Social Work Newsletter 2022-23

Welcome to our fifth annual e-newsletter! We’re excited to share with you the outstanding work that is taking place in the UMD Department of Social Work. Please explore the links below and see what we have been up to in the past year.

Melissa Meyer, smiling

Melissa Meyer

Melissa Meyer will graduate in May of 2023 with her Master of Social Work degree, after completing her Bachelor of Social Work degree In May of 2022 from UMD. Melissa is a child welfare scholar with a passion for improving systems for children and families. Melissa was recently featured in the CEHSP student spotlight as well.

Child Welfare Scholars Program

26 years! Wow! Our department has offered a child welfare scholars program since 1997 through our Center for Regional & Tribal Child Welfare Studies. The Center contracts with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to provide funding from Title IV-E of the Social Security Act and Children’s Bureau. The amazing result is that hundreds of MSW and BSW students have been able to receive a child welfare scholar program stipend and opportunities to enhance their skills to become effective child welfare practitioners. Read about some of our current and past child welfare scholars.

8 Child welfare scholars posing for a picture at the annual ICWA Conference.

PACT Program

This is the 11th year that our MSW program has been able to offer clinical training and stipend support to graduate social work students interested in mental health through the Providing Advanced Clinical Training (PACT) program. Funding is provided by a 4-year federal Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) Behavioral Health Workforce Education Training grant.

The 2022-2023 MSW PACT Cohort, with Dr. Lake Dziengel (front right) and dog Gryffin
The 2022-2023 MSW PACT Cohort, with Dr. Lake Dziengel (front right) and dog Gryffin

The BSW Student Association strives to foster connections between students in the UMD Social Work program and

BSW Students L to R: Alyssa Koktavy, Anna Netteberg, Ella Gardner, and Aidan Dalzell at a Chuck a Duck fundraiser
BSW Students L to R: Alyssa Koktavy, Anna Netteberg, Ella Gardner, and Aidan Dalzell at a Chuck a Duck fundraiser

those who are interested in the field of social work. The Student Association supports the community and their members through various forms of community engagement.

BSW and MSW students hold up a banner that reads "Department of Social work University of minesota Duluth
BSW & MSW students participated in Social Work Day at the Capitol in St. Paul on March 1st. Faculty liaisons were Jon Phillips and Erin Wojciechowski

Throughout the 2022-2023 school year, the BSW Student Association attended Take Back the Night to raise voices in protest, support, and encouragement of cultural change, hosted game nights/mental health nights, and had the opportunity to organize the Association’s second ever Chuck a Duck fundraiser. In addition, the Student Association has volunteered at CHUM Food Shelf, participated in the Polar Plunge, advocated at the annual Social Work Day at the Capitol on March 1st and more!

The MSW student association is back up and running after the pandemic! Themes of the association are “networking,” “relationship building,” and “social involvement”. In November, the association hosted a lunch and learn event where a speaker talked about the biofeedback program of Heartmath. The speaker was able to give a few demonstrations and allowed students to try it out! The association also hosts social events, participates in Social Work Day at the Capitol and is planning a graduation event for MSW students who are graduating this spring to celebrate the hard work that students have accomplished together.

Catelin Vaida smiling for a picture


Catelin Vaida

Congratulations to MSW student Catelin Vaida, recipient of the Will Dodge Memorial Scholarship. Catelin wants to help others by working locally as a psychotherapist for children and families. "My goal for the future is to become a LICSW and open my own private practice," she says. Catelin is a nontraditional student in her second year of the MSW program. "Pursuing a graduate degree later in life while raising a family comes with its own unique set of challenges," she says. "This scholarship definitely helped alleviate some of the stress related to educational affordability, and I am incredibly thankful I was selected to receive the Will Dodge Memorial Scholarship."


Contribute to UMD Social Work

social work students dawning silly costumes and posing gleefully
Nomi Ostrander

Nomi Ostrander

The department is very excited to welcome Dr. Nomi Ostrander, Associate Professor, who joined the Social Work Department in the fall of 2022. Nomi shared the following fun facts:

  • Following high school, I took four years off to cook in restaurants and play music in various punk bands. I still play in a punk band and enjoy playing all kinds of music and several different instruments.
  • I've had a strange collection of dinner partners over the years from Brene Brown to Dan Savage to Studs Terkel to Leymah Gboyee.
  • I am a competitive powerlifter.
  • For as long as I can remember I have been a biphasic sleeper, which means my sleep is split across two different times. So you may see emails from me at super late/early times of the day (though you do not need to respond to them at those times).
  • I have lived on the shores of three of the Great Lakes.

