Wayne State School of Social Work announces 2023 Teaching and Service Award recipients

For over 87 years, the Wayne State University School of Social Work has been committed to quality teaching and community engagement that encourages cultural humility, benefits the community, and pays attention to social, economic and environmental justice. In support of this mission, we annually call on students, faculty, and staff to nominate faculty and staff for teaching and service awards.

Each year, our students nominate full-time and part-time professors that they believe exemplify excellence in the classroom. These nominees are not just great social workers – they also have a unique gift for communicating the essential concepts of social work practice and research in a way that makes them exciting, accessible and memorable, so their students draw upon them for years to come.

Social Work Teaching Awards

Lisa Panisch, PhD joined Wayne State University’s School of Social Work as an assistant professor in 2021. Prior to becoming a faculty member at the School of Social Work, Panisch was an NIMH T32 Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Department of Psychiatry’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She earned her PhD degree from the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin (2020), her MSW degree from Florida State University, and her BA in Psychology from the University of North Florida. Her research uses a transdisciplinary approach to investigate mechanisms of intergenerational patterns of trauma transmission and interventions meant to interrupt these cycles.

Panisch’s students nominated her as the 2023 Teacher of the Year because her “dedication to her students and her profession is an inspiration to all, and her contributions to the School of Social Work are invaluable.” Her students appreciated her expertise in trauma and the DSM courses. A student expressed, “I often leave my DSM class thinking, ‘I wish Professor Panisch had a podcast.’ Her lectures are very fascinating to me, and I enjoy listening to what she has to say. I highly appreciate the depth of her knowledge base and the passion she brings to the classroom.” The students applauded Panisch's humble nature by acknowledging when she is wrong or does not have an area of expertise. Further, she teaches from a social justice-informed lens by “regularly incorporating and raising questions concerning broader systemic and macro-level social work issues--ethics, systemic and historical oppression, relevant broader international socio-economic and political issues, innovative diagnoses, and treatments.” Students appreciated her ability to create a respectful and inclusive learning environment. “By fostering an open and engaging classroom atmosphere and using inclusive language, Dr. Panisch is helping her students to feel more confident and invested in her learning; Professor Panisch makes each of us feel seen and valued.” Further, her students valued Panisch's commitment to their intellectual development. “Dr. Panisch's teaching has a demonstrable impact on her students' intellectual and professional development and their lives. She not only teaches the required content but also helps students develop critical thinking skills and the ability to apply knowledge to real-world situations.” Her students report feeling more confident and prepared for future social work careers thanks to her guidance and support. 

Marijo Upshaw is a part-time faculty member in the School of Social Work. Her career has spanned over 30 years at the social administration, leadership and management level. Upshaw has a joint position at both the School of Social Work (SSW) and the Mike Ilitch School of Business where she has developed social entrepreneurship curriculum and teaches courses. Upshaw co-chairs the Social Entrepreneurship Committee at the School. SAGE publishers and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) awarded the committee the Innovative in Teaching Award in 2018 for the ground-breaking work the committee is doing to promote and foster entrepreneurship among key social work stakeholders including students, alumni, faculty/staff and community members. The committee plans and hosts numerous events that encourage and support would-be and existing social work entrepreneurs including an annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference, a Social Work Start-up Story Night, and Social Work Build.

Professor Upshaw was nominated as the 2023 Teacher of the Year for her compassion and for helping students grow. A student noted that Professor Upshaw “nurtured my ability to grow as a student without the pressures of living by the grading scale. She will work with all of her students individually and give all of her efforts to see that her students understand their work, but also being understood as a person.” Further, a student described how Professor Upshaw had a substantial impact on her career: “I knew what I thought my goal was, but the problem was creating appropriate intervention steps to achieve that goal- especially since I didn't have the tools yet even to decipher the goal and its complexities. If it weren't for Marijo Upshaw in the School of Social Work, my thoughts about my passion project would still be muddy and potentially in a lull. Marijo has taught me vital skills surrounding the steps to initiate social ventures and social entrepreneurship in a way that intertwines the NASW Code of Ethics with business models appropriate for Social Workers.”  

Social Work Service Awards

Megan Hicks, PhD is an assistant professor and previously, she served as a post-doctoral research fellow in the School of Social Work. She received her PhD in Human Development and Family Science from the University of Georgia. Her primary research interests include risk and protective factors influencing health risk behaviors and juvenile justice outcomes among Black youth. In particular, her work investigates adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), community risk factors, and relational protective factors that impact healthy youth development. Additionally, Hicks has expertise in program evaluation, prevention science, and community education. Currently, Hicks is leading an evaluation of the Wayne County juvenile justice system. Additionally, she is leading a project that examines the social determinants of health among Black families in Detroit. Lastly, Hicks specializes in complex quantitative research methods and research design.

Hicks’ colleagues nominated and selected her for the 2023 Service of the Year Award because her service has positively impacted the School of Social Work, students, and the community. First, they noted that she has been “an outstanding leader committed to promoting anti-racism, diversity, and social justice in the SSW. Under her co-leadership, the Committee of Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Social Justice (CADS) has made significant progress in addressing issues related to equity and inclusion within our SSW “by creating a "more robust infrastructure for supporting an equitable and welcoming workplace and educational environment.” Second, she “worked closely with faculty members to establish restorative practices in the structure of the school. These efforts led to the development of a comprehensive plan that promotes an inclusive school culture.” These practices had been incorporated by many in the classrooms and their homes. Third, her colleagues described her as a “skilled mentor who is adept at providing feedback that is constructive, supportive, and encouraging” for doctoral students. She also promotes student success through her service on the Global Committee and the Committee on Teaching Excellence. Finally, her colleagues commended her leadership to the community, serving as a board member for Black Family Development and the Chair of the Blair Memorial Scholarship Committee of the Detroit Phoenix Center

Tara Dixon-Givhan joined the School of Social Work in 2015 and serves as a Program Specialist in the Office of Admissions and Student Services.  She contributes to the mission of the School of Social Work by processing incoming graduate applications for admission into the School, and providing support to advising, student services and departmental leadership.

Dixon-Givhan was nominated by her colleagues for the 2023 Service of the Year Award for her commitment to the School of Social Work mission by “screening the next generation of change agents.” They also described her as going above and beyond. For example, she assisted the student-serving staff with transitioning to remote services and work during the COVID-19 pandemic. They noted her willingness “to drop what she is doing, find the solution you need, and then keep tackling her important workload.” Her colleagues applauded her ability to address obstacles and challenges with grace. She “demonstrated excellent skill, patience, and innovation this year as we have struggled to navigate the trials and tribulations that surfaced with both Slate and GradeCas” (two application systems). 

Faculty spotlight

← Back to listing