Letters of Recommendation

March 14, 2012
Stuart A. Kirk, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Distinguished Professor and Marjorie Crump Endowed Chair, UCLA

I have been Ms. Alejandra Acuña’s academic advisor for about three years, since she began our PhD program. During this time I have met with her regularly, reviewed the progress of her work, and offered advice about the shape and direction of her emerging research interests. I have worked with many doctoral students over the last two decades and Chaired the Doctoral Program for about 8 years.

She received an MSW degree from UC Berkeley in 1996 with a concentration in Children and Families and a specialization in Families, Individuals and Groups. In addition to the MSW, she earned a Pupil Personnel Services Credential in School Social Work. She has been a licensed clinical social worker since 2005. Prior to entering our program, Ms. Acuña had more experience as a practicing social worker and as a participant in applied research projects than almost all of our doctoral students. For example, she worked in public health promotion, program management and child welfare for 20 years and as a school social worker since 1998.

Her research interests include the impact of parenting behaviors on children’s resilience in the face of traumatic experiences. In her graduate work, she is exploring the patterns among attachment security, parent-child communication and posttraumatic resilience. She is interested in the mechanisms of posttraumatic resilience at all levels – individual, family, and community. In addition, she has been examining the potential of testing the effectiveness of cultural and traditional healing practices on posttraumatic resilience and other mental health problems.

One highlight of her endeavors is that she is taking a public health approach to improving mental health in response to the overwhelming mental health needs of low-income ethnic urban youth and their families. Social marketing is becoming an important process and technology for changing behavior on the community level. Her dissertation proposal (in progress) will study the relationship of both research-based and community defined protective factors on children’s resilience after trauma. Her overall objective is eventually to develop and test a social marketing campaign in schools that promotes behaviors that enhance the functioning of ethnic minority youth.

Her career objectives are to seek an academic position, allowing her to continue working on her research agenda of broadening the approach to social intervention. Since entering the doctoral program she has been concerned about the future of social work education and about the need for developing fruitful ways of utilizing research findings to improve interventions, both on a clinical and broader scale. I suspect that she will have little difficulty finding an assistant professorship when she receives the PhD.

In watching her development for several years, I have been very impressed with her enthusiasm for academic work and research. This is uncommon among students who have spent many years as practitioners. In Ms. Acuña’s case, her practice experience has energized her, not to abandon the practice arena, but to strive to improve it. She is able to work on multiple projects simultaneously and often proposes avenues of research that would require years of sustained efforts, and are more ambitious than many of our students would contemplate. For example, on more than one occasion, she has met with me to review a possible research project, only in her case she brings in three related significant possibilities and asks me if she can do them all.

Ms. Acuña is a very diligent and hard-working student who is committed to improving school-based interventions by creatively using new technologies and approaches. She has a wealth of practical experience and an enthusiasm for academic work that is very promising. I highly recommend her for a Graduate Research Mentorship Program Fellowship.

October 24, 2013
Vanessa N. Hernandez, M.S.W.

It has come to my attention that Alejandra Acuña is currently seeking employment. I have been her student in the following two courses: Empowerment and Recovery in Mental Health and Advance Practice III Capstone: Children, Youth, Women, and Families. As an alumni of Cal State Los Angeles’s School of Social Work, I believe Alejandra would be an asset to any team and it is my privilege to recommend her.

Over the course of the 2012 school year, I was awed at her ability to create an egalitarian environment where students were empowered to voice their opinions, aspirations, and interests. Seemingly effortlessly, Alejandra was able to address an array of concentrations, interests, and current events with the fundamentals of social work. She possesses a passion and commitment to reminding students to approach each client with dignity and unconditional positive regard. I was most impressed with her eclectic approach to mental health in combining current techniques with ancestral traditions of different cultures.

Alejandra’s teaching methods are truly refreshing. As a clinician and a professor, she fills a much needed gap between theory and practice. Armed with an abundance of articles, books, and research, Alejandra’s students develop a thirst for creating evidence based treatment plans. The structure of her courses includes not only her own extensive knowledge of social work, but also an impressive network of professional colleagues to lead presentations in their area of expertise. I am inspired by her constant search for trainings, presentations, and research to learn the most effective evidence based practices for her clients and students.

In summary, I strongly believe Alejandra Acuña would excel as an assistant professor and any student would leave her class prepared to face the challenges of working with any client. 

