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Excellence and Expertise

Shawnieka Pope named Ohio Social Worker of the Year

How an award-winning social worker and professor is nurturing the future of the field

pope social worker of the year
Shawnieka Pope accepts her award as NASW Ohio Chapter Social Worker of the Year
Excellence and Expertise

Shawnieka Pope named Ohio Social Worker of the Year

Shawnieka Pope accepts her award as NASW Ohio Chapter Social Worker of the Year

Shawnieka Pope, assistant clinical professor of Family Science and Social Work and licensed social worker, would like to clear up a few myths about the field. 

One big myth being that it’s just about the welfare of children, or about working for child protective services. When, in reality, the field is about far more than most may realize. 

“Sometimes when I say I'm a social worker, especially in the inner city, people gasp because of their experiences with the system,” Pope said. “So, it's important that we get the full, accurate picture of what social work is. We're researchers. We own nonprofits and private practices. We support the incarcerated. There are corporate social workers, and those working for music companies. There are international social workers who travel the world, and those who work with athletes.”

And more. Because social workers also work with military families whose loved ones are separated by oceans for months at a time. Others work as policy analysts, in forensics, and even art therapy.

“So when I talk about ‘nurturing the future of social work,’” said Pope,“It’s about going beyond the traditional to consider what's possible. And I love sharing my background because I was a school-based therapist. I was a school social worker, the director of a nursing home, and I worked in a court. So my story shows how many spaces I've been able to navigate as a social worker that are both traditional and non-traditional.”

Pope’s storied career is just part of what earned her the National Association of Social Worker’s (NASW) top honor as Ohio's 2023 state-wide Social Worker of the Year. The award recognizes exceptional contributions to the social work profession, those who advocate for clients, a commitment to leadership, and outstanding results in the field. And according to her peers, Pope excels in all of these areas.

Her research expertise, for example, centers on suicide prevention and suicidal thoughts, and she often leads events at local schools to support students. Across the community, she also regularly hosts professional development workshops and training for educators and organizations interested in trauma-informed care, youth mental health services, and selfcare support.

“I also do a lot of anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion work in the area too,” she said. “Sometimes I’m invited to be a keynote speaker or presenter. And it’s not paid. It's just me giving back to my profession and the community around areas that are very important to me.” 

Her work with students is equally expansive as well.

Last year during Advocacy Day, Pope took a group of social work students to Columbus to serve as session leaders while interacting with state legislators. 

At Miami, she also participates in the Bridges Program, which invites high-achieving high school seniors from historically underrepresented populations to consider college. She also participates in Make It Miami events, where she can speak directly to undecided students, who may have never considered studying social work before.

“Sometimes students find us by accident,” she said. “So, it’s important for our department to build this pipeline with students who intentionally come to Miami for a social work degree. And I just really enjoy bringing social work to life by talking about what it would be like to be in the program.”

She’s also taken middle and high schoolers on unofficial college tours, and sometimes she even interacts with students as young as kindergarten.

“I want social work to be a part of the conversation,” Pope said, “and not just something students stumble upon in college because they took an intro class. So when I ask students, even beginning in elementary school, what they want to be, I would love for them to say, ‘I want to be a social worker like Professor Pope.’”

“And I would love for young people to make that decision based on wanting to contribute to humanity, to be a change agent, and to make the human condition better for everybody,’ she said. “That’s what I would love.”