SSA shines through its Centennial symposia

This article is online-only content from the Spring 2009 issue of SSA Magazine.

Holding ten diverse, interesting, wide-ranging academic symposia to celebrate SSA's Centennial in the 2008-09 academic year has been an enormous and challenging task for the School, but it also is a perfect fit for what SSA is and has been for the past 100 years. "It was just so obvious to those of us who were on the Centennial committee that any celebration we considered had to include a serious academic focus as part of it," says Professor Sydney Hans, co-chair of the symposia subcommittee. "It's just what SSA is about."

The year-long set of symposia began with a call for proposals from the faculty, which brought out a ideas covering everything from the health care safety net to evidence-based practice. "We received more proposals than we thought we might-the faculty was really interested in participating. And it worked out very well in that we had a nice mix of the clinical side and the administrative issues, of local, national, and international perspectives, and attention to many different issues and many different populations," says Associate Professor Julia Henly, who co-chaired the subcommittee with Hans.

Despite the breadth of issues and approaches, all of the symposia did have some common elements. Each focused on a topic that has been part of the School's interests over the years and touched in some way on the history of the issue. Each explored the leading edge of scholarship on the issue. And each brought together academics and practitioners, and researchers as speakers and audience participants.

Within that broad structure, however, each set of coordinators fashioned an event that met their own vision. Henly, for example, worked with Associate Professor Susan Lambert to host "Putting Research To Work: Improving Low-Wage Jobs and Public Policies to Support Vulnerable Workers" in March, a symposium that began with an examination of how early social welfare researchers used research to advocate for reforms such as limits on child labor. After then considering promising employer and public policy initiatives to improve contemporary workplace conditions, the day ended with academic and policy leaders' visions of the social work and employment field moving forward.

A symposium on welfare state transformation was held in Paris, organized by assistant professor Robert Fairbanks; one on urban education held at SSA and in New York organized by assistant professor Michael Woolley; and an examination of welfare states in transition by associate professor Evelyn Brodkin brought participants from as far away as Europe and Australia. Keeping on top of the logistics of ten day-long events throughout the year has kept faculty and staff busy.

"The symposia were designed by the faculty, but the events were hardly ivory tower exercises. As you would expect from SSA, the presentations combined rigorous academic work combined with an examination of the state-of-the-art in practice," says Dolores Norton, SSA's Samuel Deutsch Professor, who chaired the entire Centennial event. "We're excited the School will be able to capture some of these great discussions. One symposium is going to be the subject of a series of papers, another the basis for a book, and we have audio or video taped others. This rich series of events for the Centennial will live on in SSA's second century".

Summing up, Jeanne C. Marsh, Dean and George Herbert Jones Distinguished Service Professor says, "These symposia extend SSA's practices, policies and research not only to faculty, students, alumni, and friends, but also the city, the nation, and international audiences.

-Carl Vogel