Four Social Work Staff Members Receive Recognition During Annual Holiday Party

Tuesday, Jan 12, 2021 Valerie Hill

School of Social Work

GEM Award Story Fall 2020

The School of Social Work honored four staff members this month with an award for outstanding service to the university, peers and the Arlington community.


The four staff members earned the School of Social Work’s “Going the Extra Mile,” or the GEM, Award for offering service above and beyond their job requirements.


Nelda Lawson, the School’s manager of administration and operations, announced the recognitions on Tuesday, Dec. 22, during a virtual holiday gathering of Social Work employees. More than 75 faculty and staff members tuned in for the online event, which included a farewell recognition for a staff member who retired, a trivia game, Ugly Sweater contest and a live cooking show.


“Congratulations and thank you for all that you do,” Social Work Dean Scott Ryan told the GEM honorees prior to Lawson naming them. Each of the honorees will receive $1,000.


Those recognized are:


  • Valerie Adame, an academic advisor. Adame has regularly left her desk to step into Social Work Professionalism classes “to develop better relationships with students and help to orient them to the School,” a peer who nominated her for the GEM Award wrote. Adame “exemplifies what it means to be a team player…and advocates for both her team and her students,” her peer wrote. “Advising is a thankless job and she meets each challenge with a smile and a positive attitude.”

  • Julie Gray, a coordinator in the office of Academic Resource Planning. Gray agreed to teach a statistics course after another instructor was unable to. “This service to students, many who were probably terrified to be taking a statistics course in the first place, exemplifies our mission as a school,” a peer who nominated Gray for the GEM Award wrote. “Julie stepped into the gap in this instance and many others.”

  • Coral Simpkins-Mims, special events and marketing coordinator. Mims planned logistics for a Black Lives Matter march hosted by the School last summer. A peer who nominated Mims called the event “an unquestionable success” and said that it led to more social justice awareness from students and an increase in individuals saying they want to declare Social Work as a major and want to advocate and participate in racial justice work. Mims also organized a fall giveaway of fresh food to 200 Arlington families. The Fall Trunk or Treat and Food Giveaway event brought together students and administrators from across the university campus as volunteers.

  • Sherry Willis, the administrative assistant in the Ph.D. program. Willis is an “active advocate and powerful voice” for African American, Latinx and other marginalized communities, a peer who nominated her for the GEM Award wrote. “Sherry has spoken out about climate/diversity issues in a positive manner, not trying to stir the pot too aggressively, while offering a calming voice to those even more passionate about the issue during climate and culture meetings,” her peer wrote. “Sherry’s intention is to contribute to a more effective and harmonious school.”