Responding to the profession's challenges

By Deborah Gorman-Smith

News Type
SSA Magazine (Archive)


Deborah Gorman Smith smiling at the camera

SSA was built with a pioneering spirit, by visionary women, who imagined a better world, and reimagined the profession. They knew that change could only happen through rigorous research to guide practice and policy. They expanded the instructional space and elevated SSA into the national conversation and into national policy making. Nearly every day, I see how we are building on SSA’s history of innovation through our research, curriculum, and programs—locally, nationally, and globally. And as I’ve met more members of the SSA community, I am struck by the depth of experience at SSA and by how much—and how much more—we can accomplish as a School.

We are thinking ambitiously to respond to these opportunities. To enhance our program offerings, we will offer classes—for the first time this summer—for the Advanced Standing Program. This revamped program is designed for outstanding students who have graduated from an accredited baccalaureate social work program within the past five years. We will welcome 25 new students to the program this summer. We also have an increased presence in the College, with SSA faculty teaching five new undergraduate courses this year and increasing that number next academic year. These courses respond to undergraduate interest in studying issues that can prepare them for work and lives that address many of society’s most pressing challenges.

Because social work is ever-evolving, we constantly reevaluate the dynamics affecting the profession. In January, Samuel Deutsch Professor Mark Courtney organized and led a symposium at the Society for Social Work and Research Annual Meeting to reflect on the state of scholarship, and the profession itself, in the core areas of the profession of social work, including key issues that require nimble thinking, new tools, and nuanced solutions so we can continue to enact meaningful change.

Our conversation about SSA’s urban initiatives—one of SSA’s strategic priorities—continues as we explore research and solutions affecting our communities. In November, SSA hosted the 2nd National Conference of the Smart Decarceration Initiative, which attracted more than 1,500 participants. This conference, led by Smart Decarceration Initiative co-founders and co-directors Matt Epperson, SSA Associate Professor, and Carrie Pettus-Davis, Assistant Professor, Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis, advanced innovative solutions to reduce incarceration rates in ways that are effective, sustainable, and socially just. Angela S. García, Yanilda María González, and Marci Ybarra also are partnering with the City of Chicago to evaluate the effects of Chicago’s CityKey municipal identification program.

On the global stage, SSA, Peking University (PKU), and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) continue to work together to foster professional social work education and research in China. As part of the China Collaboration, Professor Robert Chaskin led 22 students (7 each from PKU and PolyU, and 8 from SSA) in an intensive China Winter Institute. At the conclusion of the Winter Institute, I traveled to Hong Kong for a reception with students, lead donor Anna Pao Sohmen, EX ’68, and UChicago friends to celebrate our collaboration and discuss our research exploring the impact of urbanization in rural and urban China.

And in this issue of the magazine, we look at other faculty-led efforts, including a groundbreaking research project on youth homelessness developed with Chapin Hall and led by associate professor Gina Samuels, a major research study on Asian American youth and parenting styles directed by associate professor Yoonsun Choi, and a study examining the impact of African American fathers on child development by associate professor Waldo E. Johnson, Jr. 

Awards and accolades

The innovative work of our faculty members is one of the School’s greatest assets. Recognizing the depth of their contributions and scholarship, the President and Provost recently approved the promotions of both Marci Ybarra and Miwa Yasui to Associate Professor with tenure at SSA, effective July 1, 2018. The UChicago Board of Trustees also approved the appointment of Mark E. Courtney as the Samuel Deutsch Professor at SSA. This honor recognizes Mark’s scholarship and contributions as a child welfare expert, his impact on child welfare policy and research, and his direct advocacy in improving child welfare services for young people who are aging out of foster care. In addition, Sydney L. Hans was appointed the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor. This distinguished service professorship is an elevated honor reserved for exemplary scholars across University disciplines. The appointment recognizes Sydney’s exceptional scholarship and contributions to the field of child and family development, to SSA, and to the University.

Earlier this year at the annual conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, I was inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. I am honored to be part of this cohort, and extremely proud to join other SSA faculty previously honored as AASWSW fellows, including Samuel Deutsch Professor Mark Courtney; George Herbert Jones Distinguished Service Professor Jeanne C. Marsh; David and Mary Winton Green Professor Curtis McMillen; and Helen Ross Professor Harold Pollack.

We also congratulate Sunny Fischer, AM ’82, a Life Member of the SSA Council, who was honored as the alumni recipient of UChicago’s Diversity Leadership Award. The award recognizes Sunny’s leadership in fostering diversity and her commitment to advancing social justice and equality. Throughout her distinguished career, Sunny has been a leader and activist in the philanthropic community, working to advance women’s issues, immigration rights, community arts, and public housing. 

New faces

SSA could not do its work without a dedicated and talented staff. We are fortunate to have several new staff members—Dean of Students Sara Furr, Assistant Dean for Civic Engagement Adrian Talbott, Director of Admissions Ronald Martin, and Associate Dean of Development Mari Philipsborn—who bring outstanding experience, skills, and creativity to help support and expand our work. In addition to SSA staff, the renamed SSA Council (formerly, the SSA Visiting Committee), led by new chairperson Bernie Dyme, AM ’79, is bringing tremendous energy to SSA! The involvement and fresh perspectives of our Council members are crucial as we continue to raise SSA’s profile within the University and the field. Bernie brings a unique perspective as the first SSA alumnus to serve as Council chair as we develop an ambitious strategic plan.

Collaboration—with community allies and friends, and SSA faculty, alumni, students, and staff—plays a vital role in all our efforts. We welcome and are grateful for the active participation of all–whether through honest feedback, attendance at programs, or participation in campaign drives. Thanks to your work as researchers, advocates, and problemsolvers, I am confident that SSA will sustain its tradition of using science to create lasting social change.

Deborah Gorman-Smith is the Interim Dean and Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor.