Former faculty member’s gift will help Ph.D. program at School of Social Work

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Grace Merritt

2 min read

Hoping to help future graduate students, former faculty member Cheryl A. Parks has decided to leave a transformative gift to the UConn School of Social Work to bolster its Ph.D. program.

Parks, a former associate dean and social work professor, wanted to give back to support the school where she launched her career and found a wellspring of support for her research on lesbians and alcohol use.

“I felt well-supported at UConn. It worked out well for me because there was a recognition among my colleagues that information and research knowledge in that area was lacking,” she says.

“I want to carry that legacy on to give people who may still have some reservations about doing research in the area of lesbians or sexual minorities the support they need to pursue that area of study,” she says.

Parks’ gift will provide funding each year for a doctoral student pursuing research in LGBTQ studies.

“I hope that the money will encourage people to not only do research in this area but to complete their degree within two years of approval of their dissertation proposal,” she says.

Nina Heller, dean of the School of Social Work, says the school deeply appreciates Parks’ gift.

“We are so grateful to Dr. Parks, our former colleague, for her generosity in supporting doctoral education and advancing scholarship about a population to which we feel deeply committed,” Heller says.

Parks’ gift comes 20 years after retired clinical social worker Judy Zachs ’77 MS and Henry Zachs first launched the school’s Ph.D. program with a transformative gift.

“Judy and Henry’s gift was critical. Had we not had the gift, I don’t know that the doctoral program would have been able to be initiated,” Parks says. “It allowed us to get a director of the program named and to have the time and money to write all the policies.”

As associate dean for research, Parks, herself, was very involved in creating the doctoral program and strongly committed to seeing it succeed.

“It makes me feel good that I’m able to continue that legacy of funding research for doctoral students to give them a start in the academic world,” she says.

Before coming to UConn, Parks had been an assistant professor for two years at Florida State University’s School of Social Work. Prior to entering academia, she spent eight years as a private practitioner and 10 years at various agencies as a social work clinician and administrator in mental health, substance abuse, and child welfare. More recently, she served as the dean of the School of Social Work at Simmons College from 2015 to 2020.

Parks grew up a “Navy brat,” living all over the United States. She says that her time at UConn was probably the longest she has ever lived anywhere. After high school, she graduated from Rhode Island College, then went on to earn her master’s in social work at the University of Washington and her doctorate at Bryn Mawr College.

Now retired, she lives in Hull, Massachusetts, and has a son, Parker, 24, after whom she named her planned gift, the Parker Louis Smacchi Endowment for Doctoral Studies. In her spare time, she likes to read and take walks along the beach with her dog, Bailey.

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