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Whittlesey-Jerome named Social Worker of the Year

ALBUQUERQUE - Wanda Whittlesey-Jerome, site coordinator for New Mexico State University's master of social work program in Albuquerque, was named Social Worker of the Year by the New Mexico Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Wanda Whittlesey-Jerome, site coordinator for NMSU's master of social work program in Albuquerque, was named Social Worker of the Year by the New Mexico Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. (NMSU photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

She received the award at the NASW-NM annual convention in Albuquerque in February.

"It's the pinnacle of awards for a social worker," said Patrick Tyrrell, NASW-NM executive director. "We give it to individuals who exemplify all the values and ethics esteemed in our profession and who have made major contributions in advocating and practicing social work. Wanda is a real leader in our field."

The association chose Whittlesey-Jerome because of her success in developing educational opportunities for students, and for her leadership role in motivating students to lobby state officials to exempt social workers from the gross receipts tax on mental health services, Tyrrell said.

Whittlesey-Jerome spearheaded the effort to organize this year's student legislative advocacy day in Santa Fe, which helped persuade legislators to pass the bill, Tyrrell said. Gov. Bill Richardson signed the bill into law on March 2, and it's scheduled to take effect on July 1.

"She really inspired the students to get involved in this initiative," Tyrrell said. "She's a wonderful role model for them."

Whittlesey-Jerome, 52, became site coordinator of the MSW program in Albuquerque in January 2005. Under her leadership, the program has grown from 42 students to a projected 85 students for fall 2006, said Stephen Anderson, director of the School of Social Work in NMSU's College of Health and Social Services.

As site coordinator, she recruits prospective students, advises current students, and provides support to faculty at NMSU's uptown Albuquerque center. Since joining NMSU, she has developed program affiliations with more than 70 agencies in Albuquerque that offer internships for students.

Whittlesey-Jerome earned her bachelor's degree in social work from North Texas State University in 1989 and her master's and Ph.D. in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington.

She has been a case manager at the Denton County Jail in Texas, a counselor at the Arlington Women's Shelter, and a retention specialist at Dallas County Community College. From 1994-96, she was associate director of the Salvation Army's Carr P. Collins Social Service Center in Dallas - the largest Salvation Army facility in the world. She taught at the University of Texas at Arlington and at Texas A&M University before moving to New Mexico in 2001.

She taught for three years at the Rio Rancho-based School of Social Work run by New Mexico Highlands University. She served as that program's site coordinator and interim director for one year in 2003 and 2004.

Whittlesey-Jerome said receiving the NASW-NM award marks the highest point in her career.

"Social workers typically don't get a lot of recognition for what they do," she said. "To be honored publicly this way is something I'll never forget."