2021 Alumni Award Winners

Induction into Mandel School Hall of Achievement

These Alumni Award winners are hereby inducted into the Mandel School Hall of Achievement, joining other outstanding alumni, faculty, partners and friends who have greatly impacted the school and the fields of social work and nonprofit management during the past 100+ years.

Alumni Award Winners

Sarah R. McNelis, MSSA 2015

Foreign Service Specialist, U.S. Department of State; Chennai, India

Ms. Sarah McNelis is a Foreign Service Specialist in the Political and Economic Section of the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai, India. In a typical year, U.S. Consulate Chennai processes more applicants for skilled temporary worker visas than any other U.S. Embassy or Consulate globally. The Consulate also provides an array of services to Americans residing or traveling to the consular district. In her position, Ms. McNelis facilitates and supports relationships with governmental, business, and cultural entities to advise the U.S. government on the impact of a wide range of U.S. policies, including trade and investment, science and technology, intellectual property, human rights, and emergency management.

A native of North Carolina, Ms. McNelis graduated from North Carolina State University, Cum Laude, with a bachelor’s degree in Public and Interpersonal Communication in 2008. She continued her education at Case Western Reserve University where she earned her master’s degree in Social Administration with a concentration in Community Practice in 2015.

While at the Mandel School, Ms. McNelis focused her education on children, youth, and family policy. This led to her selection as the Special Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. In this position, Ms. McNelis assisted in the successful modernization of the Head Start Performance Standards, the regulations by which the national Head Start program is governed. She also acted as the ACF liaison to HHS departmental operations for Hurricanes Maria and Irma disaster response.

Ms. McNelis joined FEMA in 2018 and served as the Assistant to the Deputy Administrator for Resilience and as a Disaster Survivor Assistance crew member during disasters. In 2019, Ms. McNelis joined FEMA’s Office of Individual and Community Development as the National Youth Preparedness Council (YPC) Program Manager. She managed programming for 15 youth volunteers selected from across all U.S. states and territories who support disaster preparedness and making a difference in their communities. Ms. McNelis designed disaster preparedness projects for the YPC to promote and increase emergency preparedness on a national level. Ms. McNelis is also the author of “Preparedness for Child Care Providers,” a training course available at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute. She enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures, advocating for community disaster preparedness and youth development, and event planning. She is a prolific reader of historical fiction mysteries, an avid watcher of Formula 1 races, and a northeast Ohio sports fan.

Melanie S. Powell, MNO 1994

With over 20 years of experience in nonprofit management, Melanie Powell offers a unique
blend of leadership, vision, and knowledge. She is the executive director of the Tutwiler
Community Education Center. In this capacity she oversees the day to day operations of the
Center.

Melanie spent most of her professional career working in Greater Cleveland, Ohio where she
lived for 22 years before returning home to Mississippi. While living in Cleveland, Ohio she
worked in areas of education and social services. Melanie worked as an adjunct Sociology
Instructor at Bryant and Stratton College and the center coordinator for the Council for
Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland. Her most rewarding job was helping youth
transition out of residential treatment. She played an active role as a volunteer in several
community initiatives, which supported education and mental health awareness.

A native of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, Melanie decided to return home because she wanted to
be closer to her family and do community advocacy. Melanie joined the Mississippi Center for
Justice in Indianola and served as the Project Director of the Sunflower County United for
Children Collaborative for 5 years.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Mississippi Valley State University, a
Master’s in Nonprofit Organization from Case Western Reserve University, and a Graduate
Certification in Sociology from Baypath University. Melanie is a State of Ohio licensed Social
Worker.

Since 1989 she has been a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Recently, she
was appointed to Families USA Board of Directors. Melanie is the parent of one adult son,
Demetrius who is a high school athletic director in Cleveland, Ohio.


Shareefah T. Sabur, MNO 1993

Shareefah Sabur is the former executive director, and currently Associate Faculty at the Gestalt Institute of
Cleveland (GIC) and has been instrumental in bringing Gestalt out of the therapy rooms and organizations,
into the community. Most recently introducing the Community Engagement Dialogue Series, inspired by the
isolation brought on by COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd. The community was invited to engage in
and be open to dialogue across differences that could begin to heal our world. Prior, the Institute featured a
series, Culture of Radical Engagement. This brought people together to develop and share their own
personal narratives to foster the interdependence that has gone lacking in a society of individualism. It also
inspired a Get Empathy Program at a local high school, designed to decrease bullying; and the Witness
Program, designed to foster a network of support for those falling victim to Islamophobia since 9/11.

