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School hosts national conference on doctoral programs

The UNC School of Social Work hosted about 70 directors of doctoral social work programs from across the nation and internationally for this year’s 2016 Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work (GADE) Conference. The event, which was held from March 29 through April 1 at both the Carolina Inn and at the School, annually brings together professionals to promote excellence in doctoral education in social work, especially through networking, information sharing and advocacy.

This year’s conference focused on “Developing the Next Generation of Social Work Scholars,” and included broad group discussions around strategies to improve faculty mentorship of graduate and post-doctoral students as well as hot topics in doctoral education, including the growth of social work science and recommendations to augment doctoral research education —a discussion that was facilitated by Matthew Howard, the School’s Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor for Human Services Policy Information.

Breakout group discussions focused on topics such as admission practices, recruitment, financial support, competition for candidates, curriculum, and extracurricular activities. These smaller group sessions gave participants a chance to talk about the administrative issues they often grapple with, said

Sheryl Zimmerman, the School’s Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham Distinguished Professor and associate dean for doctoral education. (Zimmerman and Brenda Vawter, the School’s doctoral program coordinator, helped plan this year’s conference.)

“We were more planful about the breakout groups this year,” said Zimmerman, who also serves as an officer on the GADE Board of Directors. “Our members know ‘what’ our programs aim to do and ‘why’ we’re doing it, but they don’t always know ‘how.’ This year, we’ll use the breakout group dialog to develop some documents so that new program directors don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year. We’ll summarize topics such as issues and practices related to student recruitment and admission, and comprehensive exams, and dissertation products. We aimed to talk about these issues in a broader way than in the past.”

The event also included a plenary presentation and panel discussion about the political attitudes, behaviors and preferences of the Millennial generation (those generally born in the early 1980s through 2002), including students’ understanding of racism and their attitudes about racial progress. Although millennials have expressed a value for diversity and multiculturalism, many have also grown up in homogeneous neighborhoods and think of racism as being “geographically constrained” to the 11 Confederate States, said Candis Watts Smith, a UNC assistant professor of public policy and adjunct professor of African and African American Diaspora Studies, who presented her research on the topic.

“Millennials see racism as a matter of hearts and minds rather than as an institutionalized set of attitudes, opportunities, and chances,” said Smith, who also participated in a panel discussion that explored issues of racial progress at the collegiate level and within doctoral education programs.

Panel members included Sheara Williams Jennings, Ph.D. ’04, an associate professor at the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston and the doctoral program director and interim associate dean of academic affairs.

The GADE conference kicked off this year with an opening reception and dinner at the Carolina Inn and included a Dean’s reception at the Ackland Art Museum, where music was provided by Dean Jack Richman, Clinical Associate Professor Kirsten Kainz, her husband Jim; and Philip Sloane with the UNC Department of Family Medicine. Ph.D. student Laurie Graham joined in the vocals, as did other faculty.