Karen A. Randolph, Ph.D. ’00, professor emerita at Florida State University’s College of Social Work and Charity S. Watkins, MSW ’13, Ph.D. ’19, assistant professor at North Carolina Central University’s Department of Social Work, have been selected to receive UNC School of Social Work’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards.
Each year, the School recognizes alumni who have achieved distinction in the social work field, who embody social work values and who carry the School’s mission of service into the world. Alumni can be nominated by peers, faculty members, staff, fellow alumni or students and are chosen by a committee.
This year, Watkins will be the first to receive the School’s new Distinguished Recent Alumni Award, which also recognizes alums who have graduated within the past 10 years.
Randolph and Watkins will both be honored during the School’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 13, at Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Distinguished Alumni Award
Karen A. Randolph, Ph.D. ’00
Karen Randolph has devoted her long and distinguished career to studying and helping children and families in need. After earning a BSW from Central Michigan University and an MSW from the University of Michigan, Randolph embarked upon a social work career with various child service agencies in Michigan and Ohio. A decade and a half later, she enrolled in UNC School of Social Work’s doctoral program.
After earning her Ph.D., she began her academic career at the University of Buffalo. In 2003, she joined the faculty at the College of Social Work at Florida State University, where she was the Agnes Flaherty Stoops Professor in Child Welfare and served as director of the doctoral program. In April 2023, she was named Professor Emerita. She also currently serves as a lead evaluator for the Alliance for Workforce Enhancement Initiative at the Florida Institute for Child Welfare.
Randolph’s research interests include at-risk youth, child welfare, family social work, health care, mental health and substance use disorder. She has mentored hundreds of social work students through BSW, MSW and Ph.D. programs throughout her career. Randolph has authored more than 50 articles, book chapters and monographs, and she co-authored a well-regarded textbook on advanced quantitative research methods. She has received more than $1 million in research funding, and her work has had a significant impact in child welfare and human services in Florida, New York and nationally.
In 2016, Randolph’s commitment to the work of change and social justice was recognized through her election as a fellow of the Society for Social Work and Research. The distinction honors members of the society who have furthered its mission, which is to advance, disseminate and translate research that addresses issues of social work practice and policy and promotes a diverse, equitable and just society.
As a first-generation college graduate who earned her doctorate after years of social work practice, Randolph has been a front-line worker, a supervisor, a scholar, a teacher, a mentor and a leader. In all of these roles, she has remained steadfast in her aim of helping children and families, and she has built a career of distinction that honors her alma mater.
Distinguished Recent Alumni Award
Charity S. Watkins, MSW ’13, Ph.D. ’19
Charity Watkins’ dedication and service to the community, the social work profession and academia shines brightly. She is a licensed mental health practitioner with 14 years of professional experience in implementing and evaluating diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in complex work environments, including higher education institutions and K–12 school settings. She helps organizations promote social equity through relationship building, teaching and advanced research methods.
Watkins received both her MSW degree and Ph.D. from UNC School of Social Work. Her doctoral research focused on academic resilience among low-income Black children and the role of parents in supporting their children’s academic success during elementary school. She was named a recipient of the Outstanding Doctoral Student Award in 2017.
Watkins is now an assistant professor (on the tenure track) in the Department of Social Work at North Carolina Central University, where her research focus is understanding the mechanisms through which institutional racism impacts the well-being of Black Americans, with particular attention to the effects of racial and socioeconomic inequities on the physical and mental health of Black women.
As a survivor of peri-partum cardiomyopathy, Watkins has committed her considerable skills to addressing the maternal morbidity rate for all women but most urgently, the disproportionate deaths of Black women during childbirth. Following her own diagnosis, Watkins began to examine racial disparities in maternal morbidity with particular attention to pregnancy-related cardiovascular disease and the socioemotional effects on Black women and parent-child relationships.
Last year, she was named a Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH, pronounced “birch”) Scholar at Duke University School of Medicine, where she is exploring how the experience of severe maternal morbidity influences the perceived stress, mental health and parenting behaviors of Black women and how perceived social support may serve as a buffer against these psychosocial effects.
In addition to her teaching and research, Watkins serves as the board chair of Equity Before Birth in Durham; as a WomenHeart Champion with the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease; and as the parliamentarian for the National Association of Black Social Workers, Triangle Chapter.
Watkins is a champion for strong parent-child relationships and academic resilience among socioeconomically marginalized Black children, and she continues to carry the School’s mission of service into her community and beyond.