University of Vermont

Office of Community-University Partnerships & Service Learning

Service Learning Award Presented to UVM Social Work Professor

Social Work student working with youth at King Street Center.
UVM Social Work student Medina Serdarevic ('18) working with local youth at the King Street Center in Burlington.

Dr. Suzy Comerford, associate professor of social work, is the 2018 recipient of the Lynne Bond Outstanding Faculty Award – the University of Vermont’s top award for community-engaged teaching/service-learning.  This prestigious award is named for Lynne Bond (emerita) who founded service-learning at UVM in the late 1990s. 

Service learning awards were presented by the Office of Community University Partnerships and Service Learning (CUPS) during an Award Reception at the UVM Alumni House on April 5.

Comerford teaches SWSS 55 Working with Refugees: Local Context and Global Realities, available to undergraduate students, and SWSS 380: Social Work with Refugees, a graduate level course. These service learning courses were featured in news stories previously published by University Communications and the College of Education and Social Services.   

Community partners of SWSS 55 and SWSS 380 include the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Project, Spectrum Multicultural Youth Program, King Street Youth Center, and the Community College of Vermont. 

“Service learning in a course about refugees provides students the opportunity to go beyond the label ‘refugee’,” says Comerford, “to escape the categories and see refugees as ‘people’ who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.”

“Suzy's ability to weave the complexities of the journey of a refugee was so deliberate and insightful,” said social work student Hillary Gombar (’18). “She drew from her personal experiences working in refugee camps in a few countries in Asia, and thoughtfully invited people from the community to share their personal experiences as former refugees. Suzy is truly amazing and a gift to the Social Work Department. I am so honored to learn from her, and with her.”

Comerford was nominated for the award by Gabriella Tufo-Strause, volunteer coordinator at King Street Youth Center, and long-term community partner for Suzy’s serving learning courses.

“Her dedication to the service-learning relationship is built upon the principles of reciprocity, carefully considering the goals of both students and the community partner,” said Tufo-Strause. “This fine balance and commitment to service-learning is vital in developing a cohesive partnership, and Suzy sets the very highest standard. I will always be grateful to Suzy’s initiative, as she paved the way for service-learning students each and every semester at King Street Center. Her desire to teach through the authentic experience is a gift to students. And, these students are a gift to King Street kids.”

UVM's Office of Community University Partnerships and Service Learning has honored outstanding faculty engagement in service-learning since 2005. The Lynne Bond award goes to faculty with a long-standing commitment to service-learning, and whose teaching exemplifies the principles of academic rigor, community reciprocity and reflective engagement.

“The Faculty Award review committee was deeply impressed by the courses’ explicit connections between the experiential component and the course’s values, knowledge and skills objectives; by the structure recognizing local to global interconnections; and by the strong accountability and invitation to responsibility,” said CUPS Director Susan Munkres.

Dr. Comerford’s was a Faculty Fellow for Service-Learning in 2003, and served as a member of the CUPS Advisory Committee from 2005 to 2009.  She continues to work with CUPS Service-Learning Teaching Assistants, providing additional opportunities for deep engagement by students. 

UVM is an early leader in the field of service-learning, offering a Faculty Fellows training in 1999 that has run continuously since. The CUPS Office was founded in 2003 under the leadership of Lynne Bond (emerita, Psychology) and others. Currently, UVM offers about 100 designated service-learning courses every year.

Service learning courses partner with over 200 community organizations and agencies annually.  While some partners choose specific time-limited projects, others develop long-term relationships with courses and faculty. The work done in these classes contributes to multiple communities across the state, helping to fulfill the land-grant mission of UVM, as well as internationally. Service-learning as a powerful way for students to prepare for their adult lives by deploying their academic skills on behalf of community organizations.