December 4, 2001
Alexandra Carlos, BSW student, Member of Phi Kappa Phi, CSULA

The intention of this letter is to uphold the strengths of Ms. Alejandra Acuña as an excellent instructor at Cal State University, Los Angeles.  I have had the utmost pleasure of being in her Social Work 476: Child Welfare class in the Fall 2001 quarter and I would like to comment that this class has been truly beneficial to my overall academic experience in the CSU system.  Ms. Acuña has shown such passion in her profession, her experiences are truly remarkable and mere words could not express the amount of knowledge and insight that she has given me this past quarter and how fortunate I am as a student to partake in her truly motivating teaching skills.

Ms. Acuña's tests were reflective of the course material; her lectures were extremely valuable and the manner in which they were presented allowed me to think like a social worker; and there was always the allowance of a student's insight on any given topic that was being or had been presented.  Other strengths include fairness of grading; flexibility; guest speakers who are or were working in the field; and the pure energy and excitement that she put into each and every class.  Ms. Acuña is definitely an asset to the School of Social Work and I feel that her presence as a professor at CSULA will truly enhance the education of future students.

May, 2003
Roxanna Aguilar-Flores, MSW, CSULA
Regional Administrator, Los Angeles County DCFS

My first year MSW field placement was at an elementary school.  I cannot say I was prepared for the intensity of the experience.  However, I have to say that it was an extremely valuable experience that will stay with me forever, primarily because of my field instructor, Alejandra Acuña (AKA Alex).  She went beyond the call of duty for all the Hooper interns, including me.  There are few words that can convey what I want to say about Alex but will do my best.

From day one, she gave us the tools we needed to navigate through our environment.  She encouraged and expected our involvement in the school community but also in the surrounding community.  Her guidance never faltered and no matter what the situation, she provided feedback and resources we could use. She was always consistent and thorough.

Alex provided constant individual and group supervision.  During supervision, she presented stimulating topics of conversation and encouraged everyone's participation.  She brought speakers, videos, and various learning material that we could incorporate into our work with clients.  However, she also stimulated our professional growth by respectfully asking and encouraging us to look within ourselves, our own issues, values and feelings and to examine how they get played out in our work with our clients and to think about how we may use them effectively.  I had never been challenged to do that.  I found that to be one of the most powerful aspects of my learning.

Alex has a clear understanding of social work ethics and puts them into practice.  In my six years of social work field experience, she is one of the few social workers I can honestly say models what we hear about and learn about in our social work courses.  She is devoted to the field of social work and her enthusiasm for it shows in the work that she does with the interns and with the clients.  Her peers and other professionals respect her and look to her for advice, guidance, suggestions, consultation, etc. This is very telling about the kind of professional she is.

Alex never failed to look at strengths before addressing weaknesses.  That not only empowered me as an intern, a learner, and a professional but it helped me to begin to look at my clients in the same way and in turn empower them.  Overall, I most admire Alex for her personal and professional strength.

She is a role model for outstanding social work practice and I am proud that she represents a profession I am so passionate about.  I wholeheartedly believe that she deserves to be recognized as best field instructor for 2002/2003.

