SSWAA Board Members

Get to know your SSWAA Board.

Terra (Kern) Schaller currently serves as the President of the University of Illinois School  of Social Work Alumni Association. She graduated from the MSW program in 2011 with a concentration in Mental Health. Terra is currently a mental health therapist for Tazwood Center for Wellness in Pekin, IL (outside Peoria, IL). She provides mental health services to area community members. Terra has also served children and families involved in child welfare system prior to her current position.

Carie Bires serves as Past President of the University of Illinois School of Social Work Alumni Association. She graduated from the MSW program in 2009 with a concentration in Advocacy, Leadership, and Social Change. Carie is currently a Policy Manger with the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Illinois Policy Team, where she focuses primarily on issues related to homelessness, child welfare, and child care. She resides in Chicago with her husband and two cats.

Kris Koester is currently the Vice President of the University of Illinois School of Social Work Alumni Association. He graduated from the MSW program in 2012 with a concentration in Advocacy, Leadership, and Social Change. Kris is currently the Administrative Services Manager & Public Information Officer for the City of Champaign Public Works Department. He is responsible for the teams who conduct customer service, finance, parking, and recycling functions, in addition to managing public communications. Prior to entering the MSW program, Kris was the Director of Administrative Services for the Florida Region of One Hope United. Kris is originally from Champaign, where he currently resides with his lovable six year old dog, Fallon.

Eric Forte serves as the Advancement Liaison for the SSWAA. Eric’s interests have followed the fields of education and employment.  He spent 18 years in colleges and universities, including 10 years in admissions at UIC/Jane Addams College of Social Work and 4 years in student services at the University of Houston-Downtown campus.  For the last 10 years Eric has been with the Illinois Dept. of Employment Security, doing unemployment claims and claims adjudication. Eric says, “My education and experiences have helped me understand how individuals, businesses and institutions interact in society, and I believe I have a unique perspective of how we should balance these interactions to promote a productive society.”

Michele Gallardo is a two time graduate from the University of Illinois having received her Bachelor’s in Sociology in 2001 and Master’s in Social Work, with a concentration in school social work, in 2003. She worked as a school social worker in the south suburbs of Chicago for over 12 years.  Currently, Michele is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Field Education Office at the University of Illinois School of Social Work.  Her primary role is focused on working with students in the school social work focus area.  She is responsible for assisting the students in obtaining their field placements, as well as, educating them both inside and outside of the classroom while completing their internships.  Michele is also very involved in Special Olympics and serves on several committees within the organization.

Jessica Harms serves as the Continuing Education Chair for the SSWAA. She is an MSW graduate who concentrated in Mental Health. She currently works as a therapist in Urbana at Ascend, Consultation in Healthcare, which specializes in the treatment of disordered eating. She provides psychotherapy for many other mental health issues as well.

Leanna Garcia is a two-time graduate of the University of Illinois having received her Bachelor’s in Psychology in 2011 and Master’s in Social Work (with a concentration in mental health) in 2013.  She obtained her LCSW in the spring of 2016 and is currently working as a therapist in a group private practice.  Leanna specializes in working with adolescents, young adults, and families predominately with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and life transitions.  She lives just north of Chicago and enjoys staying in contact with her MSW friends who are now all over the country.

Grace Mitchell is an MSW graduate with a concentration in Children, Youth, and Family Services and School Social Work.  She is the Executive Director of Family Advocacy in Champaign County. Prior to joining Family Advocacy, Grace served as a school social worker for Urbana Schools for 34 years.

Rachael Dietkus, LCSW has been a member of the University of Illinois School of Social Work Alumni Association since 2015. She graduated from the MSW program in 2010 with a concentration in Advocacy, Leadership, and Social Change. Rachael is currently the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the University of Illinois School of Social Work where she focuses primarily on admissions, recruitment, and solutions concerning student well-being and academic success. Prior to joining the team at the School, Rachael was the Health Care for Homeless Veterans Coordinator at VA Illiana. She resides in Urbana with her husband Steve and daughter Vivian.

Carlos Evans serves on the Mentoring committee. He graduated from the U of I in 2012 with his MSW with a concentration in School Social Work. He currently lives and works in Peoria IL. He works as a school based social worker at a Kindergarten- Seventh grade school. He resides with his wife Shacorrah, son Carlos III and two dogs Bella & O’rio.

Celene Peurye-Hissong is a member of the SSWAA board and received her BA in Political Science and Masters in Social Work from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She was recognized as the 2013 Chicago Illini of the Year. Celene is the Executive Director of the Hunter Family Foundation and principal of Focused Philanthropy, a corporate social responsibility and philanthropy advisory firm serving corporations and family foundations. Previously Celene has served as the Executive Director of The Baxter International Foundation, Vice-President of the United Airlines Foundation, Executive Director of the Fel-Pro/Mecklenburger Foundation and on a variety of professional and nonprofit boards and committees. Currently she is on the Professional Advisory and Alumni Councils of the Chicago Foundation for Women; a member of Forefront (formerly Donors Forum), the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers and Exponent Philanthropy. She is the mother of three sons and lives with her husband in Wilmette, Illinois.

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