Jon Phillips

The department is very excited to welcome Dr. Jon Phillips, Assistant Professor, who joined the Social Work Department in the fall of 2022. Jon shared the following fun facts:

Jon Phillips
  • Jon received both his undergraduate degree (majoring in History and Sociology) and MSW from UMD. One of the biggest draws about Duluth for him is the outdoors (see fun facts below).
  • Jon trained sled dogs for a year while living in Duluth. He worked with a young musher from Norway and got to see him win “rookie of the year” in the Iditarod sled dog race in Nome, Alaska.
  • Jon learned to sail on Lake Superior and has sailed from Duluth, MN to Sault Ste Marie, MI. Jon has also taken boats from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Grenada in the Caribbean.
  • Jon has hiked most of the Superior Hiking Trail, spending two weeks backpacking from the Canadian Border down to Fox Farm Road in Duluth.
  • Jon also loves mountain biking and rock climbing. You can catch him during the summer on the many mountain bike trails around Duluth or up climbing at Palisade Head near Silver Bay, MN.
Taylor McClung


Taylor McClung

Taylor McClung, Instructor, has been with the department since 2020. She is also a mental health therapist at Encouragement Clinic in Superior, WI. Taylor shared the following fun facts:

  • I love gardening! It’s probably my most favorite thing to do in the summer. I always grow vegetable, herb, and flower gardens. Very few things make me happier than watching my plants grow. I try to incorporate fresh vegetables and herbs into everything I make.
  • This is definitely aging myself, but Guitar Hero is my favorite game, ever. I grew up playing it with my sister, and we still play it as adults (and we’ve actually gotten really good at it). Every family get together, every time friends come to town, we play it!
  • I absolutely love being outside. I feel so lucky to live in the Duluth area, where I can hike, look for sea glass and agates, and camp under the northern lights (which I’ve been lucky enough to experience while camping so many times).  When I’m not working in the summer, I’m outside adventuring every chance I can get, usually with my dog!
Katarina Malone, smiling with greenery in the background

Katarine Malone

MSW student Katarine Malone completed her internship last summer at Gender Justice, an organization based in St. Paul that influences policy, educates and fights for the rights of all people, regardless of gender.

Katarine worked as an advocacy intern, and she was assigned to work on a pregnancy discrimination project. 

Read more about Katarine’s work.

Shealene Wolgast with lake in the background

Shealene Wolgast

BSW student Shealene Wolgast completed her internship this year at Neighbor House in St. Paul, which serves low-income, immigrant, refugee and underrepresented communities through several programs that address housing, food, adult and youth education.

Shealene shares insight about her chosen career path and her internship experience


Melissa Winker smiling for a picture
Mel Winkler, MSW, LICSW
Outstanding Field Supervisor
Award recipient

Mel Winkler

Congratulations to Mel Winkler, MSW, LICSW and to Jennifer Beckman-LaFave, MSW, who were both honored with the Outstanding Field Supervisor Award.  Mel coordinates and provides field supervision for many social work placements at Northwood Children's Services. She offers students unique learning opportunities with quality group supervision. Mel works with a range of students, from BSW generalist to MSW clinical students, emphasizing the importance of social work ethics and values as she prepares students to be competent and engaged professional social workers.

Jennifer Beckman-LaFave smiling
Jennifer Beckman-LaFave, MSW
Outstanding Field Supervisor
Award recipient



Jennifer Beckman-LaFave,

Jennifer is an ICWA Social Worker at St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services. Her support of students extends beyond services by integrating and emphasizing the essential importance of ICWA to the families and communities it serves.

Jennifer works to teach students about tribal communities and culturally responsive, respectful practice with Indigenous families. She holds students to a high standard of work and finds teachable opportunities in every step along the way. 

Linda Grover posing in front of a birch tree

The department is excited to introduce Linda Grover as our Elder in Residence for 2022-2023. Linda provides support, mentorship and consultation to all BSW and MSW students, cultural resources and advisement to the department as a whole. Linda is a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe and professor emeritus of American Indian Studies at UMD. She has worked as Director of Indian Education in both Hibbing and Duluth, along with many other jobs. Linda is the author of novels, short stories, poetry, memoir and creative nonfictions. Her work, including The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives and Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories from Misaabekong, is available at University of Minnesota Press.

