Lia Andrews, a Master of Social Work student at the USC School of Social Work’s San Diego Academic Center, has been named Up and Coming Student of the Year by the San Diego and Imperial counties region of the National Association of Social Workers-California Chapter for her outstanding leadership, service, and approach to advocacy and outreach.
“It's a great honor to be recognized for my work, but honestly I can't accept [all] the credit,” said Andrews, a U.S. Navy veteran. “I attribute this award to the San Diego Academic Center staff and their leadership. They keep me motivated and encouraged, and it is a big reason why I am able to do all that I do.”
In addition to managing class work and the responsibilities of her field placement, Andrews holds key leadership positions in organizations both on and off campus. She is the center's representative to the school’s Military Social Work Caucus, and she helped found the Southern California Student Association of Black Social Workers, where she serves as both student chapter president and secretary for the national chapter’s Office of Student Affairs.
Under Andrews’ leadership, the Military Social Work Caucus has tackled some tough issues. Last fall, she helped plan the school’s first-ever female veteran panel in San Diego, which took on the issue of military sexual trauma and rape, and she is currently coordinating another panel focusing on what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in the military. Andrews also planned the center’s first Student Services and Veterans Benefits Fair, which brought together various campus and veterans affairs organizations to educate students about state and federal benefits and resources available to them.
When she’s not excelling at school, Andrews is a dedicated single mother and mentor to her younger brother, who recently returned from his own tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“I call her Superwoman because I see all she has on her plate, yet she still finds the time to work hard at her studies and advocate for veterans’ rights and care,” said Isaac Ford, military and veteran liaison for the USC School of Social Work, who works with Andrews in collecting data and recruiting military-affiliated students. “Lia is a true leader with a selfless attitude, and I have yet to meet anyone who is not happy she was named NASW’s Student of the Year.”
Ford, who nominated Andrews for the award, noted this is the second year in a row one of the school’s MSW students had been selected for this award. Last year, Kristen Kavanaugh, MSW ’12, a Marine and Navy veteran, won the award for her leadership in the area of LGBT active duty and veteran advocacy.
“Leadership, advocacy and service are skills and qualities we work to instill in our students here at the USC School of Social Work,” Ford said. “It’s nice to see our students’ work recognized and celebrated.”
Andrews hopes to one day become a therapist with the Department of Veterans Affairs serving families dealing with transitional issues, including those related to post-traumatic stress disorder. As a veteran herself, Andrews knows firsthand how the stresses of military life can impact both the service member and the family unit, and admits to struggling with her own readjustment issues following a tour of duty in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and participating in relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.
“Adjusting to home after my various deployments was difficult. I knew I needed help, but the stigma attached to receiving mental health services in the military can be career-ending,” Andrews said.
She described how, after the birth of her daughter, she met a social worker who offered her the support she needed to seek those all-important mental health services.
“Her concern and encouragement changed my life,” Andrews said. “Now I want to be that somebody for a military service person in need.”