Skip to main content

Building on 100 Years of Excellence: Q&A with Dean Gary Bowen

Dean Gary Bowen shared his vision for the UNC School of Social Work in a question-and-answer feature recently. Here’s the full statement of his vision, which will appear in an abbreviated format later this month in the University Gazette:

The School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was founded in 1920 as the School of Public Welfare to make distinctive contributions to the well-being of all North Carolinians. This clarion call for impact remains the commitment 100 years later as the School of Social Work now stands on the two pillars of the University’s Strategic Framework (Blueprint for Next): (a) Of the public, for the public; and (b) Innovation made fundamental. As the School has expanded its contributions to the nation and the world (currently ranked nationally as the third-best graduate school of social work), it has remained committed to promoting the well-being of our state through education, research, and service to the people of North Carolina.

What is the mission of the School of Social Work?

The hallmark of the social work profession is a dual focus on identifying pressing issues affecting disadvantaged, vulnerable, and marginalized populations and then developing and implementing evidence-informed interventions to eliminate inequities and assist individuals, families, and communities — all within a broad environmental context. Simply stated, our mission is to advance equity, transform systems, and improve lives.

What is the vision for the School of Social Work?

Our North Star is to be the leading school of social work known for accelerating discovery and the translation of knowledge into action. Too often a disconnect exists between the science of policy and practice and the application of that science to real-world situations, often referred to as the know-do gap. Closing this gap compels us to strengthen our commit­ment to IMPACT as the gauge for the success of our efforts — that is, producing real differences for individuals, families, and communities in North Carolina and beyond. A focus on impact requires the SSW and the social work profession to embrace Rigor (including both the scholarship of discovery [the know] and the scholarship of translation [the do]), Relevance (addressing the most pressing and perplexing problems), Relationships (working in full partnership with others), and Resolve (evidencing perseverance and commitment).

What is your goal for faculty?

As a professional school, our faculty has the twin challenges of developing new knowledge for practice and public policy while preparing highly skilled practitioners at the master’s level and well-trained scholars and teachers at the doctoral level. Faculty in the School of Social Work are highly engaged in community-academic partnerships to identify and address questions that will significantly improve outcomes for individuals, families, and communities in North Carolina and beyond. As dean, I am proud that our faculty collaborates with all 100 counties in NC on programs, training and research that aim to improve the overall health and well-being of the state’s more than 10 million residents. These collaborations, which involve the nexus of science and practice, present ideal training opportunities for our social work students.

What is your goal for students?

My goal is to provide students with both a rigorous and relevant curriculum and set of learning opportunities and experiences that will enable them to get jobs and emerge into tomorrow’s social work leaders. Each academic year, our nearly 300 master’s students contribute tens of thousands of hours through largely unpaid field placements to human service agencies, schools, and other public and nonprofit organizations that serve North Carolina communities. Our MSW graduates work in a variety of public and private agencies that serve individuals, families and children, communities, and organizations. Many of our Ph.D. graduates accept appointments in research-intensive universities, research centers, and government agencies. I want students prepared to build on the strengths inherent in at-risk populations and ready to confront oppression and discrimination in any form or setting. I want them to bring compassion, wisdom, and resolve to address the most challenging social problems (e.g., poverty, mental health, violence, and substance use) through contextually relevant intervention research and innovative and evidence-informed direct practice and community, management and policy practice.