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New $100K gift to reward students for innovative initiatives

Vera Tayeh, MSW '87
Vera Tayeh, MSW ’87

For Vera Tayeh, MSW ‘87, the question posed to her more than 35 years ago was a gift: What do you want to do and who do you want serve? Then a college intern at a community center in the country of Lebanon, Tayeh was eager to work with teenagers and embraced the opportunity to develop after school activities and programs to meet their needs.

“I really wanted to create a community of support for the teens – to give them some place to go and something to do,” Tayeh recalled. “So, I developed activities for them three days a week, giving them the chance to learn new art skills, to connect with people who would listen to them, and to build their social skills.”

A long-time supporter of the School of Social Work, Tayeh now plans to inspire MSW students to develop their own innovative ideas for serving communities. The alumnus and member of the School’s Board of Advisors recently donated $100,000 as an incentive for student innovation. The money will be used to create the Vera Tayeh Innovations and Impact Award Expendable Fund and will provide $10,000 awards to student projects that have the potential to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities.

“The Vera Tayeh Innovations and Impact Award provides an opportunity for our students to think ‘outside the box’ in designing, implementing and evaluating direct and indirect interventions that are consistent with our mission to advance equity, transform systems, and improve lives,” praised Dean Gary Bowen. “Furthermore, this fund directly supports the School’s focus on innovation and social entrepreneurship as a diagonal in our community engagement work.

“I am so thankful for Vera’s visionary leadership and for her confidence in our students to tackle some of society’s most challenging problems.”

As proposed, students will work with faculty, field supervisors, clients and community stakeholders to help design interventions using the best available science in a particular area of focus. Students can begin applying for the award next spring. A committee will select the projects and announce winners in the fall and following spring.

Tayeh, who has been employed in child welfare with Wake County Human Services for more than 20 years, is eager to see student entrepreneurial spirit in action. As someone who regularly works with families facing trauma, she understands the barriers that social workers often face to fully support those in need. She is certain Carolina’s social workers in training have bright ideas to create change.

“We all know the saying, ‘If not you, then who? If not now, then when?’ Now is the perfect time for social workers to step up and say, ‘What’s the need?’” Tayeh said. “The bottom line is to make a difference and to make an impact on the community. We each are capable in some capacity to make a difference.”