Staff of the Tribal Training and certification project posing for a picture
From left to right: Professor Emeritus Priscilla Day, Cheri Goodwin (Red Lake Nation), Jeri Jasken (TTCP), Laurie York (White Earth Nation), Lynn Braveheart (St. Paul urban representative), Lauretta Blakely (White Earth Nation), and Mark Erickson (TTCP). All of those pictured are UMD alumni from the Department of Social Work, with the exception of York, who is a current Master of Social Work student.


Staff from the Tribal Training and Certification Project, including Jeri Jasken, Director, and Mark Erickson, Outreach and Development Manager, attended a daylong November meeting between Minnesota’s ICWA Tribal Advisory Council and federal leaders from the Biden Administration. Dr. Priscilla Day, professor emeritus of the UMD Social Department, gave introductory remarks at the meeting.

Members of the ICWA Tribal Advisory Council, which include two UMD social work graduates and one current student, were there to share the unique ways their tribal communities are working to protect children and strengthen Native families.

Woman with three children posing outside

Larissa Littlewolf

Larissa Littlewolf is the Associate Director of the Tribal Training and Certification Project, which operates as an independent program through the Center for Regional and Tribal Child Welfare Studies. The TTCP was established in 2020 to provide education, training and practice application to improve outcomes for American Indian families in the child welfare system. Larissa brings expertise working in Indian child welfare, and she loves working with people who have  the same drive and the same mission of bettering outcomes for Indigenous families and children in Minnesota. practitioners.

ICWA Conference

The Annual ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) Conference was held March 21st-22nd at Grand Casino Hinckley for county and tribal social workers. The conference featured the Hon. Judge William Thorne, who spoke on the American Bar Association Safety Model and Foster Care as an Adverse Childhood Effect (ACE). Breakout sessions were facilitated by experienced legal and child welfare.

Participants at the annual ICWA Conference  standing together
Participants at the annual ICWA Conference included L to R: Sandy White Hawk, Presenter & MC;  Larissa Littlewolf, TTCP Associate Director; and TTCP Community Trainers Lauretta Blakely, Bobbi Jo Potter, Amelia LeGarde, Nishah Dupuis & Trish Staine


Hello! My name is Abbi McMillen, and I am the academic advisor for the Trio Upward Bound Vision Quest program at Denfeld High School. I have been in this position since October 2022 and I am loving it so far!

I meet with our UBVQ students once a week for academic and social/emotional check-ins. I also plan monthly events and workshops to help prepare our students for college and their lives after high school. Currently, we have been recruiting 9th-grade students to join UBVQ and are planning for our summer program.

I grew up in Two Harbors and graduated from Two Harbors High School. I was part of an Upward Bound program when I was in high school and it was so much fun and really helped me prepare for college as a first-generation college student. I decided to attend UMD and got my Bachelor’s degree in Criminology and a minor in Sociology, graduating in 2019. In high school, I always thought my Upward Bound advisor had the coolest job so working with an Upward Bound program was always in the back of my mind. At the same time, I loved my time at UMD and always dreamed of being able to have a career here. When I got the opportunity to work at UMD and with an Upward Bound program, I jumped on the opportunity and I am very happy in my position! 

In my free time, I love hanging out with my two dogs, Greta and Otis. I also love to write and go hiking in the summer. I spend as much time as I can by Lake Superior when temperatures allow it. I’m really happy to be a part of UBVQ and UMD, and I love helping my students achieve their goals and realize that their dreams after high school are attainable.

a large group of students posing for a picture outside of a boulder lake facility

The Upward Bound Vision Quest program was excited to be back on campus last summer after two years of virtual summer programming. Thirty-five high school students spent four weeks on the UMN Twin Cities campus and a week in Duluth, taking classes and enjoying many activities. While in Duluth, the students participated in a science course at Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center. The summer program ended with a trip to Chicago, where students were able to visit colleges and museums.

Twitter: @UMDuluthSW

Facebook: @UMDuluthSW

Instagram: @UMDuluthSW

Job Information Tool:

Go to d.umn.ed/sw, click Alumni on the left and you will find a job openings link