Skip to main content

Ramona Denby-Brinson chosen to serve as dean

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has named Ramona Denby-Brinson, Ph.D., to serve as dean of UNC School of Social Work, effective Aug. 16, 2021. Denby-Brinson will be the first African American woman to lead the School in its 100-year history.

“I am excited to join the UNC School of Social Work where I will have the opportunity to work with other transformational leaders, preeminent scholars, excellent instructors, dedicated and talented staff, and forward-thinking students who are changing the practice of social work,” Denby-Brinson said.

Denby-Brinson noted that she is also looking forward to building on the momentum established by Dean Gary Bowen and leveraging his multiple accomplishments into new, shared goals, including the advancement of the university’s Carolina Next plan.

“Our future is boundless and bright,” she said. “Learning from our past and leaning into our professional value base, we will transform systems by leading the profession vis-à-vis our research, community engagement, and teaching. The future requires our profession to lead boldly, collectively, and without compromise.

“The path ahead of us energizes me,” she added. “It is a way forward, a way where diverse people and collective voices are at the center of our innovative programming. I am eager to reaffirm our shared goal to foster social justice, create equitable spaces, and enable living conditions where individuals, families, groups, and communities thrive.”

Recognized nationally for her research on culturally adapted child welfare services, Denby-Brinson joins UNC-Chapel Hill with more than 27 years of experience in social work education and 17 years in administration, scholarship, and mentorship.

“I’m so pleased that Dr. Ramona Denby-Brinson will be joining Carolina as the dean of the School of Social Work,” said Nilda Peragallo Montano, DrPH, chair of the search committee. “Throughout her career, she has shown a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and compassion for students, faculty, and staff.

“I am confident that she will help the School of Social Work continue on its path of excellence and look forward to working alongside her,” added Peragallo Montano, who is dean of UNC School of Nursing.

Denby-Brinson comes to UNC-Chapel Hill from The Ohio State University College of Social Work, where she served as associate dean for academic affairs, graduate studies chair, and professor. With her leadership, Ohio State experienced 14% enrollment growth in undergraduate and graduate social work programs, a 40% increase in applications to its Master of Social Work program, and 22% enrollment growth in underrepresented minority and first-generation social work students.

Previously, she served as associate dean of research for Arizona State University Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, where she directed a research enterprise averaging $30 million in annual expenditures and oversaw operations of 23 centers and an institute.

Denby-Brinson also served as director of social science research and senior resident scholar at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she worked with the Lincy Institute in exploring how social services are provided to the most vulnerable children and their families, especially those in the child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice systems.

She began her career at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, after completing degrees at The Ohio State University (Ph.D., 1995), University of Nevada Las Vegas (MSW, 1990), and Arizona State University (BSW, 1989). She has held social work positions in Tennessee, Nevada, and Arizona, and she maintains Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) credentials.

Throughout her career, Denby-Brinson has published and presented extensively on the need to train child welfare workers to provide a culturally responsive approach when working with families to ensure they receive appropriate services and to help improve  outcomes. She authored the book “Kinship Care: Increasing Child Well-Being through Practice, Policy, and Research” and has co-authored three additional books, including “African American Children and Families in Child Welfare: Cultural Adaptation of Services.”

To date, Denby-Brinson has received more than $34 million in research funding from federal and state agencies, foundations, and university awards. She has applied her research and academic collaborations toward advancing the well-being of larger communities. At UNLV, for example, she convened a 12-member community advisory board, comprising partners from health, education, social science, technology, philanthropy, government, and industry. She led this board in coordinating university and community efforts to build needed programming,  policy, and research infrastructure to address major social problems impacting vulnerable populations.

She has also demonstrated leadership within the social work profession, serving as treasurer of the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR), as president of the National Association of Social Workers Nevada Chapter, and as a board member for the National Family Preservation Network, among other offices.

She succeeds Gary L. Bowen, Ph.D., who has served as dean of UNC School of Social Work since 2016 and will return to a full-time role in teaching and research as Kenan Distinguished Professor.

“Dr. Denby-Brinson is an accomplished scholar, an effective administrator, and a highly respected leader in social work,” Bowen said. “I am confident that she will lead the School to even greater heights in its mission to advance equity, transform systems, and improve lives.”

The official announcement by UNC-Chapel Hill was posted on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021.