Social Work Community Fetes Secretary Sudders at State House

BCSSW Dean Alberto Godenzi presents a gift to Health & Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, as Governor Charlie Baker looks on.

BCSSW Dean Alberto Godenzi presents a gift to Health & Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, as Governor Charlie Baker looks on. (Photo courtesy of Caitlin Cunningham)

Members of the social work community celebrated in the Massachusetts State House yesterday, honoring the Commonwealth’s new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Marylou Sudders, who now represents one of the highest-ranking social workers in government in the United States.

“The appointment of Marylou Sudders to Secretary of Health and Human Services is historic,” said Alberto Godenzi, Dean of BCSSW. “To my knowledge there is no social worker in this country who has that kind of a leadership position. The appointment recognizes and leverages a unique social work champion.”

In her new role, Sudders is in charge of the largest executive agency in state government, and a $19.4 billion state budget with 22,000 employees. According to her office, she oversees services that touch almost one in six Massachusetts residents.

The event was co-hosted by the Boston College School of Social Work, where Marylou was the Chair of Health and Mental Health prior to accepting this position in Gov. Charlie Baker’s cabinet; the Boston University School of Social Work, where she received her MSW; and by the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Gov. Baker was among those who provided remarks.

“I didn’t think picking Marylou Sudders to be Secretary of Health and Human Services was a particularly big deal,” he explained. “And the reason I say that, is that I couldn’t imagine picking anyone else. It seemed like the only choice that made sense for the people of the Commonwealth…”

“She’s born for this job. And if she wasn’t born for it, she made herself the right person for this job over the course of her career in the public and private sector.”

In her three years as a full-time professor at BCSSW, Sudders worked tirelessly to strengthen the Health and Mental Health concentration at the school. Last fall, she was awarded a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant for critical on-the-ground training for 53 second-year master’s level students. Last spring, she invited Baker to speak at BCSSW’s Health Care Forum. Sudders remains a visiting professor at the school.

Many of the students who were positively influenced by Sudders during her time at BCSSW attended the State House event. While admitting that she will miss teaching at the school, she spoke directly to this next generation of social workers.

Sudders reception speakers from left: Dean Godenzi, Gov. Baker, BU Social Work Dean Gail Steketee, Secretary Sudders, State Senator Karen Spilka, NASW CEO Angelo McClain, NASW Massachusetts President Carol Trust

Sudders reception speakers from left: Dean Godenzi, Gov. Baker, BU Social Work Dean Gail Steketee, Secretary Sudders, State Senator Karen Spilka, NASW CEO Angelo McClain, NASW Massachusetts Exec. Dir. Carol Trust. (Photo courtesy of Caitlin Cunningham)

“What I’ve always taught to students is that social work opens any door you want to run through,” she said. “It is our inhibitions that prevent us from running through those doors. There is no greater education than a social work education to open up a wealth of opportunities for us.

“I would expect in 10 years that there shouldn’t just be a Marylou Sudders who is a cabinet secretary but we should be populating as cabinet secretaries across the United States and elsewhere.”

Other speakers on the program included: State Senator Karen Spilka; Gail Steketee, Dean of the BU School of Social Work; Carol Trust, the Executive Director of NASW Massachusetts; and Angelo McClain, the CEO of NASW, who earned his PhD in social work from BCSSW.

“Marylou is one of those people who simply knows how to get stuff done,” said Baker, in closing. “And to the people of the Commonwealth, and especially those who are serving in Health and Human Services, I can’t think of a more important characteristic to bring to the table every single day. I’m thrilled to have her on the team.”

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