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Five thoughts about the School of Social Work

At the end of National Social Work Month, BU Today chats with Gail Steketee

Gail Steketee

Although it’s true that for those whose lives are dedicated to social work, every month is as busy as the next,  but the National Association of Social Workers has designated March as National Social Work Month. BU Today  talked with Gail Steketee about where the school has been, where it is now, and where it is headed. seized upon that designation to sit down with SSW Dean ad interim

BU’s School of Social Work is ranked 19th among 187 schools of social work by U.S. News and World Report and 10th in faculty publication rates by the Journal of Social Work Education (2002). What do these rankings tell us about SSW?

Although more than a little flawed, these rankings are one measure of success. Our rank essentially means that social work deans, administrators, and faculty ranked us among the top 20 schools in the country with regard to curriculum, faculty, and graduates in a large pool of accredited programs. The faculty productivity with regard to publishing and obtaining grants is very high. Ours is an excellent faculty who study and educate students on topics such as substance abuse, aging, child welfare, family relationships, trauma, health and mental health problems and their treatment, to name a few. Our overall high ratings speak to the breadth and depth of our full- and part-time programs, with their focus on important current clinical and community problems.

Graphic by Kim Han

The School of Social Work received $2.5 million in research grants and contracts in 2005. What are some of the ways that money is used?

These grants are held by nine faculty members, who develop training programs and examine their effectiveness in substance abuse, child welfare, and gerontological social work. Faculty have grants to study men’s health and health policy, prevention of relapse in drug-abusing clients, parenting relationship of depressed mothers to their infants, drug-free communities, child maltreatment and youth alcohol problems, and the nature and treatment of compulsive hoarding. Obviously this is a wide array of topics and reflects the breadth of interest among social workers in general and among our own faculty. Most of these research projects are closely tied to the communities in which these services, interventions, and policies are needed.

The faculty at SSW is becoming more diverse — eight (31 percent) faculty of color (two African-American, three Latino/a, three Asian/Pacific Islander), eight (31 percent) men, and four (15 percent) self-identified as gay/lesbian. What difference does that make?

We view diversity as a critical component of living in a large urban environment with people from many different countries, cultures, and backgrounds. As social workers, our work is always embedded in the community. We want our faculty and our students to represent that community as best they can and understand that community as best they can. Diversity is a critical part of that.

After several longtime faculty retired, a number of new hires have joined the School of Social Work. Does this set a new direction for the school?

Yes, their presence reinforces some strong interests and introduces new ones. Our new faculty bring special expertise in some new areas of social work, as well as in areas in which we already have strength. New areas of work include the study of trauma among children exposed to violence, health and mental health problems faced by Latinas and Latinos, health-care use among Asian adolescents, the effects of poverty on children and families, experiences of social workers in health care, adoption and parenting by gay and lesbian couples. The new faculty are also strong supporters of our continuing efforts to educate students and study various aspects of diversity in urban communities, a goal that is central to BU SSW’s mission.

Since you’ve become dean ad interim in July, have you learned anything about the school that surprised you?

I have learned that we need resources in a way I never understood before, resources to fund students who would like to come here but cannot fully afford it, resources to support our academic programs to take advantage of new technologies and venues for learning, resources to support our faculty in their scholarly social work interests. As our programs and faculty have gained stature, so also we must garner resources to support them.