Skip to main content

Eight faculty and staff members honored for their excellence to School 

by Chris Hilburn-Trenkle 

Eight members of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work were recently recognized for their excellence and commitment to the School of Social Work community.  

The recipients, ranging from staff members to tenure track professors to fixed term professors, all of whom help to ensure the School is operating efficiently each day, were honored during the final Faculty Senate meeting of the academic year on Thursday, April 25. 

“Every year it is such an honor to review all of the award nominations,” Chair of the School of Social Work Awards Committee Sarah Verbiest said. “We truly have an extraordinary group of colleagues. The awards committee offers special congratulations to our 2024 award winners. What a wonderful group of scholars, teachers, leaders and change agents!” 

Neil Bilotta headshot

Excellence In Teaching Faculty Award: Clinical Assistant Professor Neil Bilotta

One phrase was used many times to describe Bilotta’s presence at the School — the deep impact he’s made on those around him. Whether it’s through his work with Global Social Development Innovations, his passion in pursuing anti-racist and anti-colonial social work ethical practices, his course development and immersive education, or the dignity, respect and honesty he displays to his students, he’s impacted those around him. Bilotta invites students to adapt the way they view social work practice and make sense of their identity as social workers, a process that involves self-reflection and honesty, while inviting students to engage in deep, respectful discussions. Bilotta has helped to maintain an inclusive, supportive and welcoming environment for the next generation of social workers. 


William Hall, Ph.D.

Excellence in Mentoring Doctoral Students Award: Associate Professor William Hall 

As a 2015 Ph.D. graduate of the School, Hall knows what it’s like to deal with the day-to-day experience of being a student at a Top 10 School of Social Work. As a mentor for doctoral students, he provides support, sensitivity and thoughtfulness in all his interactions, making sure that each student has what they need to thrive in our community. He provides encouragement for students as they navigate through the academic journey, frequently checks in with students to ensure they have what they need to succeed and creates opportunities for students to thrive both in the classroom and in their professional careers. 


Beth Lowder

Excellence in Public Service and Engagement Award: Innovation Program Manager Beth Lowder

Lowder has contributed to the School’s success in a public facing role to help build partnerships and collaborations with public, private and nonprofit organizations to uplift community health and well-being. Lowder designed and launched the Community Aspirations Hub in the School’s Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab and helped to create Aspire, a program that improves community well-being and increases social mobility. During the current academic year Lowder has juggled multiple assignments, helping to serve on search committees and writing position descriptions for the new Office of Community Engagement while maintaining and building partnerships with outside organizations to benefit both the outside community and the School.  


Excellence in Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: AHEC Liaison Sherry Mergner

Mergner has been a fixture in the School for nearly 30 years, instructing students and coordinating continuing professional development training for developmental disability professionals, substance abuse and mental health. In 1997, Mergner helped co-found the Substance Use and Addiction Specialist Program at the School, which aids social work professionals to work with clients who have co-occurring diagnoses and/or substance use and behavioral addictions. Mergner is dedicated to fostering inclusivity and respect and supporting and contributing to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, whether it’s through her role with AHEC or her practicum placement for Neurodiversity Empowerment Services. Mergner’s impact in creating an inclusive environment for the School benefits our community each day.  


Nicolle Mynhier

Excellence in Staff Performance Award: Accounting Technician Nicolle Mynhier 

Mynhier, who joined the School in 2019, is deeply familiar with the higher education system. Before arriving at the School, she worked in the physics department at the University of Michigan and at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Mynhier stands out in the School community for her kindness, patience and commitment to helping faculty, staff and students navigate through various website applications. Her ability to efficiently turn around budget modifications and deliver answers for an array of questions, such as recently assisting an employee with adjustments to a travel log through the Concur travel system, helps contribute to the School’s overall success. 


Ankur Srivastava headshot

Excellence in Research Faculty Award: Assistant Professor Ankur Srivastava

Srivastava was recognized for the award due to his contributions to the field of social work research, particularly LGBTQ issues, HIV prevention, behavioral health and homelessness. Srivastava, along with School of Social Work faculty Gina Chowa, Rainier Masa, David Ansong, Neil Bilotta and Amy Locklear Hertel, recently contributed to a project helping to promote financial inclusion for young women in Zambia. In addition to securing a number of research grants, he has published numerous articles in top-tier peer-reviewed publications, including Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, and Journal of Adolescent Health, this academic year while showcasing his impact to the field of social work. He supplements his research through his involvement with academic and professional organizations and his influence as a mentor for students.


Rich Stewart

Excellence in Service to the School and/or University Award: Instructional Technologist Rich Stewart

Stewart joined the School in 2013 after designing instructional content for various companies and applications. Stewart was a pivotal figure in helping ensure a smooth launch for the School’s online Master of Social Work program, which welcomed its first cohort of 44 students in January. He worked tirelessly to troubleshoot issues in LMS Canvas — the University’s Learning Management System — kept track of updates and worked to develop high-quality interactive learning material and multimedia products. While maintaining cross-campus collaborations with the Digital Accessibility Office, Stewart also finds time to make all learning materials accessible online. His colleagues find that Stewart’s dedication to maintaining the online environment of the School is only surpassed by his positivity and supportiveness as a team player.


Amy Blank Wilson headshot

Excellence in Mentoring of Faculty Award: Associate Professor Amy Blank Wilson

Wilson, who joined the School in 2014, has had a busy academic year. She serves as co-director for Tiny Homes Village, a permanent living community in Chatham County, N.C., for residents living with mental illnesses and veterans on a fixed income that opened in the fall. In January she, along with Assistant Professor Rebecca Rebbe, was inducted into the 2024 class of Fellows of the Society for Social Work and Research in Washington, D.C. And now, she’s earning another honor, this time for her commitment to mentoring and guiding her fellow faculty members at the School.  

Related Stories

School of Social Work employees receive 2023 Staff Impact Awards

This year’s five recipients of the Staff Impact Awards were recognized for their hard work, positive spirit, loyalty and more. The award winners display the breadth of the School’s service to the state and to the field of social work.


Research team examines role of parenting on LGBTQ mental health, substance use

A paper published in Adolescent Research Review by UNC School of Social Work Associate Professor Melissa Lippold examines the effect of parenting on LGBTQ youth.