School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

You can forgive Trenette Clark Goings if the last five years have been a blur.

Dr. Goings sitting at a table with a book and highlighter, wearing a dark jacket and white blouse.
Dr. Trenette Clark Goings, a 2008 VCU social work graduate, is receiving the Making a Difference Alumni Award.

Life has been so hectic the past couple, in fact, that it’s been impossible even to pin her down to receive an honor. But that’s all about to change.

On Jan. 17, 2020, she will receive VCU School of Social Work’s Making a Difference Alumni Award that goes to a distinguished graduate of the Ph.D. program.

“It’s been a busy five years,” says Goings (Ph.D.’08/SW). “So many major life events, from getting married (husband Randy II) to having two kids 17 months apart to losing my mom unexpectedly. It’s definitely been a whirlwind.”

Goings, who also earned tenure four years ago and is an associate professor in social work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was originally supposed to receive the award in fall 2018 at the Council on Social Work Education’s annual conference. But her son, Randy Goings III, who will turn 2 in January, was still an infant at the time. So the award presentation was shifted to the annual Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Conference in Washington, D.C., in January 2020.

“This will be the first SSWR I have attended in three years. Traveling is challenging when you have toddlers (daughter Taylin is 3) at home. I’m extremely busy, a little sleep-deprived, but full of joy. Some people worry and assume that I work too hard, but I assure them that I have a lot of balance between work and home; there’s no choice,” Goings says with a laugh.

‘I have a lot of gratitude’

A school committee considers nominees for the Making a Difference Alumni Award from graduates who have distinguished themselves in the areas of social work scholarship, education, practice/policy, or service.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Goings says. “I did not know I was being nominated. This will be my first award from VCU. I have a lot of gratitude for the nominator and selection committee.”

VCU social work associate professor Traci Wike, Ph.D., wrote the nomination letter for Goings.

“I attended Trenette’s job talk when I was a doctoral student at UNC and have followed her successes since,” Wike says. “She is an impressive scholar who exhibits so much passion for making a difference through her work. She is an outstanding choice for this award.”

‘Good science plus love’

Goings is a North Carolina native who grew up in a rural community where, she says, she saw the consequences of substance abuse without experiencing it firsthand.

“I grew up in a low-income county,” she says. “It was under-resourced; there was no such thing as a hospital, Boys and Girls Club or summer camp.”

“I think the way I make a difference is by using a strengths perspective in the study of vulnerable populations.”

Trenette Clark Goings

As a result of her childhood, she says, she has focused her research on identifying and preventing racial/ethnic health disparities, and substance abuse among adolescents and young adults of color. She says the foundation for the questions she seeks to answer around prevention and intervention – “what works, and for whom and under what circumstances – started when I was a child. I know firsthand what it means to be raised as an African American child in a largely segregated poor community in the rural South. I have experienced and witnessed many of the risk factors these youth encounter. I am impressed and inspired by their resiliency. I strive to enhance protective factors so more youth can achieve their dreams.”

“I think the way I make a difference is by using a strengths perspective in the study of vulnerable populations. I use theory, evidence and rigorous and ethical methods to study youth and rural issues, both of which are vulnerable populations. I also approach my work with authenticity, humility, and love for my target population. Good science plus love is an equation that makes a difference.

“One of the counties that I am currently working in is a low-income rural community with a high prevalence of substance use, violence and infant mortality. It is an underdeveloped area with fewer resources for youth and adults. In this community, I am partnering with community agencies to prevent substance abuse among adolescents while simultaneously working on a macro level to enhance the county’s capacity to engage in prevention science after my grant ends.”

As a mother, she says, the lives of the children she sees in her research are no less important than her own.

“My work is rewarding because I do see evidence of impact,” she says, “but my greatest joy comes from my family impact. I work hard at work, but I also work hard at home. I’m just trying to produce healthy and happy children. My long-term goal is to prevent substance use among all kids. My hope is that all youth, including my two, have happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Previous award winners

  • Nancy P. Kropf, 2006
  • Audrey D. Jordan, 2008
  • Sheila Crowley, 2010
  • John M. Turner, 2012
  • Jon E. Singletary, 2013
  • Kristina M. Hash, 2016

View a complete list of all VCU social work presentations from #SSWR2020.

Categories Alumni, Awards and honors, Research
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