Currently, Shareefah, a Gestalt Professional Certified Coach, is co-chairing the Coach Certification Program at
the GIC, which has been cutting edge in influencing coach training globally to consider a person’s identity, life
experience and world view without judgment but with curiosity.

Prior to coming to GIC, she spent 23 years at Hospice of the Western Reserve. (HWR). Hospice started as a
community-based, grassroots initiative that supported community involvement through volunteers, that
allowed people to die pain-free, with dignity, surrounded by loved ones. As Chief Strategy Officer, she
contributed to HWR’s growth from two offices to ten and the construction of two in-patient facilities to
provide a home-like environment for those who could not remain at home. She served on both the Ohio and
National Hospice and Palliative Care boards, ensuring quality care for the dying. As president of the
Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa, was instrumental in the establishment of the African Palliative
Care Association, designed to support the formation of hospice and palliative care at the national level in
Sub-Saharan countries. She was directly involved in board development and training hospice care teams
from the community in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, and. South Africa. Though her love for hospice
reaches far, her heart is local, serving as a board member of Malachi House in Cleveland’s near westside,
dedicated to providing residential hospice for the indigent.

Acquiring a Master’s in Psychology, with a focus in diversity management at Cleveland State University, she
became a Certified Diversity Professional, increasing her ability bring another lens to her work with
individuals, groups, organizations, and the community. As a board member of the International Association
of Gestalt Therapy and committee member of the Human Rights and Social Responsibility committee, she
continues to strive to increase the connectedness of humankind through building relational communities.
Her personal volunteer activities have always involved children and women. Her personal pursuits involve
yoga, reiki, meditation, painting and poetry.

Shareefah lives with and cares for her husband, Muqit, of 39 years. They have six children, six grandchildren,
and three great grandchildren.

Jennifer L. Hawkins, MNO 2000

Jennifer Hawkins is Corporate Secretary and Chief of Staff at the American Red Cross, the nation’s
leading disaster response and blood services organization with 18,000 employees and 300,000
volunteers. She joined the organization in 2007, just as historic governance reforms to the organization
were being signed into law by President George W. Bush. Hawkins directs the operations of the
President’s Office, the Board of Governors Office, the Chairman’s Office and the Office of the Corporate
Ombuds.

In her role as Chief of Staff, Hawkins manages all of the priorities and activities of the American Red
Cross President and CEO. In her role as Corporate Secretary, she is responsible for ensuring governance
best practices are in place, advising the Board of Governors on governance matters, coordinating Board
meetings and communications with the Board of Governors, maintaining the official records of the
organization, and coordinating corporate policies.

Hawkins has spent her career in the nonprofit sector. Prior to joining the American Red Cross, she
served as Director of Development and Board Relations at Phelps Stokes, a nonprofit advancing the
educational needs of the urban and rural poor in Africa and the United States. She was previously
Director of International Visitor Programs at the Cleveland Council on World Affairs and served as a
small business development volunteer for the United States Peace Corps in Senegal, advising
entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders in business competencies.

Hawkins has a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from Brigham Young University and
earned a Master of Nonprofit Organizations degree at Case Western Reserve University.
She currently serves on the Board of the National Human Services Assembly, is a national co-lead for the
Women’s Resource Group at the American Red Cross, and is an annual guest lecturer for George
Washington University’s graduate course on Managing Nonprofit Boards.

Diana M. Cyganovich, MSSA/JD 1981

Diana M. Cyganovich retired as the Executive Director of Cogswell Hall,
Cleveland, Ohio June 30, 2019 after 17 years of service. During her tenure,
Diana led the agency’s growth and development as a premiere innovative
permanent supportive housing program, offering residents opportunities to
grow as individuals while building community.

