education and service

School of social work director Marilyn Rigby personifies excellence through her dedication to education and community service. She recently received the National Association of Social Workers - Virginia Chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The chapter’s executive director, Debra A. Riggs, wrote in Rigby’s award letter, “The impact of her leadership and vision has afforded students alternative opportunities in preparing to be competent, caring social workers who are committed to community-based practice and to improving the quality of life for women, people of color and the economically disadvantaged.”

Rigby has a track record of linking institutions of higher learning to the practice community and of increasing educational access for at-risk populations. She has designed programs, developed community partnerships, promoted educational access for disadvantaged populations and been a strong advocate for culturally sensitive social work practice. She helped found the RU/Total Action Against Poverty (TAP) Dropout Retrieval Program, aimed at reducing the dropout rate in Roanoke Valley public schools. Master of social work students serve as education outreach workers, helping to locate dropouts and get them back into the school system or into alternative education, job-related learning and employment. Rigby was also instrumental in creating the TAP family development program “Families First,” which has served more than 50 families and enabled young people to be the first in their families to go to college.


Recreation, parks and tourism major Dustan Balkom strives to be a professional and effective leader. He is the director of a parks and recreation department made up of RU students who present community programs, such as a senior center pool tournament or programs at local elementary schools, as a part of their recreation workshop class. “I think that whoever came up with this class is a genius,” says Balkom. “It takes a lot of what we, as recreation majors, are learning and then applies it in a ‘real world’ setting.”

Professor Mick Stewart says the class affords a great opportunity for students to apply what they have learned in previous classes to help the community. Every student plays a role in each of the workshops they create and deliver. Not all of the workshops succeed, says Stewart, but many of them are memorable. “At professional conferences I run into alumni who distinctly remember some of the projects they did in this class. They can’t believe how much of what they learned in this class is appropriate to what they do today,” says Stewart.

Balkom looks forward to his chance to make his mark in the profession. “We are a service and people oriented profession. We must know how to work with people in a professional way. We must also be able to provide excellent services. This class is an incubator for both of these qualities,” says Balkom.

The class is seen as a “rite of passage” for recreation, parks and tourism majors. Students learn from both mistakes and failures while interacting with the community.

Next step, do it “for real.”

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