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Three alumni honored with SSW Distinguished Alumni Awards

November 22, 2017

Three School of Social Work alumni were presented Distinguished Alumni Awards at the SSW All-Class Reunion Lunch on Friday, October 27, 2017.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes School of Social Work alumni whose achievements exemplify the values of the School of Social Work and who have made an exceptional impact on the profession, the community and/or Social Work education.

Learn more about the Distinguished Alumni Award »

2017 Recipients:

Anya Abramzon (MSW'96)


Anya Abramzon is the Executive Director of Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County. Under her guidance, the agency has gone from her being the only full-time staff with a budget of $35,000 to being a full-service agency with 60 employees and a budget of $3 million, serving all those who need help-from victims of natural disasters to refugees from the former Soviet Socialist Republics. Abramzon herself made what she calls "an immense journey," coming to the United States in 1991, after receiving a degree in history and law from the University of St. Petersburg, Russia. Once in the United States, she wanted to help people who were going through similar experiences of fitting into a new culture. In obtaining her MSW, Abramzon earned a certificate in Jewish Communal Leadership through Project Star, the U-M School of Social Work's initiative today known as the Jewish Community Leadership Program (JCLP). The JCLP offers a five-semester program with special educational opportunities for emerging leaders committed to helping Jewish communities meet 21st-century challenges and address broader social concerns.

SSW Experience

"My professors gave me tremendous confidence and a sense of responsibility. They showed me that I had something to give and that there was nothing I couldn't try. That is the greatest gift. It made me strive to be ahead of the curve always. They emphasized socially minded strategic leadership and innovation, looking beyond just the nonprofit sector to partnerships with business, community, and government, developing resources and building social capital. That prepared me for my role at Jewish Family Services."


James Dien Bui (MSW'01)


James Dien Bui was honored for his impact investing, especially on behalf of entrepreneurs of color, and for his work on affordable housing, workforce development, and clean energy projects worldwide. After earning his MSW from the School of Social Work, Bui was awarded the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations Fellowship to study community economic development at MIT, Tufts, and Harvard. Today he has over 17 years' experience in economic development and impact investing in North America and Southeast Asia. He is the founder of Lotus Impact, an impact investing fund with incubation services making social impact and creating transformative growth across Southeast Asia. Bui oversees social impact investments in microfinance, workforce development, affordable housing and sustainable agriculture. He is working on a new fund that will invest in entrepreneurs of color, changing how disadvantaged communities generate innovation and financial agency for social change. Bui has worked as a principal consultant on affordable housing, workforce development and clean energy projects for clients including the International Finance Corporation, FMO (the Dutch development bank) and nonprofits worldwide. He helped raise over $50 million for social impact projects, particularly post-Hurricane Katrina and Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill recovery efforts in the United States, and clean water and sanitation projects in Southeast Asia.

SSW Experience

"The U-M School of Social Work took me in as a nerdy, geeky activist coming from engineering to organizing. I loved being around MSW students here who were harnessing their passion. I had found a fellowship and a community that could help me grow professionally and as a person."


Jerilyn Church (MSW'06)


Jerilyn Church was honored for her contributions to the health needs of Native Americans living on the Great Plains. Church was born and raised on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in central South Dakota (just south of Standing Rock). While at the School of Social Work, she received a full fellowship in child welfare with an emphasis in human services management. Upon graduation, she became Executive Director of the American Indian Health and Family Services center in Detroit. Under her leadership, the organization tripled its budget and doubled its staff. With Church's encouragement, the School of Social Work made American Indian Health and Family Services the first Native American services site in its field placement program. Since 2012, Church serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board (GPTCHB) in Rapid City, South Dakota. She has helped to create an organizational restructuring to meet the health needs of the tribal nations the organization serves (including Church's own Cheyenne River Sioux) by providing them with technical assistance, policy analysis, and advocacy, and by having GPTCHB act as a liaison between the health board and Indian Health Service.

SSW Experience

"The support and encouragement from professors here was so much more than I expected. It was especially nourishing for me in terms of personal growth. And they all continued to be available to me after graduation, during my first executive director position. It was a little scary. I was able to reach out to my University of Michigan mentors as I worked to expand the organization, and it made all the difference in the world."


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