Engagement and Eminence

Published in the Fall 2009 issue of SSA Magazine

From the Dean

The work of SSA is an important expression of the University of Chicago's deep engagement in the world, in confronting the world's most pressing problems. It is from this engagement that we derive our eminence as one of the top schools of social work. When our founding mothers collaborated with University leadership to join the School of Civics and Philanthropy with the University of Chicago to create SSA, they brought significant expertise and deep dedication to advancing knowledge in, for and with the community.

In the fifteen years I have spent as Dean, I have been continuously impressed with the trajectory of SSA's engagement—in research, in fieldwork and in collaborations with the people and communities of Chicago and the world. At SSA, engagement is fundamental to our mission "to work toward a more just and humane society through research, teaching and service to the community." We are constantly raising expectations for ourselves and the University in the depth and significance of our involvement. By raising the bar, the eminence of SSA and the University are enhanced and, as indicated in the second half of the University's motto, "human life is enriched."

This magazine provides rich examples of how faculty research is put into practice to create innovative social programs and policies. You can read more in this issue about several faculty research studies and student engagement, but I'd like to highlight some other stories about work from additional faculty members— including our newest faculty member—and our SSA University of Chicago Human Rights Interns:

  • Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor Melissa Roderick's new research focuses on understanding the relationship between high school students' preparation for college, their college selection choices and their post-secondary outcomes. Her work is being conducted through a joint project between the Chicago Public Schools and the Consortium on Chicago School Research, of which she is a co-director. Professor Roderick is also the principal investigator for the Network for College Success (NCS), which applies the research of the Consortium to develop high quality leadership and student performance. This year, NCS received grants from the J. P. Morgan Chase, Polk Brothers, and Spencer foundations and has also received funding from the Chicago Public Schools to start a one year post-Master's program that will certify principals and train leadership teams for the complex job of improving large, comprehensive public high schools. The program will begin in July 2010 and will recruit participants from traditional and non-traditional pools of talent, including SSA, Harris School and Booth alumni.
  • 2008-09 Russell Sage Visiting Scholar and Assistant Professor Virginia Parks (with Dorian Warren at Columbia University) examined local political responses by communities of color to economic inequality and the plight of low-wage work through a comparative case study of anti-Wal-Mart campaigns in Chicago and Inglewood/Los Angeles, Calif. These cases reveal how, when and with what success ordinary people can exercise their political voice to influence urban economic development and the new Wal-Mart economy of low-wage work.
  • Associate Professor Scott Allard is organizing a conference on the 2010 Census on Friday, February 26, 2010 at SSA. Entitled "Understanding a Dynamic Decade: Population Trends, Public Policy and the 2010 Census in Chicago," the event will feature keynote speaker Alex Kotlowitz and presenters Nancy Potok, the deputy undersecretary of the Economics and Statistics Administration at the Department of Commerce, as well as Stanley Moore, the regional director of the Census Bureau. Provost Thomas Rosenbaum will provide the Welcome.
  • Our newest faculty member, Assistant Professor Alida Bouris, specializes on working with young people and their families who are disproportionately impacted by the potential negative health consequences of risky sexual behavior, namely pregnant and parenting Latino adolescents and young adults, and young men of color having sex with men (MSM). She is interested in utilizing her research to inform and develop interventions and practice recommendations to help parents of these at-risk adolescents and young adults.
  • Five SSA students received Human Rights Internships this summer. Erica Koegler, A.M. '10, worked with Amnesty International in their Midwest Regional Office and Kafi Moragne, A.M. '10, worked with the Southwest Youth Collaborative, both in Chicago. Cliff Bersamira, A.M. '10, worked with the Small Island Institute (for Transformation and Empowerment) in the Seychelles, Maddy Brigell, A.M. '10, worked with the Centro Bartolome de Las Casas in El Salvador, and Bruce Thao, A.M. '10, Ph.D., with Radion International in Thailand.

This academic year will be my last as the Dean of SSA and it has been a privilege to support the tradition of engagement and eminence established by our founding mothers. I was especially pleased to lead the School as we celebrated our Centennial year— a year of resounding successes, particularly in alumni and donor engagement. At the back of this issue you will find an Honor Roll listing those who keep our engagements—our promises—alive. These gifts enable SSA and its faculty, students, alumni and staff to continue the traditions of combining rigor with relevance and insure we will continue as one of the great research institutions in the world.

I sincerely thank you.

Jeanne C. Marsh, Ph.D., is the Dean and George Herbert Jones Professor of the School of Social Service Administration.