The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Innovating in the Urban Space

Deborah Gorman-SmithServing as SSA's Interim Dean is a great honor and provides a unique opportunity to view the School’s immediate and long-term impact from a variety of perspectives. It’s also a chance to observe how SSA continues to evolve to be responsive and innovative in using research toward solving society’s most challenging problems.

This special urban issue of SSA Magazine underlines the evolution of our work. The University of Chicago has had a long commitment to working in the urban space—a mission expressed by its first president, William Rainey Harper, who described his vision of “a great American university in a great American city.” And SSA has actively advanced this vision starting when our founders used research to advocate for needed social reform in the rapidly growing city of Chicago. Fast forward a hundred years and we now face a more urgent pace of urbanization—as well as globalization—that is driving cultural innovation, new economic investment, and technological advances. This positive momentum and revitalization is accompanied by new tensions that are adding more complex and daunting layers to such social problems as homelessness, poverty, violence and public safety, educational inequality, and health disparities.

At SSA, we are confronting urban issues—in the U.S. and globally—as a strategic priority. This effort is an opportunity to use the best attributes of urbanization to improve the human condition. As you will see, our faculty are deeply involved in advancing research in a diverse range of interrelated urban areas. The work is approached from multiple disciplinary perspectives using a variety of research methods. Some focus on defining the problem, often looking in a different way or through a unique lens. Others base their problem-solving on grassroots engagement with affected communities. Some work in Chicago, while others travel to global locations where they adapt U.S.-tested interventions in other regions, cultures, and social circumstances. Our urban research commitment also extends to the rigorous training and mentoring of the next generation of social workers who will use evidence and new ideas to create a better quality of life for more individuals, families, and communities. All of this work is approached with an understanding that enduring social change requires a comprehensive effort that cuts across disciplines and factions.

We could not do our work without the continued support and commitment of our alumni. Many of you have put your SSA training to work providing direct service in the community. Some lead programs that bring needed resources, services, and training to high-burden communities in the U.S. and abroad. Other alumni have taken on policymaking roles and partnered with us as field training sites for students. Still others, as well as other friends of SSA, have provided generous funding so we can accelerate our research, create cross-national partnerships, or start new initiatives that address urban social welfare issues.

The urban space is an area where SSA has deep roots and a remarkable tradition. We hope these articles provide a glimpse into the scope of our work, how we are responding to evolving societal challenges, and the kind of impact we are making. I look forward to working with you as we continue to search for new knowledge, test policies and programs, and generate change that improves lives and transforms communities.

Deborah Gorman-Smith, Interim Dean and Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor