Distinguished Alumni

Zoom screenshot of 2020 alumni awards

Each year Pitt Social Work recognizes alumni who have achieved the highest standards of professional integrity and personal conduct; advanced knowledge of the profession; and supported public and social policies that ensure equal rights for all regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, income or disability. The current class of Distinguished Alumni are recognized at an event in the fall.

Do you know an alum who is making an impact in the field on a local, regional or national level? Nominate them for a Distinguished Alumni Award! Here is a link to the nomination form

Questions? – email sswalums@pitt.edu

2020 Distinguished Alumni Awards Virtual Celebration

See opening slideshow of awardees

Watch video of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Awards Virtual Celebration


2020 Alumni Awardees

Distinguished Alumni Award for Social Work Education

Dr. Jan M. Ivery (MSW ’97)
Assistant Dean for Academic Programs, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University

Dr. Jan M. Ivery is the Assistant Dean for Academic Programs in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and an Associate Professor in Social Work at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Ivery earned a B.A. degree in Sociology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, her MSW from the University of Pittsburgh, and PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in human behavior, research methods, community development, and nonprofit management.

Dr. Ivery has published journal articles and book chapters on how to leverage community partnerships to develop programs and services for client populations such as older adults, caregivers, and offenders as they transition from prison into the community. Her research on collaborative partnerships explores systematic and environmental factors that influence program development and implementation in economically diverse communities.

Dr. Ivery was Visiting Scholar in the Social Justice Core at Virginia Commonwealth University during the 2017-18 academic year where she worked with colleagues to develop the framework for a policy lab to address poverty and inequality in the City of Richmond, VA. She has served in multiple leadership roles in social work education and macro practice, including former Co-Chair of Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Council of Role and Status of Women in Social Work and current interim Co-Chair of the Association for Community Organization and Social Action (ACOSA).

Distinguished Alumni Award for Social Work Practice

Jody R. Bechtold, LCSW (MSW ’02)
Founder and CEO of The Better Institute

Jody Bechtold is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, International Certified Gambling Counselor-II and Board Approved Clinical Consultant in the international gambling treatment field. She is the founder and CEO of The Better Institute. Ms. Bechtold serves on the International Gambling Counselor Certification Board and National Council on Problem Gambling’s board of directors. She also serves on the advisory board of Gamban, a gambling blocking software used worldwide.

In addition to previously teaching as an adjunct professor in Pitt Social Work, Ms. Bechtold has conducted numerous trainings and workshops with Continuing Education, training 200+ clinicians in the region in the treatment of problem gambling. Her research with Dr. Danny Rosen, Pitt Social Work Professor, helped to form a local tech and mental health startup.

Ms. Bechtold has presented in numerous conferences locally, nationally, and internationally on problematic and disordered gambling. Shortly after her 2019 TEDx Talk in Pittsburgh, Ms. Bechtold was the keynote speaker on problem gambling at the first ever International Addictions Conference in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. She also co-authored chapters on gambling disorders in the Social Work Desk Reference V4 which is scheduled for release in 2021. Her book “The Gambling Disorder Treatment Handbook: a Guide for Mental Health Professionals” will be available in early 2021.

Outstanding Alumni Award

Joni Siff Schwager, LSW (MSW ’84)
Executive Director, Staunton Farm Foundation

Since 1998, Joni Siff Schwager has been the Executive Director of the Staunton Farm Foundation, a private family foundation that awards grants in the field of behavioral health in ten counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. Founded in 1937, the Foundation sees a future where behavioral health is understood, supported, and accepted. Ms. Schwager has helped the Foundation distribute more than $40 million during her 20+ year tenure.  She has also served on numerous boards of directors, committees and community activities including LEAD Pgh, PA Health Funders Network, and Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania. Ms. Schwager spent the first half of her career working as a clinical social worker at Jewish Family and Children’s Services and in private practice, specializing in women’s issues including eating disorders and trauma.

