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Four honored with 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Each year at graduation, the School of Social Work presents the Distinguished Alumni Award as our way of honoring alumni who embody social work values and carry our mission of service into the world. Alumni can be nominated by peers, faculty members, fellow alumni or students and are chosen by a committee.
This year the School presented four distinguished alumni awards, representing four different decades here at the UNC School of Social Work. They are: Gary Bowen, MSW ’76, Ph.D.; Desdemona Faison, MSW ’85; Justin Perry, MSW ’09; and Stephen Douglas Trantham, MSW ’92.
Professor Gary Bowen, MSW ’76, Ph.D., of Cary, N.C., has been a UNC School of Social Work faculty member since 1985, and holds the Kenan Distinguished Professorship. In his 31 years at the School, he has held many administrative and teaching roles, including co-directing the development of the doctoral program until 1994.
Bowen is a leader in developing intervention research that benefits vulnerable families within the context of their communities. He co-directs the School Success Profile project, producing student-level assessments administered to nearly 100,000 students in almost 2,000 schools and youth-serving agencies. Bowen also has extensive experience working with all branches of the military services – consulting with military policymakers, researchers and practitioners across a range of mental health, family dynamic and social service issues worldwide.
He is past president of the National Council of Family Relations, which recognized him a Fellow in 2001. In 2013, Bowen was identified as an inaugural Fellow of the Society for Social Work and Research. In 2002, the Social Work Student Organization recognized him with their Most Innovative Professor Award, and he is a six-time recipient of the Dean’s Recognition of Teaching Excellence Award.
Desdemona Faison, MSW ’85, of Durham, N.C., has distinguished herself in a number of ways, both professionally and in the community. In 1989, she became the first African American female United States Probation Officer in the Middle District. Since 2002, she has held the title of supervisory United States probation officer, and was instrumental in creating comprehensive guidelines for the investigation and supervision of sex offenders in the Middle District of North Carolina.
Faison supervises six officers who are responsible for the supervision of nearly 250 federal post-conviction and 30 pretrial clients living in Alamance, Durham, Orange, Chatham, Person and Caswell Counties. In an additional effort to serve clients in the probation system, she served on the executive board of the N.C. Reentry Action Project, which works for the successful reentry of ex-offenders into their communities.
She is also very active in her local community. She chaired an “Alzheimer’s and Caregivers in the African American Community” conference. Faison is active with the UNC General Alumni Association and is a founding member of the Light on the Hill Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to promising students throughout North Carolina.
Justin Perry, MSW ’09 of Charlotte, N.C., was nominated by Sharon Thomas (MSW ’98), assistant dean for recruitment, admissions and financial aid. Thomas shared that during his time as a student in the Distance Education program, she was impressed by the way Perry made an impact on the classroom environment and his peers. She said, “His contributions were immense. He thoughtfully engaged in class discussions and produced high quality work….Despite a two-plus hour commute to and from Charlotte every week, Justin always came prepared and was excited for the opportunity to purse his MSW and to make a difference in the life of families and children in need.”
After graduating, Perry became a therapist specializing in addiction and mental health. He is employed in a behavioral health integration program with the Carolinas Healthcare System.  Recently, he became co-chair of OneMeck, an alliance of Mecklenberg County organizations and individuals advocating for fair, equal and excellent educational opportunities for all students attending Charlotte-Mecklenberg schools. Perry’s involvement with the organization was motivated by his concern over the school system’s redistricting plans. The new plan has the potential to re-segregate the school system along racial and socio-economic lines. Perry and other OneMeck leaders hope to share research about how current segregation in schools negatively impacts all communities.
Thomas added, “Justin has shared with me that social work informs everything that he does and at different levels. He continues to examine the person-in-environment fit, while considering the family and community level impact that his practice makes. In working as a social justice advocate, Justin knows that he can’t be a strong and effective practitioner without looking at the greater community impact of his work.”
Stephen Douglas (“Doug”) Trantham, MSW ’92, of Waynesville, N.C., is the behavioral health director for the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, N.C. In this position, Trantham worked to expand behavioral health services to the local Cherokee population. This expansion included doubling the number of full time staff, expansion of services to include programs in the tribal justice, a new recovery center with educational programming, and integrated behavioral health services with primary care providers in the hospital, Cherokee Central Schools and the Cherokee Family Safety Program. These services include intensive in-home targeted case management and a new day treatment program model aimed to serve the Cherokee population.
All of these efforts required Trantham to work closely with Cherokee, consultants and the state to coordinate implementation of the programs. Trantham was instrumental in planning expanded substance use services and planning two halfway houses and a rehabilitation facility to be built on tribal land in Graham County. His nominator and fellow School of Social Work alumnus, Everett Rollins (MSW ’13), describes his work in Cherokee as “an unprecedented expansion of behavioral health services and an exemplary demonstration of social work values in serving marginalized populations.”