After teaching Social Work at UVM for nearly two decades, Celia Cuddy's transformational impact on students and alumni is well known.
Briana Martin ('10) didn't start out as a Social Work major in her first year at UVM, but then she took one of Celia's classes, and something clicked - she found her purpose.
"I had SWSS 002 with Celia Cuddy, and I changed my major after that," she recalls. "She just had this energy. When I talk about love and support and connection, she is that. As a mentor, she really helped me paint a holistic perspective of how the work would look through her stories, through the work that we did in the class, and then through supporting me while I was doing the work in my senior internship."
Many of her former students have a similar story to tell.
"Celia Cuddy’s class is one of the main reasons I decided to become a social worker," recalls Shaya Ginsberg ('18). "It was honestly such a life-changing experience. Celia has this incredible energy, and her endless positivity always brightens up your day. The depth of her wisdom knows no bounds, and her passion for social work is simply remarkable. I highly recommend this class to anyone who is undecided in their major."
One of the most highly-rated faculty members at UVM for many years, Cuddy is beloved by students, alumni, colleagues, and community partners. Recently, she received a special honor: The University of Vermont's Outstanding Part-Time Faculty Teaching Award.
How do you feel about this award? What does it mean to you?
I am astonished, incredibly honored, and wish that everyone could have a moment of feeling this way! My heart is filled.
Why do you love teaching in the Social Work program at UVM?
I am so fortunate to work with such incredible students. Their vibrant curiosity, courage, and willingness to try something new is profoundly inspiring. I am also thankful to work among brilliant and warm-hearted colleagues who have long challenged me to be creative in the classroom.
Why did you choose this profession?
As a graduate myself from our MSW program. and then someone who's taught here for almost a couple of decades now, and what initially drew me to the program was our orientation to social work from a human rights and social justice orientation. We have a grassroots activist past in our profession, and we hold that very tenderly as we move forward.
I love that social work is explicit about our professional commitments to working for social justice. This shapes our practice at all levels as we seek to understand individual experience in the context of the political, social, and cultural landscape.
We advocate for, and aspire to assist, people in their immediate daily lives. We also seek to change the conditions that create harm and suffering in human lives and communities. This is important work.
Sometimes human beauty can be very covered by the impact of suffering. Life experience can be hard to discern, but in this program we have such conviction bringing a strengths perspective to the work. We have such conviction of the worth and the dignity and the beauty of everyone that we encounter.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
I think of the ultimate beneficiaries of a social work education: the people and communities that our students work with and advocate for, both during their internships and following graduation.
Who are some of your most influential mentors?
Our recently retired chairperson, Susan Roche, was my favorite teacher when I traveled through the Master of Social Work (MSW) program. I was thrilled to later work with her as a colleague. Her belief in my teaching abilities encouraged me to believe in myself, and I will always be deeply thankful to her.
How would you describe your relationships with UVM students and with alumni?
In social work, one of our fundamental values is knowing the importance of human relationships. Transformation, growth and powerful change can occur – within ourselves as humans, and also within our communities – when we are in deep and genuine connection with each other. I hope to open space and opportunity for students to connect with each other and with me, and in turn, open space for exploration, awkwardness, tenderness, and learning.
It brings me great joy to stay connected with our alumni and hear about the beautiful ways they contribute to the world after graduation.
How would you describe your connections with community partners in the field?
I believe there is only so much you can learn about social work in the classroom – it is necessary to go into the community to really get a sense of the work.
In all of the courses I teach, we spend a great deal of time visiting community-based organizations. We actually hold a number of classes in the field at organizations like the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), the Peace and Justice Center, and the Pride Center of Vermont. For our final exam in SWSS 2, students volunteer in the community – such as at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf or the Lund Center – and then reflect on the experience. I am grateful for these collaborations!
How has UVM's Social Work program evolved over the years since you began teaching here?
Most recently, we have deepened our commitment to meaningfully questioning and exploring how we do racial justice work, both in our social work profession and in our classrooms. I thank the student activists for enriching my own understanding about what this means, and about the challenges that remain.