Thomas Neuschul, an LIU Post graduate social work student, won the 2013 National Association of Social Workers (NSAW) award. His professor and role model, Dr. Elissa Giffords, nominated him for this award.
“I was surprised,” Neuschul said with a chuckle. “I didn’t expect to get the award and I was also very excited and honored.”
NSAW is an organization of professional social workers with 145,000 members, according to the NSAW website. LIU Post encourages social work students to join NSAW by junior year of their undergraduate program. Dr. Gifford has been a member since 1992.
“He’s modest. If you met him, I know you would agree that Thomas clearly demonstrates commitment to populations at risk and the social work profession, and he possesses a love of learning. He is certainly deserving of this prestigious award,” said Dr. Giffords.
Dr. Giffords said the quality of Neuschul that is unique from his peers is his commitment to social work values and ethics. “It seems to come naturally to him. I think social work is a good fit for him and that the profession is lucky to have him,” she said.
Neuschul said he did not know about his nomination for a long period of time before he won. He recalls Dr. Giffords asking to nominate him to make sure he was comfortable with it in late December.
Dr. Giffords had several reasons behind the nomination of her student, who she has known since September 2011. He has volunteered and interned weekly at organizations such as the Coalition Against Abuse and Neglect (CCAN), which is located in Bethpage. At CCAN, he developed a manual to help future interns understand the purpose of the program “Project Kidz Talk” within CCAN. After engaging in scholarly research, reviewing textbooks and academic journals, and speaking with staff members, he brought the idea up to CCAN and it let him volunteer to develop this tool last summer with the help of Alisha Contreras, group work coordinator at CCAN.
“I didn’t get to address how particularly helpful the professors have been, especially Dr. Giffords, in sort of just helping to gain the skills to help others and to help understand how the practice can impact people from an individual level to a society as a whole,” said Neuschul.
Neuschul has also spent time with children during his field hours working for Child Protective Services (CPS) in Bethpage. He worked at CPS during his first year of fieldwork for his master’s degree in social work at Post. He told Dr. Giffords that he was interested in observing both sides of a domestic case with children who were at risk. He enjoyed watching the improvement of the situations of his clients, although he never takes clients’ achievements as his own.
“I’m really willing and really excited to work with diverse populations and in different settings. I mean, I love working with children, but I’ve also really loved working with older adults,” said Neuschul.
He currently interns at The Long Island GLBT Services Network, which is a place that works to end homophobia on Long Island and make the GLBT community feel safe and at home while advocating for equality. Neuschul works at a senior center in the Garden City branch.
“They offer alternative services you might not conventionally find at a senior center. Many of the clients don’t feel comfortable going to the senior center because they encounter discrimination there, or just don’t simply meet individuals that they relate to so we offer these services—and in addition to that, I also offer counseling,” said Neuschul.
Neuschul currently has six clients that he sees a week at his internship with the GLBT services. “It was at first [hard to remember things about the clients] but it just gets easier over time and you just draw out the important parts. They’re always working towards goals. You don’t necessarily talk about everything with a client. You just talk about what they need to meet their goals,” he said.
Neuschul is also involved with the MSW Graduate Student Association, which performs activities such as putting together educational workshops and host fundraisers for different causes such as the Family and Children’s Association. He is also currently organizing a panel to discuss social work practice with the GLBT community. He wants to unite social workers which have various areas of expertise and knowledge.
“No matter what set up I end up in I will service and advocate the GLBT community,” said Neuschul.
Dr. Giffords also reported that she is looking forward to Neuschul’s induction into the Phi Alpha Social Work Honor Society in May 2013.
Neuschul expects to graduate from LIU Post’s MSW program this May. He is unsure exactly what type of job he wants in the social work field because he has so many interests.
“Everyone that I look at, everything, all my classmates, they all are doing so well. I’m not going to say I do not deserve [to win this award], but I think so many people do…I was excited, I definitely was not expecting to win,” said Neuschul.