Curtis VanderWaal pictured receiving the Excellence in Impact Award from the United Way of Southwest Michigan's President and CEO Anna Murphy. Photo credit: Courtesy of the United Way of Southwest Michigan 

June 13, 2024

Andrews University Professor Receives Excellence in Impact Award

Curtis VanderWaal, chair and professor of social work at Andrews University, recently received the United Way of Southwest Michigan's annual Excellence in Impact Award.

VanderWaal’s path from graduate to seasoned professor has been defined by his commitment to community impact and relentless dedication to positive change.  

VanderWaal’s journey began in the field of community mental health after he graduated from the University of Michigan. Later, he pursued his PhD at Case Western Reserve University and then began teaching at Andrews University in 1990. 

As chair of the School of Social Work, VanderWaal has multiple responsibilities, from managing budgets to nurturing faculty and program growth. He explains that his leadership includes “making sure our faculty have the resources they need and removing all the roadblocks possible.” 

The recent award from the United Way came as a surprise to VanderWaal, who humbly acknowledges his contributions over the years. “It was very graciously given,” he shares. His involvement with the United Way spans more than a decade, during which he has served on committees and spearheaded program evaluations that measure community impact. 

For VanderWaal, the essence of the award lies in its reflection of collective effort. “They're saying, ‘Thank you for your contributions to the United Way over the years,’” he said, emphasizing the collaborative spirit driving social change. 

At the heart of VanderWaal's work is a commitment to real-world impact, evident in his role as director of field education and his innovative teaching methods at Andrews. His class “Advanced Program Evaluation” offers students unique opportunities to engage with community agencies, conducting evaluations that shape real-world interventions. 

“Students love being able to actually do a project that matters,” VanderWaal shares, highlighting the transformative impact of experiential learning. Through partnerships with community agencies, students gain practical skills while making tangible contributions to societal well-being. 

Beyond accolades and awards, VanderWaal's passion lies in amplifying voices that are often left unheard. “The United Way goes into the community and asks normal folks what they need,” he explains, emphasizing the organization's inclusive approach to community engagement. 

VanderWaal continues to engage his students and fellow faculty members in positive projects that impact the community. Within the School of Social Work, students are constantly pushed to connect and create positive change. For more information about VanderWaal and the Department of Social Work, please visit the department’s website.

Nicholas Gunn, University Communication student writer