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Making the room better

Feb. 14, 2024

Story by Cheri Ghan

Kelly Gross
School of Social Work alum Kelly Gross was dedicated to improving the lives of others. As a way of carrying on her ideals and legacy, Kevin Gross started a scholarship in his sister’s honor for MSW students. Photo courtesy of Kevin Gross

Kelly Gross was born to be a social worker. Determined, inquisitive, funny and kind, she focused on improving the lives of others.

Gross, BSW ’13, MSW ’15, died suddenly in 2017 after sustaining a debilitating stroke in 2016. While still early in her social work career, she had already left an imprint on the lives of the clients and patients she served. Her family hopes to carry on her ideals and legacy through a new $2,000 scholarship for School of Social Work graduate students.

Her younger brother Kevin Gross of Dallas, Texas, started the scholarship in his sister’s honor. He said she had an appreciation for everyone, especially older adults. Her social work education and keen knowledge of social welfare policies, particularly Medicare and Medicaid, helped her be an effective advocate at the Columbia nursing facility where she worked.

“She directed the personal care, transportation, meals and housekeeping for many exceptional people,” Kevin Gross said. “She wanted to ensure they were cared for in a way that was meaningful to them and to empower them.”

In addition to her social work degrees, Kelly Gross earned certifications in Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT); Ask Listen Refer, a suicide prevention training program; and Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative Social and Behavioral Research (CITI SBR).

Aaron Thompson, director of the School of Social Work recalls meeting Gross the first time “like it was yesterday.” Thompson was in his first year of teaching at Mizzou in 2014, and Gross was a student in his research methods class. Thompson said Gross always positioned herself in the classroom where she could clearly see and hear him, often staying after class to ask questions. She enjoyed working with the other students and excelled with her detail-oriented assignments.

Kevin Gross and Kelly Gross
Kevin and Kelly Gross celebrate Kelly completing her Master of Social Work from the University of Missouri in 2015. Kevin started a scholarship for MSW students as a way of honoring his late sister. Photo courtesy of Kevin Gross

“She cared about what she was doing, she communicated that in her efforts and actions, she openly and warmly accepted feedback and asked questions, and she worked hard,” Thompson said. “I am sad for all who knew and loved Kelly that she is not in the world with us — she made the room she was in better.”  

Although her family considered a more tangible gift such as a campus bench to honor Kelly, Kevin Gross said he felt the scholarship would be a way to help social work students achieve success and make an impact in their careers, thus benefitting others for years to come.

“Kelly’s life was the School of Social Work’s mission, vision and values, and I want to support that,” he said. “She was never judgmental, always listening, caring, and offered good feedback and advice. Kelly had a great understanding of people and how the world works. She was always my go-to for comfort and advice on difficult things.”

MSW student Brooke Phillips is the inaugural recipient of the Kelly Gross Memorial Scholarship for the 2023-24 academic year. Applications for the 2024-25 academic year are being accepted through Thursday, Feb. 15. The scholarship is awarded each year to one MSW student with established financial need, with preference given to applicants who are interested in working with victims of domestic violence, gun violence or other types of abuse.

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Aaron Thompson

Aaron M. Thompson

Director and Professor, School of Social Work