After five early-career years in law practice, specializing in juvenile and
family matters, Diana moved to the nonprofit field and remained there for
over 30 years. She developed and managed the first legal advocacy program
at the Cleveland agency known as Templum, from 1986 to 1994, serving
survivors of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault within the 12
suburban courts in Cuyahoga County as a compliment to the Witness/Victim
Services Center in Cleveland. She was Executive Director there from 1994 to
1999, expanding programs to include a supervised visitation center and a
Batterers intervention program. (Templum is now part of the Journey Center
for Safety and Healing.) She then held positions as a project manager at the
Cleveland Rape Crisis Center in 1999 and 2000 working with suburban
courts on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, stalking
and sexual assault and as training coordinator with the Ohio Domestic
Violence Network, Columbus, in 2001 and 2002. For over 25 years, Diana
also provided training for law enforcement, prosecutors, attorneys, judges,
social workers, counselors, medical personnel, child protective services
workers and other professionals regarding domestic violence and stalking.
At Cogswell Hall, Diana focused on housing. She served and advocated for
and with low-income adults struggling with the effects of mental illness,
intellectual and other physical disabling conditions, substance abuse,
homelessness and trauma. Under her leadership, the agency completed a
transition from being managed by a live-in resident director into a more
standard nonprofit with an executive director and other professional staff
positions. She oversaw the fundraising for and completion of an $8 million
project to renovate and expand Cogswell Hall’s 1914 building at 7200
Franklin Blvd. Completed in 2009, this increased the agency’s capacity from
30 women housed in convent-style rooms with common bathrooms on each
floor to 41 women and men with larger single rooms and private bathrooms.
It added common spaces for residents, and, with them, more supportive
services.

Born in Candor, N.Y., Diana earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and
political science from the State University of New York at Albany in 1976.

She did graduate work at Case Western Reserve University. There, in 1981,
she earned a juris doctorate (J.D.) from its law school and a master’s degree
in social services administration (M.S.S.A.) from its Mandel School of Applied
Social Sciences.

A resident of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland for 36 years,
Diana and her husband, David Heil, raised their son and now enjoy
retirement living and working within this vibrant, walkable community.

Margaret M. Kennedy, MSSA 1978

As a social worker these are the words Margaret lives by: “To see what is right and not do it is want of
courage, or of principle.” – Confucius. From the start of her career Margaret knew her brand would
always be social worker. She has been a proud social worker for more than 40 years in two countries: in
the US in Virginia, Ohio, Texas and California; in Canada in Newfoundland/Labrador, Prince Edward
Island and Ontario. She has held social work licenses/registrations in Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Prince
Edward Island and Ontario, and has also been a member of the social work association for all those
jurisdictions.

Upon receiving a BA from James Madison University Margaret worked in child protection and
community mental health in rural Virginia. Knowing she wanted more advanced skills she applied to
MSASS where the professors and staff opened up the world of social work and she saw so many
possibilities for doing good.

Margaret seeks challenges and has accepted opportunities in different settings throughout her career.
Some highlights include: the City of Cleveland Heights developing their human resources and training
program; The Center for Community Solutions and the Community Council of Greater Dallas in program
development and research; Girl Scouts of the USA as a management consultant, a role that
encompassed working throughout the US with local councils to develop leadership skills for girls. She
was fortunate to be recruited to MSASS, her beloved alma mater, in the 1980s to lead a county-wide,
then statewide training program for public social services staff, and to teach in the master’s program. In
Prince Edward Island, she held various positions in government health and social services, most notably
as the first Provincial Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Director of the PEI Mental
Health Act (Ministerial appointment). After retiring in 2015, she soon learned that retirement is not in
the cards for a social worker. In Ontario, she was recruited to Addiction and Mental Health Services –
Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington as Interim Associate Director to help lead the agency during
a challenging period of transformation to clarify and improve its services.

She has demonstrated her commitment to life-long learning as a social worker for herself and for up-
and-coming professionals. In addition to teaching at MSASS she taught social work courses at Memorial
University School of Social Work and at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. She also
provided field education supervision in almost every setting she worked and valued seeing growth in
students preparing for their own careers.

As a servant leader, volunteering has been an important adjunct to her professional life to support the
profession and the people it serves. Margaret served on a number of boards of directors, such as
President, PEI Association of Social Workers, Canadian Association of Social Workers, PEI Family Violence
Prevention Services, and the Girl Scouts of Lake Erie Council. She is currently Treasurer of Kingston
Interval House board of directors. She also worked on committees for NASW Ohio Chapter and Veterans
Affairs Canada, and volunteers at her church. She has been the recipient of awards in the field including
MSASS Outstanding Teacher of the Year, MSASS Student Association Recognition Award, CASW
Distinguished Service Award, and the MSASS Hall of Achievement.

Margaret would like to thank her husband Dr. David Pedlar and Patti Choby for this nomination and for
their support all other ways. She is forever appreciative to MSASS for providing her social work
education.