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UCF Student Named Florida Student Social Worker of the Year

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By Karen Guin

For the third year in a row, aUniversityofCentral Floridastudent has been selected as the Student Social Worker of the Year from undergraduate and graduate students at 12 social work schools in the state.

Andrea "Melissa" Coral fromLakeMarywon the award this year from the Florida Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. It is the first time in the award's 30-year history that the honor has gone to students from the same university for three consecutive years, according to the NASW Florida Chapter office inTallahassee.

Coral is an exemplary student with a 3.9 grade point average in her major. She also spends many hours volunteering for several nonprofit groups and maintaining a statewide Web site for students, said Robin Kohn, faculty coordinator for the undergraduate program in UCF'sSchoolofSocial Work. Coral also has a keen ability to work with others as an advocate for clients and a leader among peers.

Coral said her interest in social work developed as a child when she and her family emigrated fromPerutoCanadaand then to theUnited States. She experienced culture shock, periods of financial instability and racism. When she grew older, Coral started working as a volunteer and learned the value of people helping one another.

"I learned in the face of adversity that one person can make a difference," she said.

As a student, Coral has actively sought opportunities to help those in need. She has volunteered as an assistant at Kids House of Seminole, a facility inSanfordthat provides services for children who are victims of abuse; the after-school literacy program at ESTEEM inWinter Park; the Lisa Merlin House, a residential facility inOrlandofor women who abuse drugs and alcohol; andIslandLakeCenter, an elder-care facility in Longwood.

"Melissa has a sincere interest and commitment to the social work profession," Kohn said. "She faithfully upholds our code of ethics and demonstrates the highest degree of integrity."

Coral plans to graduate from UCF this May and enter theSchoolofSocial Work's master's degree program in the fall. By doing so, she would follow the lead of Oscar Rivera and Hans Meyer, the statewide Student Social Workers of the Year for 2004 and 2005, respectively. Rivera and Meyer earned their bachelor's degrees at UCF and are currently students in the university's master's degree program in social work.

"The school is extremely proud of these students," said Mary Van Hook, director of theSchoolofSocial Work. "All three have combined academic excellence with a commitment to the service and social justice values of the social work profession."

In recognition of March as National Social Work Month, members of the Central Florida Unit of the NASW Florida Chapter will hold a celebration to recognize the accomplishments of Coral, other social work students and practicing social workers. And at the end of the month, the group will travel toTallahasseeto bring social work issues to the attention of state legislators.

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