2001 - present
CSULA Course Evaluation Comments

  • Awesome!!!
  • Awesome teacher!!
  • Wish I had taken more than just one class with you during my tenure in this program.
  • Acuna did a great job engaging the class.  Great use of interventions.
  • Thank you for believing in us, for empowering us and teaching us to first love ourselves.  Love you back!
  • This class has been without a doubt the most eye opening in the past two years.  The professor did an awesome job in engaging, motivating and inspiring us to continue learning and growing both professionally and personally.  Best professor in MSW program.
  • Great class!  I really enjoyed our lectures!  Thank you Professor Acuna!
  • Very knowledgeable and engaging.
  • I enjoy your instruction.  Great and professional Professor.  You’re great.  Thanks.
  • It was an honor to have had a Latina Professor.  I am so proud of you.  You taught me so much in terms of taking care of myself.  Thank you.
  • She is very knowledgeable and supportive.  One of the best professors I’ve had in the MSW program.
  • Professor Acuna is very insightful and it was a pleasure to have her as a professor.
  • Professor Acuna is very insightful and a wonderful professor.  She is very knowledgeable and truly a pleasure to be in the classroom with.
  • In the beginning I did not enjoy the instructor’s method of teaching by having classmates summarize the articles.  However, once we voiced what we wanted as a class, the class took a dramatic change for the better!
  • Prof. Acuna was an excellent professor.  She was flexible, knowledgeable, and available.  I really enjoyed that she brought in speakers on topics we requested.
  • Always available to students.  Allowed students to give feedback during quarter which was more effective than asking about ways to change it next year.
  • Great course, you should teach more practice classes.  I feel I would have learned a lot more throughout the 2 years.
  • Personally, I enjoyed the high energy/storytellingBeautiful, radiant, warmest soul in this program.  I'm so grateful for the passion, confidence, and challenges she shared.
  • Professor Acuna was one of the most effective professors I had in the past 2 years.  I appreciated the way she checked in early in the quarter to see what our needs were.  I thoroughly enjoyed and was inspired by the guest speakers.
  • I really appreciated the way you organized the class and let us decide how we would like to organize the class; helping to fill in the gaps in what we hadn't learned.
  • The most interesting, fun, informative course I've taken in 2 years.
  • Just want you to know that I appreciated all the cursing you did in class!!! So many professors do not show that part of themselves. It helped me feel better about how I usually was thinking trying to manage a full time job, 20 hours a week of internship, two days of school, term papers, reading assignments and being a single mother. I thought I was going to lose my mind!! You helped me feel better about how I was feeling during that time-----Thank you!! By the way, in my 3 years in graduate school, you are one of my top 3 best professors. I also know all of our 3 year cohort really liked you a lot. Your style, and very down to earth!! Thank you!!!!!!
  • "Thank you for the life and energy you brought to the classroom."
  • "I think your assignments were so rewarding from a personal standpoint, and it's definitely going to help me tremendously going forward. Aside from that, your storytelling teaching style really resonates with me and your lessons just tend to stick in my mind."
  • "I enjoyed your class - you were a breath of fresh air."
  • "Your class has enlightened me and your passion is contagious."
  • "Thank you so much for sharing countless valuable tools with the class. Your speech, energy, blog... are very inspirational to me."
  • Thank you for a great class experience.  I enjoyed my Tuesday evenings =)  I really appreciate your enthusiasm and open-mindedness.
  • "I really appreciate the energy and enthusiasm you brought to the class." 
  • "Thank you very much for such a great class. I really do hope CSULA keeps you as a professor because you are very good at teaching. I learned a lot from you this quarter, you fall under the top 5 best professors I have ever had. I love the passion you have for this work, I really got that the most important thing I can do is understand the social work process and really understanding the clients I work with. I am also interested in having you for my clinical supervisor once I begin to work on my hours for my LCSW."
  • "Thank you for a great class, the assignments were really helpful, especially the five diagnosis one, I think I'm going to do more by myself on my own time, it's easy to remember and understand."
  • "She is an outstanding teacher.  I'm really glad I took this class with her.  She made the lectures interesting and she brought in guest speakers that really helped.  I would recommend her to others."
  • "I really enjoyed Ms. Acuña's passion for her work.  I appreciate that a good grade in her class was not easy! I worked hard and learned much."
  • "Ms. Acuña was an excellent teacher.  She made class enjoyable.  Lectures were never boring, yet they were insightful and made me appreciate the class."
  • "This is the second time I take a class with Ms. Acuña, she is very interesting, knowledgeable, and enforces a student to think critically.  I would definitely take her again."
  • "Ms. Acuña is clear and effective in presenting the objective of the course.  She is an excellent speaker who gives examples with every case scenario.  Ms. Acuña is the best teacher I've had thus far at Cal State.  I have learned abundantly!  I highly recommend Ms. Acuña to teach future courses -- she is great!"
  • "She is not only a great teacher but she is also teaching from her heart."
  • "It is always nice to have a professor who is passionate about the subject matter.  It makes learning that much more fun!"
  • "She was really great.  She integrated legal, clinical, macro, micro level cases in her lectures.  She seems very dedicated to students.  She motivates us and makes us want to learn more."
  • "I feel that Professor Acuña is a breath of new fresh air and it has been a pleasure learning from her."
  • "Ms. Acuña is very enthusiastic, informative, considerate, and wonderful teacher.  I really enjoyed all her lectures and I believe she should teach a lot more courses for beginning social work majors.  Thank you and I hope to be in your classes in the future."
  • "I really enjoyed Ms. Acuña.  She was very informative in her teaching and enjoyable to learn from.  Her method of teaching made all the information easy to understand and remember.  I would love to see her teach here again, as I would recommend her to my peers."
  • "Professor Acuña was truly my best teacher while being here at Cal State LA.  She was motivated and inspired me to come to class and be involved and learn as much as I possibly could from her.  I felt a connection that she made with the entire class and she was very informative and I can honestly say that I would love to have her for another class in the future.  I look forward to taking another class with her."
  • "Loved her energy, the class and looking forward to next quarter."
  • "Thank you so much for being so instrumental in my feedback this quarter...You're an exceptional professor!"
  • "I've learned the most I've learned in this program in this class.  Acuna has so much practical knowledge, she is very inspiring and encouraging of our development as social workers.  Lover her class!"
  • "Acuna keeps it real, keeps it genuine.  Learned more in this class than any other.  Keep up the heart, keep up the passion, you reached me and you've made a difference.  Thanks."
  • "Thank you for being so supportive and understanding.  I really enjoyed this class and feel I have gained so much information and tools that will help me be a better social worker.  This was a great learning experience."
  • "For the first time, the professor helped me to be in touch with myself.  I got the strength to begin working on bettering myself because of this professor.  Thank you for giving me the courage."

