Social work education in the Rio Grande Valley got an important boost March 29 with the establishment of the Max and Alma Barrera Siporin Endowed Social Work Education Fund as a permanent endowment for the Department of Social Work in the College of Health and Human Services at The University of Texas-Pan American. The Fund will be subordinate to the Hermila Anzaldua Lecture Series Fund, which will support an annual series of lectures, lecture publication and workshops on the subject of social work education and practice.
Presenting a check for $25,000 for the endowment was Dr. Max Siporin, a social work pioneer both in his native New York and upon retirement also in the Valley. Siporin's wife Alma Barrera Siporin, a fellow social worker he met in Houston and subsequently married, is a Valley native. Alma's father was Dr. Cayetano Barrera Jr., a prominent physician from Mission who was the first Mexican-American to graduate from a recognized Texas medical school.
"Social work education in the Valley was truly the brainchild of Hermila Anzaldua," Friedman said. Anzaldua, professor emeritus at UTPA and whom the lecture series honors, came to then Pan American University in 1969 and became the director of the Community Services program which would later merge into the UTPA Social Work program offering an undergraduate degree in professional social work. Under her leadership, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board designated the academic program as the Bachelor of Social Work degree and in 1976 the Council on Social Work Education, the profession's accrediting body, granted initial accreditation status.
Anzaldua has held leadership roles on numerous national, state and local educational, professional and social services organizations and has been a member of the National Association of Social Workers for 40 years. As a board member of the Texas Council for Social Work Certification, Anzaldua contributed to the development of what is currently the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners, the licensing body for professional social workers. She continues today to serve numerous community service organizations.
"I accept this recognition in the name of the profession and social work institutions. It took a hardworking faculty from day one to bring what social work education on this campus has become today," said Anzaldua, recalling colleagues from the past and recognizing those present who provided her support in the development of UTPA's social work program over the years. "This University has been very supportive - financially as well as reaching out when we needed encouragement."
Anzaldua said that when Max Siporin came to the Valley years ago he quickly became thoroughly involved in the Department of Social Work at UTPA. "He became involved out of a genuine interest to be of help and to share his knowledge. He is one of the giants in the profession of social work," she said.
Max Siporin is a professor emeritus with the School of Social Welfare at State University of New York at Albany and an adjunct full professor of social work at UTPA. Siporin authored a widely-used textbook, "Introduction to Social Work Practice," in 1975 and was among the first social workers to publish about social work marriage and family therapy in psychiatric settings and to testify as an expert social worker in a court of law.
"He was one of the early pioneers in the area of spirituality in social work and also wrote one of the classic pieces on the use of humor in social work. Max's works and his reputation are so far reaching that he has impacted many professionals," Friedman said.
Max Siporin, who has been named a "Distinguished Practitioner of Social Work," a member of the National Acadamies of Practice, and recognized as a "Social Work Pioneer" by the National Association of Social Workers, did not end his involvement in social work when he retired from SUNY Albany.
He helped develop the Community Council for the Rio Grande Valley, which serves as an information and referral service to social service professionals and the general public seeking health and human resources in the areas of food, housing, clothing and employment. The Council conceptualized and operates the 2-1-1 program, to serve non-fire, non-medical needs, which complements the emergency 9-1-1 program.
Max Siporin also lent his knowledge and expertise about graduate social work education to UTPA helping the graduate social work program at the University gain its initial accreditation in February 2003. He has donated his extensive collection of books on social work to the University Library to enhance their resources and support the needs of the graduate program.
Max Siporin acknowledged the support and the accomplishments of his wife Alma, now ill with Alzheimer's disease, his appreciation of being part of the Barrera family and the contributions of Anzaldua.
"I must say that Hermila was very helpful to me with her unbelievable knowledge about the Valley and the people in the Valley, the services in the Valley, the politics in the Valley and the politics in the University," he said.
Dr. Cayetano E. Barrera III, Alma Siporin's brother and a medical doctor in McAllen, said that both Alma and Max were successful in their professions because they were very involved and interested in people. "They weren't the type to be aloof or not participate. They were always right in the middle of things. She was always a people person and so is Max. When he got here, from day one he got involved and was a lot of help to the University. He has a love for the University, the area and his profession," he said.
Alma's sister, Aida B. Torres, a retired teacher, said that both Max and her sister had compassion and a great energy for helping people. "He (Max) always wants to be of service," she said, noting as a computer "wiz," Max is always offering to help others with their computers or quick to share information he has read that he thinks others might find useful.
Isaura Garcia, a translator and Anzaldua's sister, said all her family members were very proud of her. "We have watched her grow and her accomplishments have always been an integral part of our family," she said.
Anzaldua, Max Siporin and Friedman all have high hopes for the endowment and lecture series as well as the future of the social work program and profession.
"I believe that the endowment will help expand social work education especially for social workers and students here in the Valley who need the kind of topflight experiences from topflight people that the fund will bring to the Valley," Max Siporin said.
Anzaldua said she hoped the lecture series will provide an opportunity for students to be inspired by the presenters and to strive to become better in their profession and increase their commitment to the profession.
"The lecture series is just a beginning," Friedman said hopefully. Initially he said it is a way to get more graduates involved and keep them current with up to date trends and happenings in the field. Planned for now are one speaker and one lecture a year with the first lecture series occurring sometime in 2006.
"Down the road we may be able to set up a conference or be able to provide funds for research projects that can be presented at a conference. It is limitless in the future," he said.
For more information on the endowment fund, lecture series fund or social work program, contact Friedman at 956/381-3575.