(This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of SSA Magazine.)

The problem of gun violence has again returned to the foreground of our national consciousness. Although we have seen some overall decline in the violent murder rate across the U.S. since the early 1990s, the problem remains devastatingly large, painfully destructive to our families and communities, and morally unacceptable.

Interpersonal violence is one of the problems that the School of Social Service Administration is deeply committed to tackling. In this issue, on page 22, regular contributor Charles Whitaker writes about the arrival of Professor Deborah Gorman-Smith to SSA’s faculty. I have long been aware of the outstanding work she has done on addressing the problem of youth violence, and I am delighted that she has chosen to join SSA’s already stellar faculty. Deborah is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading scholars in the field of youth violence prevention, and her work and that of the organization she founded, the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, fit neatly with the broader trajectory of the School and indeed the field of social work.

Deborah is a clinical-developmental psychologist by training, and her work seeks to help us best understand and intervene with schools, neighborhoods and families so that children’s behavioral trajectories veer away from violence. Her work on preventing youth violence is internationally recognized, and, indeed, it is this recognition that has significantly contributed to her appointment as president of the Society for Prevention Research, the nation’s leading interdisciplinary organization of scholars advancing scientifically derived prevention strategies targeting major psychosocial problems.

Deborah has also been a national leader in the evidence-based practice and policy movement as a distinguished research fellow with the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy in Washington, D.C., and this movement is one that SSA has long advocated for and guided since the School’s inception more than a century ago. Like Deborah Gorman-Smith, SSA faculty members across disciplines continue to generate and provide the kind of scientific information that guides policymakers and practitioners to promote the most effective and sensible strategies responding to the most challenging human problems of our time.

Deborah’s arrival at SSA also cements our status as the premier social work school for the study of the prevention of interpersonal violence. Her close work with SSA’s Jens Ludwig and Harold Pollack, directors of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, creates even more powerful capabilities to inform the national discussion on gun violence and violence perpetrated by and against young people in urban areas. Sydney Hans, Dexter Voisin and I are also deeply involved in studying prevention of violence against youth, and I am proud that SSA continues to strengthen its leadership in advancing research, policies and practices on this problem.

Violence prevention is just one example of the growth of SSA’s role—both at the University of Chicago and in the broader field—in serving as a hub of interdisciplinary scholarly activity aiming to make a positive impact on complex social issues. In the fall, SSA Associate Professor Scott Allard was newly appointed as the director of the University of Chicago Urban Network, for instance, an initiative that provides a forum for advancing important research from a variety of disciplinary viewpoints related to poverty and an array of urban issues.

The same type of cross-disciplinary ferment is at the heart of two newly established Interdisciplinary Scholar Networks anchored at SSA—the STI and HIV Intervention Network (SHINE) and the Employment Instability, Family Well-being and Social Policy Network (EINet). By fostering nodes of scholarship that cut across disciplines, SSA is investing in our vision of how social work scholarship works best: Pushing past traditional boundaries and approaches to develop more rigorous, innovative and impactful solutions that address our most challenging social problems.

In my experience, there has always been a sense of dynamism and energy here at SSA because our exceptional faculty, students, alumni and staff bring an inspiring commitment to serve the most vulnerable individuals, families and communities in the most impactful ways. These new nodes of activity only add to our momentum.

In addition to adding Deborah to our staff, I would like to welcome Assistant Professor Leyla Ismayilova to our faculty. Leyla specializes in the development and adaptation of health promotion and family-based interventions in the international context (another arena where SSA’s engagements are growing). Read more about her work in the Faculty section on page 33. The School has made a commitment to grow our faculty ranks with additional outstanding scholars in the global arena, so we will continue to have announcements such as these in upcoming issues of this magazine.

The momentum and excitement here at SSA certainly extends to our students as well. I’m proud to be able to say that SSA students received more Presidential Management Fellow awards this past year to work in agencies of the federal government than any other school of social work in the country. We again are seeing a record pace of applications to the School, and this will no doubt yield a new generation of passionate, gifted, experienced students into the SSA community.

As an institution, SSA has multiple avenues to support our mission—scholarship and research, leadership in the field, educating tomorrow’s practitioners, policymakers, and administrators, partnering with alumni and colleagues throughout the country. As we vigorously advance in all these facets of our work, the School amplifies its capacity and contributions in service to those most in need.

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