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Four UNC School of Social Work professors receive prestigious honors at 28th annual SSWR Conference

by Chris Hilburn-Trenkle 

Four University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work professors were honored for their excellence in the field of social work during the 2024 Society for Social Work and Research Conference in Washington, D.C.  

Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development Sheryl Zimmerman received the 2024 Distinguished Career Achievement Award on Saturday, Jan. 13, at the Marriott Marquis DC. She was bestowed with the honor thanks to her professional impact, innovation, research and significant contributions to the field.  

Zimmerman is the second UNC School of Social Work faculty member to receive the award since its founding in 1999, joining 2008 recipient Mark W. Fraser, a professor emeritus. 

“I want to very much thank the social work leaders in the School of Social Work who have supported the work that I’ve done,” Zimmerman said. “Deans Ramona Denby-Brinson, Gary Bowen and Jack Richman, also the other nominators of me for this position, and to recognize the doctoral students and master’s students with whom I’ve worked over the years from UNC, some of whom are leaders in the field right now.” 

Zimmerman joined the School in 1997 and was named a Kenan Flagler Bingham Distinguished Professor in 2009. Zimmerman is the co-director for the interdisciplinary Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, in addition to her work as director of aging research for the School. She’s also the executive director for the Center for Excellence in Assisted Living (CEAL@UNC). 

Minutes before Zimmerman received the Distinguished Career Achievement Award, Associate Professor Amy Blank Wilson and Assistant Professor Rebecca Rebbe were inducted into the 2024 class of Fellows of the Society for Social Work and Research. Fellows are selected for their professional achievements, leadership and contribution to SSWR.  

Associate Professor Amy Blank Wilson (left) and Assistant Professor Rebecca Rebbe (right)

Blank Wilson, who joined the School in 2014, is the Prudence F. and Peter J. Meehan Early Career Distinguished Scholar. Her studies, often federally funded, center on intervention science around topics of incarceration and homelessness, for example, and the lives of people in the criminal justice system with serious mental illness. She is a co-director for Tiny Homes Village, a permanent residence community in Chatham County, N.C., designed for individuals with mental health illnesses and veterans living on a fixed income.  

“It’s a joy to give back and to work with other people around social work … Helping other social work researchers and giving back to the profession is one of the easiest things I do,” Wilson said.  

Rebbe, who joined the School in 2022, received the K01 Career Development Award from the Centers for Disease Control in September 2023. The two-year grant is helping her to expand her research of violence against children and to learn a new research method using causal inference. 

“Rigorous and impactful research is important for the social work profession, education, and the communities we work with,” Rebbe said. “SSWR is an important leader for social work research which has contributed greatly to my research career development, and it is nice to be recognized for my contributions.” 

Less than a mile down the road at the City Club of Washington, John A. Tate Distinguished Professor for Children in Need Emily Putnam-Hornstein was honored as one of eight fellows inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Class of 2024 on Sunday, Jan. 14. The selection committee nominates fellows based on their accomplishments in social work practice or their influence on social good and policy.  

Putnam-Hornstein joins current and former School members Fraser, Zimmerman, Gary Bowen, Matthew Owen Howard, Rebecca Macy and Mark F. Testa as the seventh UNC professor accepted into the academy.  

“I was drawn to social work as a field defined by the development of rigorous evidence with applications to the real-world,” Putnam-Hornstein said. “I am truly honored to join a group of scholars and practitioners that shares this empirical orientation and whose collective work has been so impactful.” 

In addition to her work at UNC, where she specializes in the use of data to improve the accuracy of decisions made by child protection agencies, Putnam-Hornstein is a distinguished scholar at the University of Southern California and a research specialist with the California Child Welfare Indicators Project at the University of California, Berkeley. Putnam-Hornstein, who joined the School in 2020, is also the faculty co-director of the Children’s Data Network.