Social work alumni provide critical care at El Dorado County community health care provider

Sacramento State alums and Marshall Medical Center social workers Amy Buchanan (seated), Janice Curtin (standing, from left), Konnie Brown, Lhia Cassaza, Ray Martinez and Kellie Curnutt.

Just a short drive up Highway 50 from Sacramento State, a dedicated group of Hornets is hard at work helping the residents of El Dorado County navigate some of life’s most difficult situations.

Six Sacramento State alumni and a faculty member, Robin Kennedy, are part of the eight-member social worker staff at Placerville’s Marshall Medical Center, one of around 40 independent, acute-care hospitals remaining in California. And in a largely rural county that has one of the state’s highest populations of elderly individuals, ensuring that patients have ready access to this type of caregiver is increasingly critical.

“We tend to see [patients] at their most vulnerable – physically, mentally, emotionally – and we get the opportunity to be present in that moment with them, find a connection and empower them to figure out where they are going and what they are doing,” says Lhia Casazza, MSW ’96 (Social Work). It can be challenging work, she added, since they must witness many of their patients pass away, but “we get the experience and the opportunity and blessing to be with them and know that we have some sort of impact on their lives, so they know they weren’t alone.”

Other alumni working at Marshall are Konnie Brown ’94, MSW ’03 (Social Work); Amy Buchanan ’04, MSW ’06 (Social Work); Kellie Curnutt ’12, MSW ’14 (Social Work); Janice Curtin, MSW ’13 (Social Work); and Ray Martinez ’14, MSW ’16 (Social Work).

Casazza and Martinez reflect both the overall growth of social work at Marshall and a national trend. When Casazza started at the hospital in 2005, her department didn’t visit the hospital’s emergency room or OB/GYN section. Today, however, she and her colleagues are available to patients throughout the hospital, and Martinez was hired last year as the Marshall Cancer Resource Center’s first full-time social worker. Curtin is an expert in the growing field of palliative care, which focuses on improving the quality of life for patients, and their families, facing advanced illness.

Martinez, who says he always has had a tendency to be the one to bring up difficult topics of conversation, was working as a paralegal in a law office that helped struggling individuals, many of them homeless, obtain social services. That’s when he developed an interest in social work.

“I wanted to understand what’s going on in their minds, and social work gave me a reference point for learning more about what they were dealing with in terms of homelessness, or having appointments to go to, or the lack of support they had to deal with,” he says.

Casazza and Martinez said the classes they took at Sacramento State provided a solid foundation of basic skills, which they were able to put into practice when they had the opportunity to participate in internships while still students. And the University’s location in California’s capital city provided an additional benefit for Martinez.

“[The National Association of Social Workers] has social work lobby days in April, and I went to that one year,” he says. “I learned what it takes to lobby for a bill, to go in front of a legislative aid and talk about a bill what was important to social work.”

The advice they have for current Hornets looking to become social workers? Don’t forget to take care of yourself, especially as you work with patients who are struggling; be sure to network; and advocate for your interests when it comes to internship opportunities.

“As far as the studying for those going through it, hang in there. It’s a lot to go through,” Casazza says. “And be proud when you get there. It’s an accomplishment.

Sacramento State’s Division of Social Work was founded in 1964 and offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs as well as continuing education programs to the professional social work community. Learn more at the division’s website.


Award-winning choreographer and alumna Peggy Hickey profiled in the Sacramento Bee

Hickey_HeadshotIt has been a busy few months for Sacramento State alum and choreographer Peggy Hickey ’83 (Drama). Her first Broadway production, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, is on a national tour and just swung through Sacramento last weekend. She’s currently rehearsing her next show, Anastasia, which opens March 23 in New York. And she also has choreographed the upcoming Broadway adaptation of the film Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion.

But as reported last week in The Sacramento Bee, it’s nothing new for a woman who got her start in theater working at the seven-shows-a-week Music Circus company. A ballet dancer who knew nothing about musicals, Hickey eventually became a theater major at Sacramento State, launching a career that has spanned both coasts and included more than 50 productions across theater, TV, film and opera.

Hickey’s awards include an MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography for her work on Grammy Award-winner Beck’s “The New Pollution,” and two Connecticut Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Choreography, for Brigadoon and On the Twentieth Century.

Read more about Hickey in the Sacramento Bee.

The Sac State alum behind the world’s smartest arena

When visitors to the new Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento gaze upward at the massive, ultra-high-definition scoreboard or effortlessly post a selfie over the wireless network that can handle more than 250,000 Instagram pictures per second, they can thank Ryan Montoya, the chief technology officer for the Sacramento Kings and a proud graduate of […]

When visitors to the new Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento gaze up at the massive, ultra-high-definition scoreboard or effortlessly post a selfie over the wireless network that can handle more than 250,000 Instagram pictures per second, they can thank Ryan Montoya, the chief technology officer for the Sacramento Kings and a proud graduate of Sacramento State’s Executive MBA program.

Montoya’s vision and work have resulted in an arena that has been hailed as one of the world’s smartest and most technologically advanced. His responsibilities with the Kings include providing direction and managing the team’s new technology and innovation strategies to enhance the fan experience and improve the team’s performance.

“We’re not only connecting our fans to each other, but we’re connecting our fans to the city and the city to the world,” he says.

Sacramento State already has made history at Golden 1 Center. In November, the men’s basketball team faced UC Davis in the arena’s first college game. On May 19-20, the facility was the site of more Sacramento State memories when it hosted the University’s Spring Commencement ceremonies.

Golden 1 Center’s debut last year represented an exciting personal milestone for Montoya. “What an amazing day!” he posted on Sac State’s Instagram (@sacstate) while starting a guest takeover of the account during the center’s opening weekend, Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Sharing one photo on Instagram, he wrote, “Golden 1 Center looks even more beautiful at night. I’ve worked on this project for the last three years, and I have never been more #sacramentoproud than today.”

As the chief technology officer for the Sacramento Kings, Ryan Montoya, seen here in the Kings’ practice facility, is responsible for keeping Golden 1 Center’s state-of-the-art technology infrastructure up and running. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Like any good CTO, Montoya was excited to share images of the new center’s state-of-the-art internet infrastructure (“over 1,000 miles of structured cabling and 2,100 gig pipes” with “enough capacity to accommodate 250k Instagrams a second”) and the “world’s largest indoor scoreboard” with the “first ultra HD #4K” hanging over center court of the basketball arena.

A native of Colorado, Montoya received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in international studies/security from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver before earning his MBA at Sacramento State. He began his career as an aide to President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and two Cabinet secretaries.

He credits the Executive MBA program with helping him to become a smarter and more effective leader.

“I not only learned the framework I needed to be a better person, but I also learned some of the core skills that are needed to take an organization or a company to the next level,” he says.