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College of Social Work

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Alumni Awards

The Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize College of Social Work alumni who have demonstrated outstanding achievement and service to their profession or their community.  


The Alumni Excellence Award recognizes alumni who have made exceptional contributions to social work through a distinguished career in their field of practice and who personify the principles and values of the profession. 

  • The Emerging Leader Award recognizes recent alumni who are already making exceptional contributions to social work and who personify the principles and values of the profession. 
  • Recipients must have earned a degree from the College of Social Work within the last 10 years. 

The Military Service Award recognizes alumni who are/were military affiliated and continue to serve others through their commitment to the social work profession. 

2023 Award Winners

carla damron

Carla Damron is a social worker, advocate, and author. Following a 33 year career for the SC Department of Mental Health, Damron served as Executive Director of NASW-SC, where she focused on advocacy, training, and promoting the field of social work. 
Damron is the author of six novels that all explore social issues. Her suspense novel, The Orchid Tattoo, about human trafficking, has won four literary awards, including the prestigious National Indie Excellence award for best suspense. Her women’s fiction novel The Stone Necklace won the 2017 WFWA Star Award and was the One Community Read for Columbia SC. Damron is also the author of the Caleb Knowles mystery series. The fourth installment, Justice Be Done, a murder mystery set during race riots spawned by a hate crime, was just released by Bella Rosa Books.  
Damron is a proud social worker who holds an MSW from USC and an MFA from Queens University in Charlotte. She currently works parttime for Communities in Schools and does volunteer work with Mutual Aid Midlands, the League of Women Voters, and her church.   

sara goldsby

A native of Wyoming, Sara Goldsby was confirmed as Director of South Carolina’s Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) by the South Carolina Senate in 2018, after being appointed Acting Director by Governor Nikki Haley in 2016, then nominated as Director by Governor Henry McMaster in May 2017.  As Director, she has led South Carolina’s response to the opioid crisis and currently serves as co-chair of the State Opioid Emergency Response Team.  Under her leadership, DAODAS has been instrumental in implementing many prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery strategies statewide. 

Director Goldsby earned her Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health degrees – with an emphasis on health services, policy, and management – from the University of South Carolina in 2015.  In 2019, Director Goldsby was recipient of the national Ramstad/Kennedy Award in recognition of her leadership and support of recovery programming. She currently serves as President of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, and is appointed to several national and federal substance use advisory committees. 

michelle gramling

Major Michelle A. Gramling is a native of South Carolina. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Education from Clark Atlanta University, Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina, and Doctorate of Social Work from the University of Tennessee. Prior to her military career, Major Gramling was an educator with Richland County School District One and taught at Horrell Hill Elementary School in Hopkins, SC.  

Upon graduation from the University of South Carolina, Major Gramling entered the Air Force as a direct accession and is a Board Certified Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has held various leadership positions to include Family Advocacy Officer, Alcohol Drug Abuse Prevention & Treatment Program Manager, Drug Demand Reduction Element Chief, Resiliency Element Chief, Director of Psychological Health, Mental Health Flight Commander, and Medical Operations Flight Commander. Major Gramling served on two Global Health Engagement Teams where she shared Air Force Mental Health best practices with diplomatic partners in the Republic of Georgia and Serbia. Additionally, she deployed in support of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, Al Udeid Air Base Qatar and to Joint Task Force-National Capitol Region, White House Medical Unit in support of the response to the global pandemic.  

Currently, she is the Director of Behavioral Health at the Air Force Family Medicine Residency Program Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.  As a faculty member, she teaches and consults with medical residents on psychosocial aspects of medicine within their residency program. Major Gramling is responsible for developing a behavioral health curriculum in accordance with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, and in conjunction with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She is an Associate Professor with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. 

Beyond her military service, her passion for promoting wellness led her to become a published children’s book author. Through her work, she strives to impart positive coping skills in young people and highlight the significance of mental health at an early age. She had the honor of being featured on the WLTX News Columbia and in the Columbia Star, for her author’s visit to Horrell Hill Elementary School. 


Nomination Process

The following materials are required for a nomination to be considered: 

  • Nominator name and contact information 
  • Nominee name and contact information 
  • Nominee’s current vita or resume  
  • Endorsement statement (to include detailed information about the nominee and why they would be a deserving recipient) 

Eligibility Criteria

  • Recipients may not receive the same award multiple times. 
  • Recipients must meet the eligibility criteria of their specific award.
  • Recipients must participate in the recognition event in person unless exceptional circumstances prevent such participation.  

Further Guidelines

  • CoSW reserves the right to name recipients for all or only a selection of the awards each year. 
  • Only information submitted as part of a nomination will be considered; additional independent research regarding nominees will not occur.
  • Incomplete nominations will not be accepted.  
  • Current members of the College of Social Work Alumni Advisory Board are not eligible to receive a Distinguished Alumni award until one year after their term concludes.  

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