Six new students are recognized for their outstanding efforts to support and advocate for underserved populations.

Walden University has awarded six incoming graduate students with the Barbara Solomon Scholarships for Social Work. Named for pioneering social worker and Walden board member Barbara Solomon, these scholarships recognize and support inspiring individuals who are creating social change in their communities, particularly among underserved populations. Scholarship awards range from $5,000 to full tuition.


Full-Tuition Scholarship Recipients


Karen HaleyKaren Haley

Hometown: Chesterville, Maine
Title: Clinical social worker
Program: Ph.D. in Social Work

Professional goal: To serve children from low-income families

Professional achievement:  For the past 12 years, Karen Haley has worked as a high school social worker in a rural community in western Maine, providing clinical mental health services to students and their families. She is also a liaison for homeless youth, ensuring that children whose families are homeless do not also experience disruption in their education as a result.

Karen is seeking to be a facilitator in the development of a multidisciplinary threat assessment team to address increased violence in schools.

“My social work degree from Walden University will have a specialization in criminal justice,” said Karen. “This will allow me to collaborate with local law enforcement agencies to develop policies to identify youth who are at risk to engage in criminal activity as well as to develop a process to meet the identified mental health needs of those youth. This is an area where I see significant gaps on a daily basis.”


Maria PonziMaria Ponzi

Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Title: Health educator
Program: Master of Social Work (MSW)

Professional goal: To support those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS

Professional achievement:  Since joining Adagio Health in 2003, Maria Ponzi has increased the number of her organization’s youth education programs from 32 a year to more than 1,200 a year in topics such as HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancy. She also has advocated that her local school board change the abstinence-only approach in local schools.

“I would like to use my degree from Walden to transition into a case management position,” said Maria. “I came to realize the need for the special caseworker position through a variety of interactions with people in the HIV-positive community.”

According to Maria, most physicians and medical centers that treat people with HIV only concentrate on the medical aspect of the disease. In many of these situations, healthcare providers are ill-equipped to deal with the special needs of these clients.


$10,000 Scholarship Recipients


Phernal ManigatPhernel Manigat

Hometown: Brockton, Massachusetts
Title: Supervisor, Department of Children and Families
Program: Ph.D. in Social Work (specialization in Policy Practice)

Professional goal: To teach at the university level, train a new generation of social workers, and influence policy

Professional achievement:  Phernel Manigat arrived in the United States in exile from Haiti in 1992. He worked two jobs while attending college full time and ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and anthropology from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, as well as two other master’s degrees. Phernel embarked on a 17-year career at the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts, continuing his work in social justice that he began as a student in Haiti.

“I am happy to say that I am still as excited today as I was in the beginning, making a difference in hundreds of families’ lives as a supervisor in this agency,” he said. “I am seeking a Ph.D. to help broaden my knowledge and give me the platform to effect change in people's lives, especially in the lives of the underserved.”

In 2002, Phernel founded The Haitian-American Support Society, which played a critical role in supporting new immigrants after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He hopes to teach while also influencing public policy.


Jennifer DeasJennifer Deas

Hometown: Las Vegas
Title: Early student engagement coordinator
Program: Master of Social Work (MSW)

Professional goal: To advocate for policy change to support single mothers

Professional achievement:  In her role as an early student engagement coordinator at the Euphoria Institute of Beauty Arts and Sciences, Jennifer Deas supports students on their path to graduation. She is particularly passionate about serving one group of this student population: single mothers—as she herself was once a single mom.

“I have compassion for this population. I struggled to take care of my child and go to school. I was extremely frustrated by the limited resources available,” said Jennifer. “Completing my degree at Walden University will equip me with the knowledge to advocate for policy change, be in a better financial situation to donate to or sponsor single mothers, and start a scholarship fund of my own.”

Today, Jennifer empowers her students to be agents of change, linking them with the necessary resources and encouraging them to make positive change a reality.


$5,000 Scholarship Recipients


Makoto IkegamiMakoto Ikegami

Hometown: Philadelphia
Title: Outpatient therapist
Program: Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

Professional goal: To help deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals—particularly those with mental illness or developmental disabilities—acquire life skills to live more independently

Professional achievement: As an outpatient therapist for PAHrtners Deaf Services, Makoto Ikegami provides psychotherapy to deaf individuals and their families. He also works with the agency’s residential treatment facility to support deaf or hard-of-hearing adolescents who have severe emotional and behavioral challenges that prevent them from living in a traditional home environment.

“Sadly, across America, there are many circumstances in which deaf people have no option but to receive mental health and disability services from organizations that want to help, but lack staff who use American Sign Language (ASL) or have an understanding of deaf culture,” said Makoto. “There are few organizations that have staff trained in ASL or who are educated in deaf culture.”

Ultimately, Makoto would like to apply his Walden studies to develop a curriculum that trains students who have a desire to become social workers who work with deaf and hard-of-hearing people.


Connie DavisConnie Davis

Hometown: Oregon, Illinois
Title: Project assistant manager, Communities That Care project
Program: Master of Social Work (MSW)

Professional goal: To serve children from low-income families

Professional achievement: Connie Davis helps coordinate among behavioral health and medical providers and the juvenile justice system in a largely rural area designated as an underserved area in mental health. In addition to her larger goal of supporting children in families struggling with mental illness, abuse, and financial hardships, Connie also seeks to help educate and inform her community about mental illness.

“One of the problems that I continue to experience is the stigma and misunderstanding related to and surrounding mental health concerns,” said Connie. “Social workers and mental health professionals need to take a stand against negative connotations of mental health concerns.”

As a former Screening, Assessment, and Support Services (SASS) clinician, Connie worked with school systems, the Department of Children and Family Services, and medical providers to support children in crisis. Her professional goal is to become a licensed clinical social worker.