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Marilyn Ghezzi retires in June after 38 years of service to the state

by Barbara Wiedemann

Clinical Associate Professor Marilyn Ghezzi, MSW, LCSW, was celebrated by her colleagues at a retirement ceremony in the Tate-Turner-Kuralt lobby on Tuesday, April 25. The event was filled with loving tributes, laughter and a few tears.

Ghezzi is retiring on June 30 after 20 years of service to the state of North Carolina as a clinical social worker, followed by nearly as much time in her second career in higher education at Carolina.

“I feel so blessed to have had this amazing first career as a practitioner and to then find that I love teaching as much as I loved clinical work is just really, really exciting,” Ghezzi said after she was one of four faculty members campus-wide recognized at a half-time ceremony during a 2017 UNC-Pitt men’s basketball game with the University’s prestigious Distinguished Teaching Award for Post Baccalaureate Instruction.

In her remarks to attendees on Tuesday evening, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson lauded the four-time “Most Outstanding Faculty Member” (2013, 2014, 2017, 2019) for her strengths as a teacher and mentor; and for her impact at the School and in her community. She has been recognized with teaching awards at least 21 times over her career at Carolina.

“Marilyn has never said ‘no,’” said Denby-Brinson, noting that Ghezzi has served as a chair or member of numerous committees at the School in the areas of curriculum, strategic planning, admissions (continuously since 2010), and distance education over the years, and served as a faculty advisor for the Student Health Action Coalition and as a co-investigator on the Mental Health Specialty Probation study. She also provided training and consultation to the Specialty Mental Health Probation Officer programs in North Carolina offering a treatment-oriented approach to supervising probationers with mental illness.

“All of this while providing a world-class education to literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of School of Social Work graduate students,” Denby said. “Marilyn truly is a teacher’s teacher. Her depth of clinical knowledge about the therapeutic change process often resulted in other faculty seeking her wisdom and guidance. I would also mention her embrace of social work values and work to make our school the best version of itself as it relates to diversity and social justice.”

Two-time Tar Heel

A two-time Tar Heel who graduated with a psychology degree in 1982 and a master’s degree from the School in 1988, Ghezzi was advised by revered Psychology Department Chair David Galinsky (1934–2006) as an undergraduate. At the UNC School of Social Work, she was mentored by his wife Maeda Galinsky, Ph.D. (1934–2019), who retired in 2015 after 50 years at UNC and was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Social Work Pioneer Program in fall 2022.

Ghezzi worked for 20 years as a clinical social worker at the public mental health center in Chapel Hill before joining the faculty at Carolina in 2008 following six years as an adjunct instructor at the School. Ghezzi stepped up into the adjunct role as Galinsky was phasing into retirement, and remembers that her first class was a Social Work Practice with Groups (SOWO 765) class that Galinsky had developed.

“I still teach that class!” Ghezzi said, “And I have kept the structure that Maida set up for it.”

Twenty years of work as a practitioner helped shape the approach Ghezzi brings to over two decades of work in the classroom. Her mentor influenced her as well.

“The thing that I really took away [from her] and strive for with my own students,” Ghezzi said about Dr. Galinsky’s teaching style, “Is to really know them as people, and then I tailor the academic work to what those students really care about.”

Supporting Students

In 2008, Ghezzi joined the School full-time to teach and to serve as an advisor in what is now the School’s Practicum Education office. The advising role provided the opportunity to travel all over the Triangle recruiting and evaluating practicum opportunities for the School’s students.

“The quality of our practicum program is one of the reasons for our national reputation,” said Dean Denby-Brinson, “And Marilyn played an important role in continuing to strengthen that program, establishing strong student/supervisor relationships over three years in programs mostly located throughout the Triangle.”

“The School does a good job of getting to know their students, and helping them to find the right fit in an internship,” added Ghezzi.

Since 2011, Ghezzi has been teaching three classes a semester at the School, weaving stories from two decades in the field and in-depth theory and practical lessons together for students whom she encourages to build relationships with the individuals, families and small groups they will work with as practitioners. Her most recent course loads have focused on advanced practice classes in mental health work for final year MSW students, including the aforementioned groups class as well as Adult Mental Health Theory and Practice (SOWO 840), Differential Diagnosis (SOWO 767), Brief Treatment (SOWO 853), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (SOWO 766).

Ghezzi encourages her students to experiment and try some things they couldn’t do in a professional setting, quoting advice she once received in a campus Center for Faculty Excellence workshop: “You should be having FUN when you’re teaching, and so should your students.”

“My goal is to create a classroom atmosphere that allows for learning and creativity,” said Ghezzi. “I tell my students, ‘Let’s get messy and make mistakes! There are no clients in this room right now. You’re not going to break anything.’”

What the Future Holds

“Marilyn’s retirement leaves a big hole in the MSW program at UNC Chapel Hill,” said Lisa de Saxe Zerden, a friend and colleague. “The silver lining, however, is that her excellent teaching and mentorship has undoubtedly enhanced the way we teach at the SSW and the education and preparation of current social workers in the field— a legacy that will continue well beyond her retirement.”

Ghezzi promises to “rest up” before making any decisions about what is next for her, but doesn’t rule out part-time teaching, as long as she can also spend more time traveling with her husband.  Her daughter, who will graduate with her MSW from Smith College this year and plans a career as a clinical social worker, will continue the tradition of compassionate care that Ghezzi has forged over nearly four decades in her beloved home of North Carolina.