Kerr, who lives in Fairfax, is a recipient of the 2007 University of Cincinnati Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award that recognizes the vital contributions that UC’s adjuncts make to the teaching mission of the university. Kerr has taught graduate-level students in the UC School of Social Work for more than 10 years and also serves as coordinator of field placements for the specialized mental health program, sponsored by the Ohio Department of Mental Health. She has held her own private practice counseling clients since 1987. As a doctoral candidate preparing her dissertation for the Smith College School for Social Work in Northampton, Mass., she can also empathize with the challenges of the non-traditional student who is juggling family, work and achieving academic excellence.
“Ms. Kerr strives for academic excellence and professional standards in all of her teaching,” says Sophia Dziegielewski, director of the UC School of Social Work. “She sets high academic standards and develops assignments that require critical thinking on the part of students. She reads all assignments with attention to detail and gives copious feedback to students about content, presentation, structure and professional writing.
“She would ask a lot from us as students – reading, research, class discussion, participation and dedication. This helped us strive to reach our fullest potential,” says former student Jennifer M. Simpson, who now works as a therapist in the UC Medical Arts Building. “Ms. Kerr rewarded our hard work. As a student in her classes, it was easy to tell that she makes the student the center of her teaching.”
Kerr says the expectation of serving others was instilled in her at a very young age – exemplified by her parents’ call to service. That legacy was passed through generations of family members, one of whom she says worked alongside social reformist Jane Addams, one of the founders of the social work profession. “She (Addams) was instrumental in helping immigrants adjust as they moved into the country. Back then, social workers were known as women who had sensible shoes and a loaf of bread, and went into communities where people were struggling to help these people get involved and acclimated into the larger community,” Kerr explains.
“There was this legacy in my family to serve the greater community, and this was communicated to me very clearly,” she says. “We were expected to give back, volunteer and participate in social justice issues when, during the Civil Rights era, it wasn’t always popular to do so.”
In teaching students to serve individuals in therapy, Kerr says she emphasizes the biological and psychological understanding of patients and their environment – how they see themselves and how they feel they fit into the rest of the world. “We help people find their own power to maximize their potential within their own environment, and in social work, that’s the unique perspective. Psychiatry emphasizes biology, psychology focuses on processing information, but social work examines who the individual is within the whole life situation, and I think that gives us a more complete picture of the person. I think social workers tend to cast a wider net for understanding.”
“Having previously served as a teacher for 15 years, I understand the unique challenge of finding each student’s potential and inspiring them to develop those talents in a way that will positively impact society,” says Pamela Gerdes, a graduate student in the School of Social Work. “Ms. Kerr stands alone in the manner in which she motivates her students to achieve academic excellence and realize their full potential.”