We are all vulnerable at any given point in time because of life circumstances. It could be because of illness, humiliation, poverty, or abuse, but some of us are more vulnerable than others. My past vulnerabilities will help me because they provide me with a better empathy for what children and families are going through in disadvantaged situations.”

Eleanor Sonnabend MSW’21 says she found the social work profession “after working with the St. Paul Police Department and noticing a need for mental health education for both officers and the communities they serve.” About the HEALS program, Sonnabend says, “I am looking forward to the opportunities to experience policy changes firsthand, and I am excited for the networking connections with a group of people who are dedicated to advocacy work at a policy level. It gives me hope for a better future.”

Faustina Fortunato, Tigist Kiflu, and Eleanor Sonnabend are the sixth cohort of HEALS Scholars at St. Kate’s. The HEALS program was originally granted to the joint St. Catherine University and University of St. Thomas social work program in 2015. When the joint social work program ended in 2019, St. Kate’s continued to work with HEALS. DeZelar sees the HEALS program and its opportunities as a great fit for St. Kate’s students, because “St. Kate’s social work program emphasizes social justice, public health, and policy that treats not only the patient, but works to heal the system as well.”

Learn more about St. Kate's Social Work programs