A Voice For the Vulnerable: The UH Graduate College of Social Work at 40

Anniversary points to transformation in defining role of the social worker

"You must become the change you want to be."

The words of Mahatma Gandhi describe the mission of the University of Houston's Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) and its charge to students, faculty and the community.

The college is celebrating 40 years of academic excellence and pioneering research at a fundraising dinner at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 29 at the Four Seasons Hotel, 1300 Lamar. The theme of the event is "Transcending Time."

"We've had to convince people that our college and curriculum was needed, that Houston should be its home and that UH was where we belonged," said Ira Colby, professor and dean of the college. "We are now a nationally ranked program that counts among its faculty a Nobel Laureate. Our students make a difference by becoming voices for the vulnerable. This is the change we wanted to be."

From humble beginnings in portable Quonset huts on the UH campus in 1967, the college began with a faculty of seven and a total of 26 students enrolled in its first class. Today, there are more than 20 full-time and adjunct faculty with a student enrollment of more than 330 graduate and Ph.D. students. The Graduate School of Social Work (as it was known then) has moved from a general curriculum of training social workers to a college of innovative curriculum focused on creating social workers equipped with research data to effectively address community needs. The college, which strives to advance social, economic and political justice and advance knowledge for competent, ethical practice and leadership with diverse populations, was ranked in the most recent U.S. News & World Report in the top 50 of all graduate social work programs in the country.

"We went from being an unknown, on campus and in the community, to being known as people who bring something to the table," said Jean K. Latting, a professor of social work who has been with the college since 1979. "Moving to a more research-focused curriculum that reached into the community elevated our status in the community." The college is now home to bold, new research initiatives including the Child and Family Innovative Research Center to be directed by Patrick Bordnick. The center uses virtual reality as a tool to assess and treat addictions and post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, the Center for Drug and Social Policy Research directed by Avelardo Valdez has recently been awarded a prestigious five-year grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The grant will provide resources for research work in the Latino community to provide data that address public health issues. Other research initiatives focus on the study of gerontology, collaborate with institutions in the Texas Medical Center or strive to evaluate the effectiveness of entities charged with protecting children.

"We have been moving up continuously," said Charles Kaplan, research professor and associate dean of research for the college. "We are now in a major effort of transforming ourselves into the top tier in social work research."

The college offers two advanced tracks of study-clinical practice or leadership, and administration and advocacy. Students also may complete certificates in gerontological social work, political social work and trabajo social-a special component of study geared toward the needs of the Latino community. It maintains more than 400 internship sites that provide opportunities for students in such areas as local, state, and federal public programs, elected officials offices, nonprofit agencies and private settings.

The GCSW has partnered with the Nobel Women's Initiative (NWI), which supports human and women's rights around the world. Under the direction of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, the NWI is active around the world. A partnership with the Institute of Interfaith Dialog brings a scholar from Turkey to the college to teach Islamic studies and social work. An educational exchange also allows professors from the college to teach in Turkey and students to visit there.

The college also sponsors PeaceJam, an annual event that cultivates leadership skills, diversity awareness and global thinking in youth. Nobel Laureates guide the youth in their plans to implement community programs that promote peace. In addition, the college's David M. Underwood Chapter of American Humanics has been recognized nationally as the best program in the nation for preparing the next generation of leaders in nonprofit organizations.

For more information on the UH Graduate College of Social Work, visit www.sw.uh.edu/main/home.php.

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.