Outstanding Field Instructor Award

Maxine J. Thomas (MSW ’09)
Social Service Supervisor and Grievance Officer, Kane Community Living Center - Glen Hazel

Prior to returning to school as a nontraditional undergraduate student, Maxine Thomas drove a school bus in the McKeesport Area School District for 17 years. Upon completing her bachelor’s degree, Ms. Thomas worked as a case worker for Kane Community Living Centers for eight years before being promoted to Social Service Supervisor. Today she works at Kane Community Living Center - Glen Hazel as a Social Service Supervisor and Grievance Officer. She enjoys the opportunity to build relationships and advocate for residents and their families.

Ms. Thomas taught Introduction to Social Work as an adjunct professor at Carlow University. She also has been a Pitt Social Work field instructor for many years and continually provides a safe space for students to develop their knowledge and skills in gerontological social work practice. Ms. Thomas makes her home in Duquesne where she is active in her community, working as an elected school board member, superintendent of Sunday schools at the Bethlehem Temple Church and foster parent to several children. 

Rising Star Award

Johnnie R.M. Geathers (MSW ’13)
Mental Health Therapist, Familylinks, Inc.

Johnnie Geathers is a mental health therapist at Familiylinks, Inc, working with first through third graders at Pittsburgh Carmalt PreK-8 using the therapeutic classroom model. Outside of his work in the field, Mr. Geathers does community work for his fraternity, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc, where he holds three positions: Community Service chair for the Beta Omicron Omega Alumni chapter in Pittsburgh; Director of Community Service for the Atlantic Coast Region; and the National Coordinator for Much More Than A Hashtag, an initiative that he co-founded to educate the community on voter registration, citizen review boards, the jury selection process, and property taxes. Mr. Geathers also speaks regularly on topics of mental health and wellness to diverse audiences, working to destigmatize mental health treatment for communities of color and increase equity in mental health services.

Rising Star Award

Gabriella Jones-Casey (MSW ’13)
Organizing Training Lead (OTL), Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky; Local 32BJ, Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Gabriella Jones-Casey began working with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) during her time at the University of Pittsburgh, first as a graduate intern/campus organizer, and then eventually as a union organizer. In 2014, she worked as a labor organizer with the Fight for $15 – Fast Food, a project of SEIU International. Ms. Jones-Casey then moved on to become a Coordinator in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, responsible for coordinating strikes by hundreds of fast food workers across the state and building relationships with ally organizations to encourage participation in parallel actions to fight for economic justice. After three years with the Fight for $15 – Fast Food campaign, she transitioned to an internal organizing Field Representative position with SEIU Local 32BJ (Property Service Division). In November 2019, Ms. Jones-Casey became an Organizing Training Lead (OTL) for Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Special recognition - The Larry E. Davis Award for Excellence in Race Research

Dr. Michael A. Lindsey (PhD ’02)
Executive Director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University (NYU)
Constance and Martin Silver Professor of Poverty Studies at NYU Silver School of Social Work

Dr. Michael A. Lindsey is a noted scholar in the fields of child and adolescent mental health, as well as a leader in the search for knowledge and solutions to generational poverty and inequality. He is the Executive Director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University (NYU), the Constance and Martin Silver Professor of Poverty Studies at NYU Silver School of Social Work, and an Aspen Health Innovators Fellow.  He also leads a university-wide Strategies to Reduce Inequality initiative from the NYU McSilver Institute.

At the NYU McSilver Institute, Dr. Lindsey leads a team of researchers, clinicians, social workers and other professionals who are committed to creating new knowledge about the root causes of poverty, developing evidence-based interventions to address its consequences, and rapidly translating their findings into action through policy and best practices. Additionally, he leads the working group of experts supporting the Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, which created the report Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America. He is a standing member of Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) National Advisory Council at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a Distinguished Fellow of the National Academies of Practice (NAP) in Social Work, and serves on the editorial boards of the journals: 1) Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, (2) Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology; (3) Psychiatric Services; and (4) School Mental Health.

Dr. Lindsey holds a PhD in social work and MPH from the University of Pittsburgh, an MSW from Howard University, and a BA in sociology from Morehouse College.

Presented annually by the Center on Race and Social Problems, the Larry E. Davis Award for Excellence in Race Research honors an outstanding researcher focused on race and racial justice issues.


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