- School of Social Work Distinguished Alumni Award (2021)
Lt. Col. Suzanne Awalt was born in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in Michigan City, Indiana where she graduated from Marquette Catholic High School. She completed her undergraduate degree in Sociology in 1968 at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.
After graduation, Suzanne worked for the LaPorte County Department of Public Welfare in Indiana. She was a caseworker for 1.5 years before receiving a U.S. Children’s Bureau stipend to attend graduate school at Indiana University School of Social Work in Indianapolis.
Suzanne earned her MSW in 1971 as part of the first social work class at IUPUI to attend classes and graduate on the newly formed IUPUI campus.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) newsletter provided the impetus for a change in her career path when a recruiting ad for military social workers caught her attention. Both U.S. Army and Air Force were seeking master’s level civilian social workers to augment a growing clinical corps providing services in mental health, substance abuse, and special needs of dependent children. In September 1972, Suzanne accepted a three-year, direct commission and entered the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Captain. Twenty-six years old, she was assigned as the first Social Work Officer at USAF Hospital, Dover AFB Delaware.
Suzanne was later transferred to Travis Air Force Base in Northern California where she served for four years. There, at David Grant Medical Center, she was part of a large mental health department with a multidisciplinary staff including six full-time social workers. During her years at David Grant, Suzanne supervised field instruction for first-and second year MSW students at California State University, Sacramento. The breadth of clinical and administrative opportunities, as well as the lure of continuing education and travel, drove her desire to commit to a Regular commission and an Air Force career. In 1978 she was accepted for Air Force-sponsored doctoral study at the University of California – Berkeley where she received her doctorate degree in Social Welfare in 1982. Her dissertation, “Transition to Parenthood: Predictions of Individual and Marital Stability and Change,” was a prospective study of military couples expecting their first child.
She spent one year at Ankara Air Station, Turkey as Chief of Mental Health Services, before returning to Travis Air Force Base.
Her next stop was a tri-service assignment for a PhD level social worker at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C where she was assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
Suzanne’s husband Roy (who also served with her) retired from his civilian career in 1987 and joined her in Spain for a three-year assignment at Torrejon Air Base outside Madrid. There, she was Chief of the Family Advocacy and Exceptional Family Member Programs and served as the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Command Surgeon Regional Consultant for Family Advocacy Programs for bases in Spain, Greece, and Turkey.
Suzanne retired in 1993 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and took up RVing across the US with her husband for 11 years. In 1993, at her 25th Class Reunion, Dominican University honored Suzanne with the annual Caritas Veritas Award presented to an alumna whose life reflects the University’s motto, Caritas Veritas, a search for truth through charity or service.
Sandy Noe, Development Director at the School of Social Work, said not only has Suzanne been instrumental in initiating and providing consultation for the School of Social Work alumni dinner, she also has supported the School with generous financial gifts over the past decades, which has culminated in her efforts to establish an endowed scholarship at the IU School of Social Work for graduate students with financial need.