A Foundation of Strengths. A Vision of Justice. A Mission of Change.
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Check Out Our Speakers!

We are so lucky to have such an accomplished group of speakers for this year's conference. All are authors in our new book, 'Rooted in Strengths: Celebrating the Strengths Perspective in Social Work'. The following is a list of sessions with their speaker bios.


Interational Speakers

Corinna Ehlers, a professor in Germany, specializes in theory and methods of social work with a concentration on person-centered approaches and strengths-based case management. Her recent research is specifically focused on how various strengths-based approaches are put into practice in different fields of human services. Furthermore, she is researching about social care systems and network development. Since November 2016 she is serving as the Dean of faculty Social Work and Health at the University of Applied Sciences and Art (HAWK) in Hildesheim. A native of Berlin, Corinna holds a doctorate and master’s degree in Public Health from the Technical University of Berlin and a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. Her professional background and area of expertise lies in case and care management in social and health care systems. She joined the Board of the German Association of Care and Case Management (DGCC) in 2011 and was elected to serve as Vice-Chair in 2015. She currently holds this position.

Matthias Müller is a professor of Social Work, Child and Family Welfare at the University of Applied Sciences Neubrandenburg, Department of Social Work and Education (Germany). His professional interests are Family Services, Migration and Social Work, Social Work Case Management, Home Visiting Social Work/ Home Treatment, Social Group Work and Theories of Social Work. In his research he focuses on Home Visiting Work/ Home Treatment, Child Protection, Early Childhood Intervention, Home Visiting Counseling, Adolescent Football Supporters, Family Services and Foster Care Families. His current research focus is on developing Family Services in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania with the aim of reaching families as much as possible. Matthias Müller studied Social Work at the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences Berlin and Social Sciences at the Humboldt University Berlin. He obtained his Ph.D. in Sociology at the Freie Universität Berlin. He is the Program Director of the BA Teachers Program in Vocational Education (Social Pedagogy). He is also the spokesman of the special interest group of Social Work Case Management, a collaborating group between the German Association of Care and Case Management (DGCC) and the German Association of Social Work (DGSA).


Author Panel

Dr. Kenya C. Jones, associate professor, Whitney M. Young, Jr. School of Social Work, Clark Atlanta University, in Atlanta, Georgia is a champion for students and content expert on mentorship, strategic planning, and program development. Dr. Jones is a published author and frequent presenter at numerous professional conferences. Dr. Jones has a vibrant educational career which includes studying British Politics in London, United Kingdom, and working at the Green Party, UK within the media administration team. During her undergraduate education in Criminal Justice at Virginia State University she participated in the AmeriCorps program at the Richmond Police Department and the Adult Career Development Center.  While matriculating at Howard University, Dr. Jones is also the past recipient of the Lloyd D. Smith Fellowship sponsored through the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, a leadership – training program designed to create solid pathways to success for community leaders.

Lori Madrid is a licensed clinical social worker and certified trauma professional with over 20 years of experience providing therapeutic services in a variety of settings including: working with homeless families in Spanish Harlem; providing outpatient therapy to foster children in the South Bronx; facilitating group, family, individual and equine therapy with children in psychiatric residential treatment and also working within the Title 1 School System in the Southwest. Lori is strongly committed to supporting the Social Work field and has been actively involved in teaching in BSW and MSW programs have consistently served as a field instructor and is passionate about mentoring the next generation of social workers. Lori holds a BSW from the University of Wyoming and an MSW from Hunter College Graduate School of Social Work. Most recently Lori has founded and is the CEO of Everybody Matters, Inc., a non-profit that trains college-level social work interns to provide free social-emotional support to children in the school system who are unable to access those services elsewhere. 

Edward R. Canda is a professor emeritus of the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas. Dr. Canda's research and service address connections between cultural diversity, spirituality, and resilience in relation to health, mental health, and disabilities. For more than 40 years, Professor Canda has been exploring insights from Eastern philosophy for social welfare. He has been a Visiting Researcher or Professor in South Korea at Sungkyunkwan University and in Japan at Ritsumeikan and Doshisha Universities. He has about 200 publications and has conducted about 230 presentations in the United States and in many other countries, especially in East Asia and Central Europe. His most widely cited books are Spiritual Diversity in Social Work Practice and Contemporary Human Behavior Theory. Dr. Canda has taught courses mainly in human behavior theory (at BSW, MSW, and PhD levels), qualitative research methods (at PhD level), spiritual diversity in practice (at MSW level), and study abroad in Korea (at BSW, MSW, and PhD levels). In 2013, he received the Council on Social Work Education's Significant Lifetime Achievement Award for innovations on spirituality through scholarship and education.


Breakout A: Strengths in Education

Teri Kennedy, PhD, MSW, LCSW, ACSW, FGSA, FNAP is the associate dean, Interprofessional Practice, Education, Policy, and Research (i-PEPR) and Ida Johnson Feaster Professor of Interprofessional Practice and Education at the University of Kansas School of Nursing. Dr. Kennedy is also the co-program director for the Center for Interprofessional Practice, Education, and Research (CIPER) at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Shelby Clark is doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas. Clark spent her career working in a variety of roles within the child welfare sector including as a case manager, therapist, and training specialist prior to attending the University of Kansas. In her professional roles, she provided field education to social work students and training and professional development to practitioners. She received her BSW from Brigham Young University-Idaho and her MSW from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In her research assistantship, Clark studies under the direction of Dr. Becci Akin, and is currently working on a federally funded, public-private-university partnership evaluating and improving the child welfare system in Kansas.  Her areas of scholarly interest include social work administration and workforce, child and family mental health and contemplative science including the effects of compassion and mindfulness training on well-being.

