Social work student creates scholarship to honor former faculty member

Story by Thea Rounsaville

Students at Colorado State University tend to be generous with their time and money: During the 2015-16 academic year, they contributed over 78,000 hours of service through SLiCE (Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement) programs and more than $65,000 to CSU scholarships, programs and services.

Kush Desai, a senior pursuing a degree in social work, is one of the best examples. Desai has always valued service and philanthropy, but this summer he took it to a new level, creating the Dorothy Farrel Public Service Ambassador Scholarship in honor of Dorothy Farrel, a former assistant professor in the School of Social Work who left CSU earlier this year for a position at the University of Nevada, Reno. The scholarship benefits undergraduate social work students who have a demonstrated career interest in supporting the welfare of children, families or those with mental health issues.

kushdesaiFarrel made a significant impression on Desai when he first came to CSU as a transfer student from Creighton University in fall 2014. The transition from a small, private, Jesuit university to a large, public institution was not easy at first. Desai struggled to find his place at CSU, but thanks to the support and encouragement he received from Farrel, he was able to thrive and further develop his passion for social work.

‘Valued and loved’

“There were numerous occasions where Dorothy would speak with me in my darkest moments and make me feel appreciated, valued and loved,” Desai said. “I remember a day when I was really struggling emotionally. Dorothy offered to cancel all of her appointments and sit with me in her office, to just allow me to do my school work and simply to be present with me. To empathize with how I was feeling and validate what I was going through. That’s just who Dorothy was.”

In one of his first classes with Farrel, a practicum course, Desai took on a leadership role as a student facilitator. In addition to helping him build more meaningful relationships with his peers, it allowed him to pay forward the support and mentorship that Farrel had given him. During his time as a facilitator, Desai sometimes worked with students in the social work program who were struggling financially and couldn’t afford the $20 background check required for their practicum.

“Seeing students inspired and motivated to learn and help others — but hindered because of money — was difficult,” Desai said. “I never want to see someone not be able to help others because of financial struggles.”

In addition to the hands-on experience he received in the social work program over the last few years, Desai has devoted a significant amount of time to helping others by volunteering with local charitable organizations. At the Crossroads Safehouse in Fort Collins, Desai served on the Domestic Abuse Response Team, which provides crisis intervention for incidents in which law enforcement is involved. In addition to volunteering at Crossroads, Desai worked for Catholic Charities’ homeless shelter. He said one of the most personally meaningful experiences for him was working with other churches across the country — he even helped arrange for a father to travel to his son’s funeral.

Desai, right, with College of Health and Human Sciences Dean Jeff McCubbin

Goals for the future

In both roles, he has seen many people at the most challenging and vulnerable times in their lives, during which many lose their sense of value and purpose. Desai said he hopes that through a future in social work, he can work one-on-one with people in these types of situations and help them get their lives back on track.

Thanks to the support and encouragement of an invested faculty member and the hands-on experience of helping others when they needed it most, Desai found his place at CSU and his purpose through social work.

“We are very proud of our social work faculty and students,” said College of Health and Human Sciences Dean Jeff McCubbin. “Kush is a shining example of a student who exemplifies College of Health and Human Sciences core values: empathy, support and gratitude.”

Desai said he hopes that by sharing his story, he will inspire others to give back too, in ways that are meaningful for them.

“I feel deeply honored, humbled and privileged to not only honor Dorothy Farrel’s legacy in this way but also to get an opportunity to help future social work students at CSU get the same quality education that has helped mold my professional identity,” Desai said. “I hope this scholarship in some way continues the gift of education for future social work students and provides them with the opportunity to shine their inner light onto those who most desperately need it like Dorothy did so gracefully onto me.”

For more information about giving to this scholarship fund or supporting the School of Social Work in other ways, visit