Leigh Strube, a 3rd-year student in the School of Social Work’s Triangle Distance Education Program, has been selected to receive the first “Mary Jane Burns Book Award for Excellence in Clinical Social Work.”
The award, which was established this year, serves to honor the memory of Mary Jane Stratton Mayhew Burns, MSW ’74, a long-time Chapel Hill clinical social worker who died in September at age 75 after a two-year fight with cancer. The award honors Burns, who “demonstrated compassion, professionalism, devotion to her clients, a deep understanding of clinical practice, and commitment to education.”
Members of Burns’ Chapel Hill book group created the annual award to show appreciation for a part-time final year student in good academic standing and with a professional interest in clinical social work.
“I am quite honored to have been chosen to receive the first Mary Jane Burns Book Award,” said Strube. “She was a truly remarkable woman, whose motivation to do so much as a public servant in her community is an inspiration to me.”
Travis Albritton, the director of the School’s Triangle DE Program, said he selected Strube for the award because she shares many similarities with the award’s namesake. Like Burns, Strube pursued her MSW degree a little later in life, and she has worked hard to balance school, family, and a professional career.
“Leigh embodies this whole notion of what it means to be even-keeled,” Albritton said. “She really does take deep breaths, keeps things in perspective and reaches out when she needs to. So in that way, I think she embodies the ideals of what I think they were looking for in terms of a student who is a little more mature, in terms of a student who’s had some work experiences, as well as a student who has had to face a challenge.”
For members of Burns’ book group, which started more than 40 years ago, the award was a chance to recognize a founding member of the group but more important, a dedicated clinical social worker. Burns briefly taught at UNC’s School of Public Health before moving on to the department of pediatrics at Duke, where she remained for 10 years. She then moved into private practice and continued her specialization in individual and family therapy.
“We wanted to do something to honor Mary Jane’s memory in the School of Social Work because her professional identity was so strong and her career in social work was a central part of her life and very important to her,” said Katherine Savage, a friend and fellow book group member who helped develop the award. “And since it was the book group that was interested in doing something, we thought it would be an appropriate kind of award to give to recognize the excellence of graduating students.”
After graduation, Strube said she hopes to follow in Burns’ footsteps and pursue a career in counseling children and families.
Burns will also long be remembered for her work as a social activist, added Savage. The late social worker served as an elder at the Church of Reconciliation and at the University Presbyterian Church, both in Chapel Hill. She was equally active in the community, serving on numerous boards, including for The Women’s Center (now the Compass Center for Women and Families), the Chapel Hill Preservation Society, and the N.C. Botanical Garden Foundation.