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College of Social Work

MSW Students and Educator of the Year Announced for Columbia Campus

May 8, 2019
Chris Woodley •

Graduating Master of Social Work students Phylicia Currence and Michael Zuch have been named the MSW Students of the Year for the Columbia campus. In addition, Clinical Assistant Professor and Interim MSW Program Coordinator Rhonda DiNovo was selected as MSW Educator of the Year.

Phylicia Currence
Phylicia Currence started at the College of Social Work in 2017 after earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from the University of North Carolina. Last month, she was one of two students nationwide selected for a two-year, post-MSW fellowship in advanced clinical social work from the Yale University School of Medicine’s Child Study Center. The fellowship provide training for social workers with an interest in clinical social work with children, youth and families.

“I feel honored to win the award because of the depth and talent of our program,” Currence said. “All of my peers are talented and doing amazing things, so it means a lot for me to be selected.”

Currence also said her Children, Youth and Families specialization has helped prepare her for her future training and career.  

“It was important to have the specialized courses with professors who work with that population and their issues,” Currence said. “Learning from the professors and going from the first year when classes are broader to more in-depth classes the second year has prepared me.”

After completing her fellowship, Currence’s career aspirations include opening a private practice that offers clinical services to high school-aged girls before they begin college.

“Phylicia is an outstanding student who is exceptionally smart, a gifted clinician, and on track to making a significant difference in the field,” DiNovo said.

Michael Zuch
Michael Zuch’s advocacy efforts can be traced to two College of Social Work courses. Zuch started his advocacy-focus podcast, The Bearing Witness Project, in March. As co-host of the podcast and blog, he facilitates conversations about religious and spiritual trauma through trauma and systems theories, and empowerment.

“The idea for my podcast came from my trauma-informed practice course with Professor (Patrice) Penney and advocacy course with Professor (Kristina) Webber,” Zuch said. “The project's mission is to equip communities to recognize and understand the harm of religious and spiritual trauma, and to take compassionate action to prevent and heal. I plan to expand the podcast upon graduating.”

Zuch was also a research assistant for Assistant Professor Benjamin Roth for two years. His research interests include the study and evaluation of expressive arts for trauma care, and social and organizational responses to structural violence. 

“I am incredibly grateful for the recognition by the college,” Zuch said. “I have classmates that are doing great work in the community that are more than deserving.”

Zuch also credited the college faculty with developing his research and advocacy interests.

“As Professor Roth's research assistant, I collaborated on several academic papers on the U.S. immigration policy and its impact on young people,” Zuch said. “Professor Kirk Foster sponsored my independent study on the gendered experiences of male survivors of human trafficking. Both experiences were very formative in my research interests. I am also thankful for Professor Penney’s mentorship, who has been my instructor and clinical supervisor in the Children, Youth and Families specialization. She helped me develop the skills necessary to integrate clinical direct practice with systems change advocacy.”  

Following graduation, Zuch will work with the Urban Leaders Fellowship this summer in Nashville. He will partner with a local political official to help develop and write public policy with the goal of educational equity and social justice.

“Michael boasts a wonderful combination of advocate, organizer and clinical therapist,” DiNovo said. “His rich collection of experiences and professional responsibilities span a range of topics and geographical areas.”

Rhonda DiNovo
Clinical Assistant Professor Rhonda DiNovo took on additional duties of interim MSW program coordinator at the beginning of the spring 2019 semester. But despite her busy schedule, DiNovo continues to make time to best prepare her students for a social work career.

“Winning the award is an incredible honor because it’s awarded by the students,” DiNovo said. “For them, it’s a way of saying thanks to me for believing and investing in them. For me, it’s an important reminder of the privilege I have to be a part of their growth journey.”

DiNovo has taught MSW classes at the College of Social Work since 2015. Previously, she served as director of the University of South Carolina’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Education office. DiNovo has also presented locally and nationally on several topics, including motivational interviewing, and alcohol and substance use prevention in communities and college campuses.

“I enjoy building relationships with students, engaging them in curiosity and the process of learning,” DiNovo said. “It’s exciting to share with them my knowledge, experience and love of our amazing social work profession.” 

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