Social Work & Criminal Justice Gives Longtime FAU Supporter Barb Schmidt an Unforgettable Surprise

Tuesday, Feb 01, 2022
Social Work & Criminal Justice Gives Longtime FAU Supporter Barb Schmidt an Unforgettable Surprise

Robin Rubin, MSW, instructor in the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, recently attended a charity auction for Ruth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services. One of the items up for auction was a powerful, haunting and deeply moving painting by Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver, who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the Parkland shooting in 2017.

The painting, entitled I Wish I Was Here is part of Mr. Oliver’s collection produced as part of the “Change the Ref” movement he and his wife, Patricia, founded to promote awareness of gun safety and eradicate gun violence. As an engaged member of the community and a proud social worker, Rubin felt a real connection and response to this piece.

“I knew that the Sandler School had social work students assigned to Stoneman Douglas and on site for their required field hours during the shooting,” Rubin said. “I knew these same students had been some of the first responders to step in, draw on their social work skills in the realest of real time, and help the Parkland students and their families begin to process the immediate trauma they had just experienced.”

Step one was being named highest bidder. Step two was figuring out the best way for the painting to have a home at FAU so that our students, faculty and staff could experience it. That’s when Rubin, Dr. Heather Thompson, director of the Sandler School of Social Work; and Dr. Naelys Luna, dean of the College of Social Work & Criminal Justice, put their heads together to come up with a plan. They brainstormed about how to house the painting so it would be preserved and protected, but even more importantly, so that it would be seen.

“This work needed to be experienced in a meaningful, lasting way and within a context that honored the raw emotions it exudes from its canvas,” Luna said. “Its home must be able to amplify the artist’s voice to a larger audience.”

barb schmidt fellowship

(L-R) Dean Horswell, Barb Schmidt, Dr. Heather Thompson, and Dean Luna

Photography by Gina Fontana, Photographic Services Inc.

Enter the Barb Schmidt Fellowship, founded by Barb Schmidt, author, meditation teacher, and long-time supporter of Florida Atlantic University. According to its website, “the fellowship aims to provide student leaders with a platform to develop the skills and knowledge needed to initiate, execute, and sustain a social movement.”

Rubin, Luna and Thompson soon realized that the beautiful art galleries within the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts & Letters, and more specifically the Barb Schmidt Fellowship, would make the perfect home for the painting, particularly since our colleges share a deeply rooted commitment to social change and social justice.

“Mr. Oliver’s art is the outward and visible expression of a blazing fire within, and he intends for it to spark change,” Thompson said.

On Saturday, January 29, 2022, Rubin, Luna and Thompson surprised Schmidt during a Schmidt Fellowship meeting in the Ritter Art Gallery and gifted the painting in honor of her passionate and tireless activism for peace. The Olivers were also in attendance and, after the ceremony, shared an unforgettable presentation to the student fellows about the timeline of the “Change the Ref” movement, offering invaluable guidance the students can now take and incorporate into their own initiatives.

barb schmidt fellowship

As Dr. Kelly Shannon, director of the Peace, Justice and Human Rights Initiative (PJHR) which houses the Schmidt Fellowship, told the students during the ceremony: “After so many generations who have strived for change, we believe your generation will be the ones to see it come alive.”

To see I Wish I Was Here, visit the Ritter Art Gallery on the FAU Boca Raton campus during the “Teaching the Object” exhibition (through March 5), curated by Dr. Karen Leader, associate professor of Art History and director of the Schmidt Fellowship. As part of the university’s permanent collection, the painting will be housed in PJHR once the exhibition concludes.

View event photos