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Expanding Our Leadership Capacity

Building the capacity to maximize our impact in the most ambitious manner requires ongoing effort and commitment. During this past academic year, SSA has devoted significant effort toDean Neil Guterman building and extending our leadership capacity along several key fronts: contributing our expertise to build SSA’s and the University’s broader urban impact, developing a stronger organization at SSA, and adding intellectual leadership to make social change at home and abroad.

SSA has long pioneered the use of scientific research to identify the causes of and solutions to complex social problems, particularly those of concern to urban dwellers. Numerous initiatives at SSA such as the STI and HIV Intervention Network(SHINE), the Crime Lab, the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, and theNetwork for College Success, among others, leverage the toolbox of science. Through our well-established fieldwork education program, where students train and provide services at local nonprofits, SSA students deliver tangible support to the most vulnerable citizens in Chicago.

Extending our local and global reach, SSA has recently partnered with the wider University to advance several ambitious programmatic initiatives. For example, SSA has served as a lead architect of the recently announced University of Chicago Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation. This new Institute, shaped by a concept that SSA integrally helped craft, draws on the great scholarly strengths of the University of Chicago, as well as SSA’s connectivity to complex urban questions and challenges. Once fully realized, the Mansueto Institute will become an international hub taking up critical urban questions, and will serve to accelerate scholarship and leadership taking on probing questions such as urban poverty, health, youth development, and violence—areas where SSA has played a major role. The new Institute is now undertaking an international search for a new faculty director, and SSA’s Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor Deborah Gorman-Smith of SSA serves on the Institute’s search committee.

We also are particularly excited by the proximity of the forthcoming Obama Presidential Library and Museum adjacent to campus and its potential impact on the community. SSA is working with the Barack Obama Foundation in delineating the University’s partnership with the library and museum, and exploring collaborations and joint initiatives. We look forward to sharing information about these ventures as they take shape.

Professor Gorman-Smith recently played a leading role in Healthy Chicago 2.0, the city of Chicago’s new four-year plan to improve health and well-being throughout the city. The plan, which details strategies for ten priority areas, will guide the Chicago Department of Public Health and its partners in addressing health inequities facing some neighborhoods and communities. Deborah co-chaired Healthy Chicago’s violence prevention committee. Another effort with the Chicago Department of Public Health, “Keep Calm and Evaluate,” organized by the University’s Crime and Health Labs, examined potential mental health interventions used by Chicago police officers. The day-long conference, organized by Harold Pollack, SSA’s Helen Ross Professor and co-director of Crime Lab, and SSA doctoral student Tonie Sadler, also featured presentations by Chicago police officers, crisis intervention team members, and SSA Assistant Professor Matthew Epperson. Beyond the Chicago city limits, Crime Lab New York, led by Faculty Director Jens Ludwig, SSA’s McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy, is building on the successful model launched in Chicago. Crime Lab New York is working closely with policy makers to apply frontier science to solve real-world problems in that city.

On the global stage, SSA has steadily grown its presence, building on the University’s international network of partnerships and exchanges, especially through our work in India, Hong Kong, and China. The recent endowed gift from Anna Sohmen, whose ties to SSA are outlined in an article in this issue of SSA Magazine, allows us to significantly inform and contribute to the advancement of professionalized social work in China, and partner with colleagues in China who seek to evaluate the and develop a robust research and educational infrastructure for social work—a massive undertaking that will support the country’s continued growth and urbanization.

To further bolster our global impact, we will welcome several new faculty to SSA, includingYanilda González, who joins us from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Yanilda takes up global social welfare questions pertaining to state capacity and citizenship as they relate to crime and violence, and her current research focuses on the politics of police reform in emerging democracies of Latin America. Another incoming faculty member, Alan Zarychta, studies the politics of public services in developing countries, with a special interest in Central America. He has been part of a National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary team working with the Honduran Ministry of Health to study the effects of decentralized governance on health systems. After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan,Zhiying Ma will also join SSA, and bring her training in cultural and medical anthropology, to take up questions of cultural, politico-economic, and technological factors in the design and implementation of social policies in China. Her work focuses on how national policies impact health inequity, vulnerability, and human rights. This new faculty trio, together with recently hired SSA faculty Leyla Ismayilova and Angela García, takes SSA’s expertise on global questions to an unprecedented level, and will enable SSA to begin to forge a leading role in the growing globalization of social welfare concerns and problems.

Within SSA, we recently established a Committee on Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity, comprised of faculty, staff, students, and alumni who will elevate SSA’s efforts to address matters in the curriculum and climate at SSA. The committee, co-chaired by SSA professorsWaldo E. Johnson, Jr. and Deborah Gorman-Smith has established a working agenda, one early item of which is to search for a newly established Associate Dean for Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity. The committee is also is addressing the physical environment in the Mies building in the ways it can become a more welcoming and inclusive one, developing a calendar of diversity, social justice, and related events within and outside of UChicago, and planning programs. SSA could not do its inspiring work without an exceptionally talented and dedicated faculty and staff. On behalf of the SSA community, I want to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation to the David & Mary Winton Green Professor Tina Rzepnicki, our deputy dean of curriculum, who is retiring after superbly serving the SSA community for three decades. Tina has been vital as a professor and deputy dean, mentoring hundreds of students, advancing the field of child protection and welfare, and guiding the growth of the School’s curriculum and fieldwork education. Outside of the classroom, Tina has continued to apply her child welfare expertise with Help For Children. This global foundation, supported by Hedge Funds Care, provides grants to support the most effective and efficient child abuse prevention and treatment interventions in six countries. Tina has served as the point person in evaluating the foundation’s grant proposals in the Chicago area. SSA faculty, alumni, and friends honored Tina’s many contributions at a reception in May.

We also extend special thanks to Dean of Students Celia Bergman who, after nearly five years, transitions out of her role at the end of this academic year. We have appreciated Celia’s conscientious service on behalf of our students during her time at SSA, and will keep you apprised as we continue our national search for her replacement.

None of our work would be possible without the generosity of alumni, civic partners, and grantmakers. A profile of the Cannon family in this issue of the SSA Magazine demonstrates the influence and importance of a gift in helping our students achieve their goals and in making a profound difference in alleviating poverty. We are grateful for your support, which enables SSA to support our students and educational programming, and to carry out the path-breaking research that generates real-world solutions. We work so that our students can build their professional capacity to effect real changes that challenge the status quo and improve the lives of others. You can play an essential role in enabling them to attend SSA. Please join us in helping SSA raise scholarship funds so that we can continue to attract and support the most talented and worthy students by contacting Stephen Gilmore.

Neil Guterman, MSW, PhD, is the Dean and Mose & Sylvia Firestone Professor in the School of Social Service Administration.