December 7, 2010
Rocio Limon Graciano, LCSW
Psychiatric Social Worker, Los Angeles Unified School District

“Alejandra is the epitome of professional and compassionate social work. She is a dynamic clinician, case worker, colleague, instructor, speaker, consultant, mentor and friend. Alejandra was my SW instructor during the summer of 2008.

I was encouraged by my supervisor to take the course in order to obtain my PPSC, but hesitated to do so for almost 6 years. However, when I learned that Alejandra was going to teach the course I immediately responded and signed up. Alejandra taught me the essence of Social Work in Schools. Prior to taking the course, I believed that I was carrying out my scope as one should in a school setting, afterall I had been practicing social work for almost 10 years. Well, I learned that I was doing a great job of responding to studens' needs on a micro level, but I'd forgotten to address the mezzo and macro needs of the school and its community. Alejandra taught me to look beyond my scope as a clinicial social worker and expand my lens and truly understand school social work. I learned to value the power of consultation, collaboration, program development, triage and advocacy.

Alejandra's style in the classroom is similar to her style in 1:1 contact, presentations, and friendly encounters - she remains genuine, authentic and compassionate. She exudes confidence, and though everyone that knows her agrees that she is one of the most talented and brightest social workers in our department, she remains humble and approachable. She is well liked and respected by all. Her presence, makes me want to expand beyond my comfort level, and all that's needed to ignite the passion is her warm smile, a wink, and a few words of encouragement. She is a gem!”

January 30, 2011
Valeska Cosci, LCSW
Psychiatric Social Worker, Los Angeles Unified School District

“I had the pleasure of taking a Social Work in Schools Course at UCLA with instructor, Alejandra Acuna. Alejandra is easily one of the most knowledgeable and exemplary professionals I have come across. Her enthusiasm for Social Work, gift for caring and compassion to help others is evident in her ability to mentor and teach up and coming professionals what it means to be a Social Worker. Having already been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with some experience under my belt, I have learned a great deal from her and have improved my own clinical skills as a result of this course. A combination of solid knowledge, her pursuit of educational growth and dedication to the field of Social Work are a model for future Professional Social Workers.”

October 10, 2011
Gerry Lavina, LCSW
Field Liaison, Social Welfare Department, UCLA
Described Acuña's Top qualities: Personable, Expert, High Integrity

“My work with Ms. Acuna has been when she has acted as a Field Instructor, guest lecturer, and class instructor for UCLA MSW students. Her work is always of the highest quality, and students have consistently given her the highest ratings possible. I appreciate her ability to "start-with-the-client" and to quickly understand what is needed for each student and/or situation. She is the best!”

October 12, 2011
Rosalia Renteria, MSW

“Alejandra was and continues to be a great example of a strong, confident, and empathic woman. I had the privilege of having her as an instructor at CSULA and was so pleased to find that she not only exemplified the meaning of a true social worker but also recognized the importance of establishing and maintaining relationships with other individuals who share a common cause. Her energy, passion, and warm heart continuously allowed us to grow as students while teaching us to embrace the true values of social work. I walked out of that "Women's Issues" course feeling empowered and confident that I too, could one day become a successful and effective social worker. Thank you Alejandra for your contribution to my education.”

December 4, 2011
Lauren Maher, MSW
Psychiatric Social Worker, Los Angeles Unified School District

“I have had the pleasure of being supervised by Alex in an intern and beginning social worker capacity. She was very clear in her belief that school social work encompasses working with the child and the parent, and was an excellent supervisor in recommending ways to engage those with the power in family relationships, to value research and data, to collaborate freely, to push myself to try new methodologies, and to examine the barriers to good social work practice. Alex is extremely well read and uses current research to drive her practice, which in turn drove my own learning and knowledge. She is a joy to work with and I am grateful for the opportunity to have learned from her.”

June, 2013
MSW (Social Work) Interns

"Alex, thank you for everything.  You are an amazing teacher.  I have learned so much from you."

"Alex, thank you so much for being such an amazing field instructor.  You reminded me everyday of what an exemplary social worker should be!  I can't thank you enough for all the lessons learned.  You will always hold a very special place in my heart."

"There are people who come into our lives and change them.  I cannot tell you how many times I've bragged about you and what an amazing individual you are.  I am always blown away by your intelligence and ability to captivate.  I hope to continue running into you.  Thank you."

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