Dr. Denetria Brooks-James Named 2022 Social Worker of the Year

April 19, 2022

Office of Marketing & Strategic Communications

Dr. Denetria Brooks-James, assistant professor and coordinator for the social work program at San Antonio College, recently won the 2022 Social Worker of the Year award from the Alamo Area Branch of the National Association of Social Workers/Texas.

Denetrai Brooks-James web.jpgOne of her students nominated her for the award, calling Brooks-James “the epitome of leadership in social work.”

“I’ve been doing it for 22 years and I still love it and I’m still passionate about it,” she said. “I love giving back, teaching, being a therapist.”

Brooks-James knew early on she wanted to be in a helping profession. Though she started out as a nurse, the experiences she had with a social worker while being in the foster care system until age 18 helped her identify social work as her true calling.

When she first walked into a counselor’s office four decades ago, she thought “This hocus pocus mumbo jumbo isn’t going to work.” She was shocked when deep breathing and other techniques her counselor taught her made a difference.

“My counselor asked me questions that pierced my soul and allowed me to release my pain, and I realized that’s what I wanted to do for other people,” Brooks-James said. “I use icebergs as a metaphor. So many times we only see the tip of it, we see the smiles and laughter, but we don’t see the pain and vastness underneath.”

She earned a bachelor's degree in social work in 2004 and went on to earn her master's degree in 2006, both from East Tennessee State University.

In addition to being a social worker, she began teaching as an adjunct professor in 2006, then at the university level when a former professor who was retiring asked her to take over. A semester-long commitment turned into 10 years at her alma mater and eventually led her to SAC in 2018.

“I’ve always loved school. I facilitate knowledge, but also receive it. I just learn every day,” she said. “That’s what makes me love teaching as much as I love therapy. Not only do I help people explore their iceberg, I also help them explore other areas of their lives they may not have tapped into.”

Her dedication to helping her students led her to look for additional opportunities for them to continue in the field after completing their associate degrees.

One of Brooks-James’s accomplishments at SAC is creating a pathway for social work students to earn their bachelor's and master’s degrees on campus through a memorandum of understanding with Angelo State University. The program provides geographic and cost benefits to SAC students wishing to pursue their studies. The social work MOU cohort has become a pilot program that other departments are following.

The first social work cohort began in spring 2019 with three students. The fourth cohort starts in fall 2022 with 13 students continuing on to earn higher degrees. Brooks-James is teaching classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

It’s a fitting next step for someone so passionate about their profession.

“I think I live, breathe, sleep and snore social work,” she said. “It’s just part of who I am.”