King University Student Receives State Honor

Jun 14, 2021 | King University

BRISTOL, Tenn., June 14, 2021 — King University student Joseph Harrigan was recently named the winner of the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Student of the Year Award by the Tennessee Chapter of the National Association of Social Work (NASW). 

The chapter award was presented virtually on March 31 during the NASW’s 2021 Social Work Day on the Hill in Nashville, an annual event designed to inform Tennessee legislators about the important work performed by social workers across the state. Harrigan was nominated for the honor by the Northeast branch of the NASW-TN after he was granted the same award on the regional level.

A native of Kingsport, Tennessee, Harrigan graduated May 1, 2021, after completing King’s online BSW program with a GPA of 4.0. During his time as a student, he was a member of Chi Omega, the King University chapter of Phi Alpha Honor Society, and an active member of the Social Work Action Group. He was presented with the Jane Addams Social Work Student of the Year Award and the Chi Omega Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award, along with the second-place prize for the Patty Gibbs-Wahlberg Scholarship through Phi Alpha.

Harrigan’s path to pursuing a vocation in social work has been long and arduous. After growing up in extreme poverty and experiencing several traumatic events during his childhood, he successfully overcame depression and anxiety with the help of a clinical social worker, which helped him develop a deep compassion for others experiencing similar issues. After graduating high school, this empathy led him to work as a caregiver and a certified nursing assistant (CNA), where he found healing in service to others.

Harrigan enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 27, and his unit was deployed to the Tohuku region of Japan to help provide relief for the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which cemented his desire to provide care to others in need. Following his honorable discharge from the Navy, he was hired as a case officer for community corrections, where he worked to provide former prisoners with resources for mental and emotional health, addiction, education, and steps toward independence and healing. During this time, he also discovered a personal desire to become a social worker.

“All in all, I believe that my strengths are born of weakness,” Harrigan said. “I truly believe that, as long as I can show compassion and love to those who hurt, struggle, and know pain, I am where I need to be. I want to be an example of Christ’s love, of change, of hope, and shine a light into the same shadows which once held me.”

Because his fiancée is a citizen of Bulgaria and could not obtain a U.S. visa, Harrigan chose to remain overseas, and changed his plans from pursuing his studies in-person at King to enrolling in the University’s online BSW program. While living in Bulgaria, he has worked in refugee camps with populations fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, assisting them with housing, food, clothing, education, and language skills. He has also worked with the Romani population in Bulgaria and was able to set up an outreach ministry at his church for one of their largest communities.

“For Joseph, social work is more than just a degree; it’s a calling,” said Jodi Helbert, Ph.D., associate professor and social work program coordinator at King’s School of Health and Professional Services. “His love for Christ is clear, and his personal story of redemption and resilience is powerful. He has demonstrated leadership in our program and in the field, and understands that knowledge surrounding policies and legislation dictates how we engage and support our clients. He’s an ambassador for King and the social work profession as he works to achieve academic excellence while also serving as the hands and feet of God in this world.”

For more information about King’s social work program, visit Additional information about King University is available at



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