Edinboro to honor social worker, student leader at annual MLK Awards reception



Rana Elhusseini, Dr. Joseph Laythe Award recipient

Dr. Margaret Smith, an Erie resident and faculty member in Edinboro’s Social Work Department since 2004, and Rana Elhusseini, a standout student-athlete with a passion for helping others, will be honored March 3 during Edinboro University’s 25th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards reception.

Smith will receive the University’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award in recognition of her selfless contributions to social work and unwavering commitment to addressing issues of social justice through research, education and outreach.

Elhusseini, a senior Exercise Science major from Dearborn, Mich., and member of the women’s basketball team, will be presented with the annual Dr. Joseph Laythe Award for her leadership and commitment to fostering a respectful campus environment.

The ceremony and reception are scheduled for 3-4:30 p.m. in Edinboro’s Van Houten Dining Hall – North, 345 Scotland Road.

“This annual ceremony serves as a wonderful opportunity to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to recognize individuals who are living by the principles he championed,” said Dr. Terrence Mitchell, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Edinboro, Clarion and California universities. “Dr. King’s timeless message of respect, justice and service to others is an inspiration to us all.”

SmithSmith, a licensed social worker with more than 40 years of practical experience working with families, children and youth in both public and private social service agencies, has conducted extensive research on the equity and inclusion of children of color in the educational system and the link between achievement and parental engagement. She is also chair of the Board of Trustees for Erie Rise Leadership Academy.

Her most recent project explores the challenges – including homelessness, mental health concerns and food insecurities – facing young adults who are aging out of the foster care system and seeks to address these issues so that they can successfully pursue higher education.

“During the time that I have known Dr. Smith, she has routinely provided opportunities for underserved students and for student education regarding social justice,” Dr. Elaine Rinfrette, associate professor in Edinboro’s Social Work Department, stated in her nomination. “Dr. Smith has worked very hard to address these issues for students in order to clear the way for them to succeed at EU.”

Since joining the Edinboro faculty nearly two decades ago, Smith has taught graduate courses in field education, social diversity and human behavior in the social environment as well as senior-level courses in the Bachelor of Social Work program. She also served as undergraduate field coordinator for 10 years and is involved with Edinboro’s Frederick Douglass Institute, an interdisciplinary, campus-wide body that promotes academic excellence, civic engagement and the understanding and appreciation of human diversity.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Smith holds a Ph.D. in Social Work and a Master of Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Social Work from Temple University.

A graduate of Fordson High School, Elhusseini is a respected student-leader who finds success on and off the basketball court. She was named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West Freshman of the year during the 2019-2020 season, making 24 consecutive starts and averaging 9.6 points a game while maintaining a 3.67 GPA and serving as a mentor in the Student-Athlete Achievement Program.

“Since her first year, Rana has stepped out as a leader on the women’s basketball team, especially in the area of service,” said Dr. Katherine Robbins, director of Edinboro Athletics. “Rana is always looking for ways to serve and give back to others in the Edinboro community and her community in Dearborn, Michigan. She is always taking the lead on team service projects and looking for ways to lead and serve beyond athletics.”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elhusseini organized a food drive that resulted in the collection of more than 1,000 pounds of non-perishable food items for the Edinboro Food Pantry. She also volunteered as a counselor for Edinboro's girls basketball camp and spearheaded a program with Parker Middle School to provide gameday access and experiences for underserved middle school students.

Following a devastating flood in her hometown last summer, Elhusseini volunteered to help clean and remove water from local homes. She also established a girls basketball camp at her alma mater, arranging gym time, creating T-shirts and leading the drills. Proceeds of the camp were used to establish a scholarship fund for female student-athletes.

"Aside from her basketball abilities, her best attribute to our team is how much she cares for people,” said head coach Callie Wheeler. “She has gone above and beyond to make sure people within the community and on our team are cared for. That is a real rarity to see. I am beyond grateful that she is a very special part of our Fighting Scot family."

The Dr. Laythe Award was created in honor of the well-loved EU history professor who died in March 2016 after a courageous battle with cancer.

Since 1997, more than 50 community leaders have been honored with the Edinboro University Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award to celebrate King’s legacy and to honor northwestern Pennsylvania citizens who embody King’s spirit, philosophy and teachings. The Dr. Joseph Laythe Award expands on that tradition by paying tribute to man who, like King, was deeply dedicated to justice.