By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – A quote from American philosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson best describes Maha Younes’ mission as an educator, researcher and advocate.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Younes, a professor in the department of social work, has definitely been a difference maker during her 27-year career at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Chancellor Doug Kristensen described her as someone who sets inspiring standards during Friday’s winter commencement, where Younes received UNK’s most prestigious faculty award.
The Leland Holdt/Security Mutual Life Insurance Company Distinguished Faculty Award recognizes an outstanding teacher-scholar for their achievements in education, research and service. The award, which honors alumnus Leland Holdt and commemorates his many years of leadership at Security Mutual Life, comes with a $5,000 stipend.
Younes, who joined UNK in 1991 after two years as an adjunct faculty member, played a major part in the transformation of the social work program.
As department chair, a position she held for 15 years, Younes established a social work minor, boosted student scholarships and developed a strategic plan that increased the number of social work majors and faculty members.
She also created an International Social Work Experiences program to provide study abroad opportunities in several foreign countries, helped establish the online social work program and spearheaded the effort that brought a Master of Social Work program to UNK through a partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Peter Longo, interim dean of UNK’s College of Arts and Sciences, called Younes a “progressive leader” and “first-rate teacher” who is committed to UNK and its students, the state of Nebraska and her profession.
“She led her department to new heights and in doing so provided abundant opportunities for our students,” Longo wrote in support of Younes’ nomination for the faculty award. “Indeed, her leadership empowered students who now are making the world a better place.”
Younes has taught 13 different social work courses at UNK and developed three new courses – human service ethics and experience, substance abuse and addictions and international social work.
Outside the classroom, she organized a partnership between the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and social work programs at several Nebraska universities that focuses on recruiting and training child welfare workers. Younes also had a lead role in the adoption of a measure that accesses federal funding for internships that prepare social work students to enter the workforce.
Her work is changing the landscape of rural Nebraska, where there’s a shortage of mental and behavioral health and child welfare providers.
Terry Werner, executive director of the Nebraska chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, commended Younes for her “tireless and relentless” advocacy for the social work profession and people it serves.
“Social work in Nebraska is better served with Dr. Younes as one of our social work colleagues because of her abilities and passion for working to increase access to opportunities for the disadvantaged,” Werner wrote.
Younes, a licensed clinical social worker and mental health practitioner, was named the 2009 Social Worker of the Year by the Nebraska chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
A lifelong learner, Younes’ research interests cover a variety of areas, from child welfare and aging to human rights, rural issues and immigration.
“What is so powerful about Maha’s scholarly interests is the diversity of those interests. She is the ultimate student who is curious and always striving to learn as much as possible,” Theresa Barron-McKeagney, associate dean of UNO’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service, stated in her letter of support.
Younes has published 14 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and delivered dozens of presentations at local, state, national and international events. She’s also a mentor for undergraduate researchers and an organizer for UNK’s annual Child Welfare Conference and Conference on Aging.
“When I think of my colleagues in the field, Maha would be the first that I would seek out if I needed support in any area due to her extensive knowledge that casts a large net over teaching, research, service and administration,” Barron-McKeagney stated.
Title: Professor, UNK Department of Social Work
Years at UNK: 27
Education: Doctorate, adult and community education, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1996; Master of Social Work, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 1988; Master’s degree, educational psychology, Kearney State College, 1985; Bachelor of Science, social work and psychology, Kearney State College, 1982.
Professional experience: Psychiatric social worker, Hastings Regional Center, 1983-84; Clinical social worker, South Central Behavioral Services, 1986-91; Private practice, 1986-2001; Adjunct faculty member, Kearney State College, 1989-91; Assistant professor, UNK, 1991-98; Associate professor, UNK, 1998-2005; Professor, UNK, 2005-present.
Teaching experience: Younes has taught 13 different social work courses since 1991 and developed three new courses – human service ethics and experience, substance abuse and addictions and international social work.
Professional memberships: National Association of Social Workers, Academy of Certified Social Workers, Council on Social Work Education, Baccalaureate Program Directors and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.
Awards: UNK Innovation, Development and Engagement Award, 2013; Mortar Board faculty recognition award, UNK, 2009; Nebraska Social Worker of the Year, Nebraska chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, 2009; Fulbright Scholar studying social, economic, political and cultural systems in Thailand and Myanmar, 2005; Governor’s recognition award for commitment to Nebraska’s children, 1999.
Recent published articles:
“The international adoption experience: Do they live happily ever after?” Adoption Quarterly, 2014.
“Contextualizing oppression and family violence in Israel,” “Family violence from a global perspective: A strengths-based approach,” 2013.
“Unveiling prostitution and human trafficking in Israel,” “Global perspective of prostitution and sex trafficking,” 2011.
“Forever changed: The transformation of rural America through immigration,” Contemporary Rural Social Work, 2010.
“The resilience of families in Israel: Understanding their struggles and appreciating their strengths,” Marriage and Family Review, 2007.
“Addressing the impact of foster care on biological children and their families,” Child Welfare Journal, 2007.