Student of the Year

Tural MammadliTural Mammadli, MSW

School of Social Work
PhD Student, Class of 2025

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2017, Tural Mammadli decided to steer his career in a different direction: social work. Six years later, he owns a master’s degree from the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) and earns heaps of praise for the impact he’s making while pursuing a doctorate at the school.

“As I went through my undergraduate program, I found myself very interested in the physical and mental health of marginalized communities and how our social environment contributes to health disparities,” said Mammadli, a fourth-year PhD student from Azerbaijan who is the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) 2023 Founders Week Student of the Year. “Social work encapsulated the type of work I was interested in engaging in, given that social workers operate from an interdisciplinary biopsychosocial framework that focuses on the person as a whole, including their environments.”

For three years, Mammadli was a member of the research team of Nalini Negi, PhD, MSW, associate professor, working on projects to build upon his research and skills. He’s now on the research team of Darren L. Whitfield, PhD, MSW, associate professor, focusing on projects aimed at improving the well-being of LGBTQ+ persons of color.

As a research assistant, Mammadli has engaged in mixed-methods data analysis and co-authored papers on the health of minoritized communities including sexual and gender minority (SGM) persons, foreign-born populations, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the SGM community. He has studied the impact of immigration policies and experiences on the mental health and substance use of refugees and immigrants and evidence-based interventions to address their needs.

“Tural is one of the top students I’ve had the honor to work with,” Negi said of Mammadli, who has earned three honors since starting the PhD program: the Donna Harrington Fellowship from UMSSW, the New Investigator Panelist Award from the National Hispanic Science Network, and the Early Career Preventionists Network Award from the Society for Prevention Research. “Even at this early stage in his academic trajectory, Tural’s tireless leadership, advocacy, and service have made a significant contribution to the advancement of his peers, our school, our profession, and UMB. I expect him to continue making a positive difference nationally and globally.”

As former president and a current member of UMSSW’s International Student Association (ISA), Mammadli guides international students and helps them acclimate to the United States. Under his leadership, ISA has conducted events for international students from across UMB to support their professional development and celebrate their cultural diversity. He also is co-chair of UMSSW’s Queer Community Alliance, working to support future LGBTQ+ social workers.

“Tural is a very promising scholar and an incredible leader and friend to other PhD students, especially our students who are new to the United States,” said Bethany Lee, PhD, MSW, professor and director of doctoral and postdoctoral education, UMSSW. “As an immigrant, he experienced firsthand the challenges of being an outsider. His compassion for immigrants led him to ISA, where he connects with prospective international students about life in Baltimore, reaches out to admitted students about what to bring from their countries, and even conducts airport pickups so arriving international students are greeted by a friendly face.”

Mammadli says supporting international students is a team effort, and he is particularly proud of the collaboration that led to an ISA-sponsored panel in spring 2023 that provided international students with postgraduation job-seeking strategies.

“We brought together faculty from across the country who started their academic journeys in the U.S. as international students,” he said. “This event was empowering for international students in our program, as panelists discussed in detail the importance of recognizing and taking advantage of the strengths they possess as international scholars.”

Asked about taking on numerous leadership responsibilities amid a busy academic schedule, Mammadli called it an honor to do so, adding, “I’m grateful to have had the support of our PhD faculty, staff, and students who make it a joy to work in these leadership roles. Although these roles can be time-consuming while being a PhD student, collaboration with dedicated and supportive team members across the School of Social Work makes it all possible.”

As for his work on LGBTQ+ issues, Mammadli says he feels a sense of duty and commitment to serve the community by working to identify and address critical health disparities.

“There has been significant progress in achieving equity in human rights for the LGBTQ+ community over the past couple decades, but we have also seen a significant erosion of basic human rights in the same time frame,” he said. “Whether it be the denial of lifesaving gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary persons, laws criminalizing nonheterosexual or cisgender identities, or the violence against transgender people of color, the oppression of LGBTQ+ communities is a driver of health disparities that continue to hurt the mental and physical well-being of LGBTQ+ communities.”

After learning of his Student of the Year honor from UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, Mammadli says he immediately contacted his parents, partner, and professors to tell them the news.

“I know the UMB Founders Week awards are quite competitive, so it was a bit surreal seeing the email from President Jarrell,” he said. “It was incredibly rewarding to give such good news to people who have been instrumental in my personal and professional development and invested so much time and energy into my success."

Mammadli also thanked Lee, Negi, and Whitfield for their support, as well as UMSSW’s Roderick Rose, PhD, MS, associate professor, and Jen Canapp, academic services specialist for the PhD program. He says his future goals include holding an academic position at a research institution or perhaps one day founding an international center focused on the health and well-being of SGM communities.

“Given that UMB is the home to so many future professionals who aim to improve the world, it was an honor enough to be nominated, let alone be named the winner,” Mammadli said. “I feel especially proud to represent our School of Social Work at the University level. I firmly believe that this achievement also is a reflection of the dedication and care that our School of Social Work faculty and staff invest in its students.”

— Lou Cortina