The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Foundation have joined together to create the Social Work HEALS: Health Care Education and Leadership Scholars program. The partnership supports scholarships for bachelor’s and master’s level Social Work students pursuing health care social work. The University of Texas at Austin is one of ten social work programs from across the nation selected for the program’s 2015 inaugural year, and is coordinated at UT by clinical assistant professor Dede Sparks.

The HEALS award speaks to the School of Social Work’s ongoing commitment to providing multidisciplinary learning opportunities in various health fields. The school offers a joint social work/public health degree as well as extensive opportunities in healthcare education and field placements. Since 2007, under the leadership of Dr. Barbara Jones, the school has been at the forefront of cross-campus collaborations to integrate interprofessional education for social work, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy students. The school has also received grants from CSWE and the Health Resources and Services Administration to train master’s students in integrated behavioral health. For more on UT HEALS.


Dede Sparks, LMSW

Dede Sparks is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin. In addition to serving as the Associate Director of the Institute for Collaborative Health Research and Practice, Professor Sparks teaches Integrative Field Seminar for the BSW program and is a faculty liaison for both the BSW and the MSSW final field students. She teaches Loss and Grief:  Individual, Family and Cultural Perspectives, and is the Program Director for the UT HEALS scholarship program. Professor Sparks was integral to creating and piloting the Interprofessional Simulation Program for the School of Social Work, the School of Nursing and the College of Pharmacy.  Professor Sparks received her BSW and MSW from Texas State University.  Prior to joining the faculty at UT Austin, Professor Sparks worked at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House, a non-profit inpatient hospice unit, and was on the team initiating a pilot program to create an inpatient Palliative Care Program for the Scott & White Healthcare System.

The 2015 UT-HEALS Scholars

Nikki Howell (BSW, expected December 2015) 

Nikki Howell is an undergraduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. She will complete her Bachelor’s in Social Work in December 2015. For her final semester, Nikki is interning as a care coordinator at Rock Springs Hospital, an acute care inpatient behavioral health hospital that accepts clients age 12 and above. Along with care coordination, Nikki also works directly with active military clients in a group and individual setting at Rock Springs. After graduation, she plans to attain her Master’s in Social Work to continue her career in the medical setting.

Robin Sikes (BSW, expected December 2015)

Robin Sikes is in her final semester as an undergraduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. She has a business background, but transferred from McCombs School of Business to the School of Social Work upon realizing that social work would allow her to turn her passions into a profession. She is currently completing her BSW field practicum as a case manager at CORE (Center of Rehabilitative Excellence) Health Care, an inpatient, post-acute brain injury rehabilitation facility in Dripping Springs, TX. Her long-term goal is to be an emergency room social worker after receiving her Master’s of Social Work.

Liana Petruzzi (MSSW, expected May 2016)

Liana Petruzzi is pursuing a Master’s of Science in Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to attending graduate school, she worked with a variety of populations in hospital settings including children with behavioral disorders and adults with schizophrenia. Liana is currently interning at Seton Shoal Creek focusing on inpatient groups as well as Seton Total Health focusing on interdisciplinary comprehensive case management for people with chronic illnesses. Liana is primarily interested in the intersection of mental and physical health as well as healthcare disparities and plans to pursue a PhD in Social Work.

Susannah Plocher (MSSW/MPAff, expected May 2016)

Susannah Plocher is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, pursuing a Master’s of Science in Social Work and a Master’s in Public Affairs (expected 2016). Susannah currently works as an assistant to Dr. Barbara Jones, Assistant Dean for Health Affairs, as well as a teaching assistant to two clinical faculty members. Susannah comes to graduate school with a background in public health, having worked for several years at a federally qualified health center for Latin American immigrants, and has interests in medical social work. Susannah will be interning at Dell Children’s Medical Center in the spring, focusing on palliative care and patient service development.