Kelechi Wright is a doctoral student at the University of Kansas in the School of Social Welfare Program. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, she worked as a licensed professional counselor as a clinical supervisor in the community based mental health field and as a therapist for individuals, children and families.   She received her Master of Education in Counseling Psychology from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a graduate research assistant under the supervision of Dr. Becci Akin, assisting Dr. Akin’s team in a government-funded grant that seeks to assess and address challenges in Kansas’ child welfare system. Her scholarly interest involve same-race and transracial adoption, impacts of infertility, post-adoptive support services and implementation science.


Breakout B: Strengths with Children & Young Adults

Amy Mendenhall is a social worker who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Virginia, and master’s and doctorate degrees from the College of Social Work at The Ohio State University. She also completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Division of the Department of Psychiatry at the Ohio State University Medical Center. Dr. Mendenhall joined the faculty at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare in 2009, and is currently an associate professor and serves as the associate dean for research and the founding director for the Center for Community Engagement and Collaboration. Her scholarship and research focus on building knowledge for the systems that serve children, adolescents, and families to enhance community-based services, and in turn, to improve the well-being of children and families. 

Nikolaus Schuetz is a PhD student at the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas.  His research interests focus on the intersection of physical health and mental health, but he has also conducted research on the strengths model of case management, financial capability, child and adult mental health, and synesthesia. His practice experience includes working as the case manager for an emergency shelter for children, and working with families involved with family court in the Kansas City area. He is currently an emergency room social worker at Children’s Mercy Hospital, and a private practice therapist.  After graduating from Beloit College with a degree in Psychology, his dedication to helping marginalized and oppressed people took him to rural Kenya where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2009-2011 in the public health sector. He subsequently completed his Master’s in Social Work at the University of Kansas where he currently conducts research and teaches. He is also currently serving as a member of Resilience, Inclusion, Support, and Empowerment, a committee that supports students of color at the School of Social Welfare.

Whitney Grube is a PhD candidate in the University of Kansas’ School of Social Welfare. Whitney is also a full time member of the School’s research staff and has been with the School since 2013. Whitney previously received her MSW from the University of Kansas’ School of Social Welfare. Her research and scholarship focuses on children and adolescents experiencing complex and severe mental health disorders, community mental health services, and Medicaid Waivers used as interventions for children labeled as seriously emotionally disturbed. Past research and evaluation projects include the study of the implementation of Strengths Based Case Management in adolescent outpatient community mental health settings, the effectiveness of an early childhood intervention (Attachment Biobehavioral Catchup), and clinical assessment practices used in the Medicaid Waiver population.

Elizabeth A. Schoenfeld earned her MA and PhD in Human Development & Family Sciences from The University of Texas at Austin. She currently serves as the Chief Research & Evaluation Officer at LifeWorks, where she oversees all data- and research-related initiatives for the agency’s 19 programs. Under her leadership, she oversaw the agency’s adoption and implementation of the Strengths Model of case management and the supported employment model, Individual Placement & Support.  Her efforts to use data to inform service delivery and the adoption of evidence-based programs at LifeWorks was highlighted in the documentary, Failing Forward: On the Road to Social Impact. Her current major projects include leading the local evaluation for Austin’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program and serving as the Principal Investigator for two SAMHSA grants.

Brooke White, LCSW, LCDC is a clinician-turned-researcher currently serving as the Director of Evidence-Based Programming at LifeWorks in Austin, TX. She has worked as a leader in residential settings, supporting clients with clinical and case management goals, for the majority of her career. In her current role she supports staff in all 19 of LifeWorks’ programs as they implement and utilize evidence-based models by providing training, technical support, and supervision.


Breakout C: Strengths in Practice

Jason Sawyer, co-founder of think.create.change, is an interdisciplinary artist, teacher, community practitioner, and social justice worker. He is an assistant professor at the Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University. In his practice career, he has worked in Non-profit Program Management, community organizing, teaching, the performing arts, and policy advocacy.  His diverse background includes teaching theatre at the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk VA, teaching English abroad, campus organizing, a Policy Fellowship at the Virginia Interfaith Center of Public Policy in grassroots organizing and social advocacy, and working in neighborhood-based community organizing efforts.  His research interests lie in critical pedagogy, community organization practice, positive youth development, difference, and arts-based interventions.  His research encompasses studies on the use of the creative process in community organizing, youth arts-based program evaluation, community practice model development, and transformative arts practice.

D. Crystal Coles, PhD, LCSW, is a faculty member in the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas. Her scholarship interest and practice experiences lie in the public child welfare arena. More specifically, she focuses on child welfare and the intersection of the African-American/Black diaspora through the lens of health disparities in rural and urban communities; focusing on the child and maternal well-being as a preventative method of children transitioning into the foster care system.  Dr. Coles is committed to addressing the needs of society through her work and its emphasis on social justice, critical thought, systematic inequalities, policy development and assisting social change within the area of health and child welfare for children and families.

Melinda Lewis is an associate professor of practice in the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas and associate director of the School’s Center on Community Engagement and Collaboration. At KU, she teaches foundation and advanced-level MSW social policy and policy practice courses and advises students and field agencies on policy analysis and policy practice. Before joining the KU faculty, she worked on policy advocacy and community organizing at the local, state, and federal levels, in pursuit of economic justice and human rights.


Breakout D: Strengths and LGBTQ+ Youth

Megan E. Gandy-Guedes is an assistant professor at the West Virginia University School of Social Work. She earned her PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she created a measure of LGBTQ-youth-related cultural competence in direct care mental health providers called the Queer Youth Cultural Competency (QYCC) scale. Her primary research interest is in the well-being of queer and trans people, focusing on mental health provider competency and faith community support.