EMU senior and social work major Brianna "Bri" Allen receives the 2024 Outstanding Bachelor Social Worker Student of the Year Award in Norfolk, Virginia, on March 22 from Dr. Anthony Estreet, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers. (Photos courtesy of Carol Hurst)

Senior Bri Allen receives top award for Virginia social work students

EMU senior and social work major Brianna “Bri” Allen has received the 2024 Outstanding Bachelor Social Worker (BSW) Student of the Year Award. The annual award is given to one BSW student in the state by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Virginia chapter. It recognizes a student who demonstrates outstanding academic work, accomplishments and work in the field, and leadership qualities. 

Allen, of Weyers Cave, Virginia, was presented with the award on Friday, March 22, at the NASW chapter’s annual conference in Norfolk. She said it was an honor just to be nominated for the award and was shocked to find out she had won. Joining her at the conference from EMU was Professor Carol Hurst.

“I was excited to have one of my professors and my family in the same place because they’ve been there for me and encouraged me along the way,” Allen said.

The EMU senior, whose mother is a social worker for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board, said she’s always enjoyed helping others.

This semester through a full-time senior practicum, Allen is working side-by-side with a school social worker and helping students at Riverheads Elementary School become more engaged in their academics. As part of her field placement with Augusta County Public Schools, she meets with kids weekly and works to get them caught up through mentoring, fun activities, academic support and motivation.

Bri Allen attends the annual NASW-VA Conference with EMU Social Work Professor Carol Hurst and her grandmother and mother.

The top of their list

Professor Deanna Durham, director of the social work program at EMU, said Allen was a unanimous pick from the nomination committee.

“There are three faculty in social work and we all brainstormed about who would be a good person to nominate,” Durham said. “We all had Bri at the top of our list.”

A nomination letter sent to the NASW noted Allen’s engagement in intercultural relationships and her direct work with children and their parents through Skyline Literacy and the Boys & Girls Club of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

“Bri’s leadership and interpersonal strengths stand out,” the letter reads. “She has been a warm and energetic organizer of others.”

It lauds Allen in her ability to lead her softball teammates and social work classmates in service projects. It also notes her positive contributions in class as well as her aptitude for clinical social work practice.

“Brianna Allen is a caring, empathetic social worker and member of NASW who will make an impact on our field,” the letter states.

A rewarding part of the job

Allen said her classes at EMU and the support she’s received from professors have prepared her well. 

“I see the things I’ve learned play out in my practicum all the time,” she said.

After graduating from EMU in May, Allen will begin an accelerated online program at Virginia Commonwealth University to earn her master’s in social work. As part of the three-semester program, she said she looks forward to being placed in an internship where she can continue making a difference.

“In social work you meet individuals who need help and sometimes don’t know where to start,” Allen said. “Maybe you can’t solve their problems, but you can give them the tools they need. Seeing them take those tools and either turn their life around or change a part they need to work on — that’s really rewarding.”

Small but mighty

EMU’s social work program has been continuously accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) since 1976. Only about 15 programs in Virginia, including EMU, are fully accredited, Durham said. Thirty-three social work majors make up the program.

While the award received by Allen will draw more attention to the quality of students at EMU, Durham said the program has already set itself apart from its peers.

“We’re small but mighty, and we have students who are digging in deep in the profession and contributing amazing energy and creative imagination to our local community,” Durham said. “This will be another time for other programs to look to EMU and say, ‘Wow, way to go.’”

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