The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Investing in People

Written by Neil B. Guterman.


Our bottom line is people. Whether we are delivering therapeutic services, writing a grant, developing a program or policy, assessing the needs of a community, advocating or testifying, launching a new enterprise, or teaching and conducting research, the end goal of all our work is to improve the lives of those most in need. Since our inception, SSA has committed its time, energy, and resources to developing essential knowledge for social welfare, and educating the best-trained social workers to take up this charge. It might be said that at SSA we dedicate ourselves to developing “capital”—intellectual, professional, and human—that effectively serves to raise up the lives of those most vulnerable.

Through rigorously educating our students, we ultimately touch the lives of so many individuals and families, and this is why we tirelessly seek to advance the quality of our educational program and the students whom we train.

At SSA, we are continuously investing our time and energies into evaluating our programs to ensure—and elevate—the rigor of our program offerings and to challenge our students so they are optimally prepared to lead the field. In the past year, for example, we have accelerated our work on a number of different educational fronts, including:

Increasingly selective admissions and expanded global reach. SSA’s growing momentum as one of the world’s leading destinations to study social work is evident as we continue to attain new heights in applications to the School—this despite what, by all reports, is a downward national trend in the social work application pool. Because of our strong applicant pool, we have become even more selective in admitting the most promising students. We also know, based on our most recent survey post-graduation, that 97 percent of SSA graduates are either working in the field or pursuing advanced education within 12 months after graduation, attesting to the vibrant career opportunities SSA opens up, our upward trajectory in quality, and the growing strength of our reputation. On the global stage, SSA’s international student enrollment reached an all-time high this year, and we recently rolled out a new master’s program concentration in international social welfare, with new study abroad programs. We see the growing awareness of how globally interconnected social welfare concerns have become, reflected in our emerging international student body and program. We also continue as one of the lead social work schools in the China Collaborative, a U.S.-China effort to promote what are historic developments now taking place in building China’s social work education system, which, when fully constructed, may become the largest in the world.

Curriculum review and evaluation. While the SSA master’s program has been continuously accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE ) since 1919 (and most recently reaccredited with flying colors in 2013), we are committed to delivering a social work education that is not only up to national standard, but that is the very best—intellectually rigorous, professionally challenging, and individually responsive. To this end, this year, the SSA faculty has taken up the charge of delving into the master’s degree curriculum to see how we can do even better, finding ways to strategically strengthen our students’ educational experiences further. We are in the midst of considering promising educational strategies to elevate our curriculum, and I expect to be able to provide an update in the near future on further enhancements to our curriculum.

Urban engagement. Accelerating urbanization and complexity in the world’s metropolitan areas will increasingly challenge citizens, leaders, and social workers at every level. SSA continues to play a leadership role at the University of Chicago as we help advance its broad strategic aspiration to become a model urban university globally. Through research, education, and field partnerships, our faculty, students, and alumni tackle some of the most intractable challenges in urban settings, and we foresee deepening engagement in Chicago and in urban settings around the world. We have recently and will continue to spotlight some of this work in the magazine. One example among many is that of SSA professor Deborah Gorman-Smith, director of the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, whose team has designed and empirically tested a multi-component neighborhood-family-school based strategy to reduce youth violence; this strategy is associated with a 50 percent reduction in homicides in one of the highest crime neighborhoods in Chicago.

The pioneering work of SSA students also garners growing attention. This spring, WTTW ’s Chicago Tonight spotlighted the Urban Warriors, an award-winning pilot program conceived by SSA student Eddie Bocanegra, AM ’15, in his role as co-executive director of the YMC A’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention unit. The program brings together combat veterans with teens to discuss and heal from their common experiences with violence and trauma. Within the UChicago community, SSA has also provided intellectual leadership for the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, providing the prototype concept for its new Civic Leadership Academy, which has just launched a training program for rising urban leaders in Chicago-area nonprofits and government agencies. As noted on page 29, SSA professors Rob Chaskin and Jennifer Mosley have led courses at the new academy.

Leadership development. Developing professional leadership and interpersonal acumen is at the core of SSA’s student experience. The School’s dedicated career services team looks for and connects students with fellowships that provide opportunities for further training, practical experience, and mentoring. As noted in the article on page 18, SSA students continue to be awarded among the most prestigious University and national fellowships, which have included important monetary awards, as well as hands-on work experience and valuable insights into program models.

Numerous SSA alums advance to positions of leadership and importance. Two alums of note at this moment, Kathryn T. Bocanegra, AM ’09, Director of Violence Prevention, Enlace Chicago and a current SSA doctoral student and Pamela F. Rodriguez, AM ’82, President and CEO , Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), were recently named to the newly created Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform by Governor Bruce Rauner. The commission, which includes experts from various fields within the criminal justice system, will analyze all aspects of the criminal justice system from the initial arrest to re-entry into the community.

Developing our students and continuing our ambitious upward trajectory not only require constant assessment, dedication, and re-imagination, but also hinge on the investment of capital from many—intellectual, social, human, and financial. We know that students seek out SSA because of the pre-eminence of our faculty, the interdisciplinary resources at the University, and the vibrancy and vitality of Chicago, which provides such superb learning and personally enriching opportunities for our students.

We also know that to enroll and educate the best and brightest students aspiring to careers of service, we must make SSA as accessible as possible. This is why one of the paramount priorities in SSA’s campaign is to raise scholarship funds that support our students, so that they can focus on their studies undeterred by worrisome student debt.

Redoubling scholarship support is a top SSA priority, and this is a call inviting your involvement so we can continue to elevate our good work and impact. We are now beginning to form a strategic group of alumni and civic leaders to steer future SSA scholarship funding initiatives. We are committed to educating and sending off our students to do great things—and your ideas, skills, and financial support can make a tangible difference for our students. There is simply no investment more worthy.

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