MENTOR SPOTLIGHT | FEBRUARY 2016
Department: School of Social Welfare
Describe your work in a few sentences that we can all understand: I teach a variety of social welfare and social work courses to undergraduates. I am most interested in how we can improve our child welfare system to make it more responsive to the needs of children both at risk of entering the system, and children already in the system who suffer from the effects of trauma. And I am very interested in our students! Most of the grants I have written (or co-written) and received funding for enable students to receive stipends.
Q: How did you first get interested in doing research/creative work?
A: Social work is the only profession that places social justice for all at the center of its mission. That was very appealing to me as a young person growing up in the south during the Civil Rights movement. My first field placement as an undergraduate was in a community living program for males with developmental disabilities. It was affiliated with a residential treatment center where poor treatment was being alleged. I joined with a group of social workers who documented the injustices being perpetrated, with photographic evidence. It was all very exciting and clandestine. But the idea that they believed that civil rights for these clients was as much a part of their job as enabling these clients to live day to day was very exciting to me.
Q: What do students in your discipline learn by doing research that they wouldn’t learn by just taking classes?
A: The research we conduct is, for the most part, applied. The community, the organization, the people—they are our learning laboratory. Thus, what we learn in our research endeavors has fairly immediate application in real life. For example, if students are on a team that is evaluating the effectiveness of a particular treatment with a particular population, and that treatment shows exceptional promise, then the programs that work with that population will adopt that treatment. But the student will be among the first to learn about it. How great is that? Also, if students are working on qualitative studies, they may be assigned to interview clients about specific experiences. It gives them such a rich background in how to get to the heart of the client experience. It will serve them very well later on as practitioners.
Q: What do you find to be the most exciting part of doing research/creative work? What makes this line of work meaningful and interesting to you?
A: Ah, there are lots of exciting parts!! But to me, being the first to know something—to find that a treatment has worked, or the organization of services has been effective, or that we can predict who is likely (or not) to benefit from various interventions—to me, that is the best part. But really, it’s just fun to think about how we design a research endeavor to ensure that we get the best data.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates interested in doing research in your field?
A: Visit your department’s website. Read about the faculty. See who is doing the kind of research that is most interesting to you, and seek them out! The idea that faculty are too busy, or only interested in grad students is not true!!!
Q: How do you spend your time outside of work?
A: Honestly, I love to walk, and I don’t do it enough. I love to hang out with friends and don’t do that enough either. And I love good novels and non-fiction. I just finished The Girl on the Train, and loved it.