Paying it forward

Greer Hamilton and Danise Wilson.

Danise Wilson, MPH ’14 (LEFT) and Greer Hamilton, MSW ’16, BA ’16 (RIGHT)

Greer Hamilton and Danise Wilson have a lot of differences, but they both believe in strengthening minority representation in human services and public health professions.

Building a network

They have different backgrounds, work styles and degrees. But Greer Hamilton, MS '16, BA '16, and Danise Wilson, MPH '14, have one thing in common: belief in the importance of minority representation, especially in the fields of social work and public health.

The two alumnae launched the Hamilton-Wilson Student Support Fund in the spring of 2018 to help build a network of African American social workers and public health practitioners in Western New York, with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes for underserved populations in the region. The fund, designated to help with non-tuition-related expenses, will award $1,000 every year to two master’s students—one in social work and one in public health—while also connecting the recipients with black mentors in their respective fields.

The creation of the fund, initially focused on social work, was Hamilton’s idea.

“I was really fortunate to have my parents support me throughout my education and pay for my graduate school tuition,” says the Long Island, N.Y., native, who is currently pursuing her PhD in Boston. “I saw peers that didn’t have that same support, and wanted to do something about it.”

She approached a local foundation to discuss setting up a fund, but was disheartened to learn that it would require a minimum of $100,000 to get started. That’s where UB came in. A university advancement officer suggested that a student support fund would enable her to meet her objectives at a much lower funding threshold. UB then helped her with outreach and promotion.

“I was so encouraged by the support I received, both for my idea and for the knowledge the advancement officers provided in how to begin the process.”

"I’d like to see more African American women and men at the table contributing to the conversations that impact our communities." - Danise Wilson

Meaningful mentorship

As the idea continued to develop, Hamilton shared her initiative with Wilson, her former supervisor at the New York State Area Health Education Center, a program housed within UB’s Department of Family Medicine that is dedicated to increasing the supply, distribution and diversification of qualified health care professionals throughout the state. Together, they decided to broaden the fund’s scope to focus on creating diversity pipelines for different career paths.

Wilson, who is now executive director of the Erie Niagara Area Health Education Center, has devoted her career to strengthening minority representation in human services and public health professions. A lifelong Buffalo resident, she also is a mother of five who had her first child at 16—and who knows from experience how crucial a support network can be.

“I was determined not to be a teen-mom statistic,” she says. “I was determined to graduate. It was through the help and support of a lot of people that I got to the place I am now, and I am so proud to be in a role and a position where I can do for others what people have done for me.”

It is particularly important to both women that the awards be used for supplemental expenses beyond tuition.

“You can get a loan for tuition,” notes Wilson, “but what about that other stuff that prevents you from getting an education? From books to food to gas in the car to daycare—it’s a burden on the household if you have to take $600 out of the budget to cover your books.”

Another aim of the fund is to provide mentorship opportunities and build a sense of fellowship among the black students at the two schools. While there is a dual MPH/MSW degree at UB, there aren’t many formal opportunities for students to interact across programs. Hamilton and Wilson are hosting a barbeque for MSW and MPH students this fall so that master’s candidates can meet socially. They plan to invite donors so they can see the impact their generosity will have.

In addition, they are hoping to bolster the programming supported by the fund.

“We’re looking forward to hearing from the students what they feel they need to be successful, whether that’s more informal networking opportunities or educational forums,” says Hamilton. “We’re really open to their input.”

Story by Erin Waas
Photograph by Douglas Levere