Gary Bowen, a Kenan Distinguished Professor who has served on the faculty at UNC School of Social Work for nearly 40 years, including five years as dean, is retiring in December. Bowen, who joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus in 1985, will leave behind an academic career filled with accomplishments at the administrative, teaching and scholarly level.
“One can measure a person’s commitment to their profession and their institution by years of service, the consequential and lasting impact of their work, respect garnered from peers, and how the path they have charted is often emulated, and in Gary we find all of these,” said School of Social Work Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson, noting Bowen’s decades of service to students, alumni, faculty and multiple communities across North Carolina.
Originally hired by former School of Social Work Dean John B. Turner, Bowen worked closely with Turner to help develop the School’s doctoral program in the late 1980s and early 1990s. By the time he was appointed School dean in August 2016, the Ph.D. program had grown to national prominence, with alumni serving as leading scholars in public and private universities and in leadership roles in policymaking institutions across the nation and world.
As dean, Bowen helped foster new initiatives in anti-racism and social justice and supported enhanced opportunities for research and innovation within the school, including the creation of the Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship Lab, the Global Social Development Innovations research center and the Collaborative for Implementation Practice. He also guided plans for the school’s two-year centennial celebration, One Hundred Years of Social Work: Ready for Next, from 1920-2020. A year later, Bowen stepped down as dean to return to a full-time faculty role.
Named among the nation’s top 50 “Most Influential Contemporary Social Work Faculty” by the Journal of Social Service Review in 2019, Bowen has published extensively on school engagement and academic success of middle and high school students, as well as on the nature of the work and family interactions in branches of the U.S. military.
Over the course of his scholarly career, Bowen has remained active in many professional associations, including as a Fellow with the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, National Council on Family Relations and the Society for Social Work and Research. In 2016, he was identified as one of 40 “high impact” social work scholars in a study published in the journal Research on Social Work Practice. As a teacher, Bowen received the Dean’s Recognition of Teaching Excellence six times; he also received the “Most Innovative Professor Award” in 2002 from the UNC-CH Social Work Student Organization. In addition, he was recognized during his tenure for Excellence in Doctoral Student Mentoring, as a member of the School’s Distinguished Alumni, and for Outstanding Leadership, Impact and Contribution to the Mission of Teaching, Research and Service. In 2021, Gov. Roy Cooper presented Bowen with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine recognizing his exemplary service to the state of North Carolina and his exceptional accomplishments.
Bowen said he appreciates the numerous opportunities he’s had over his career to engage with students and collaborate and serve alongside faculty and staff.
“I love this University and our School of Social Work—both are priceless gems for the people of North Carolina and beyond,” he said. “I will always be a proud Tar Heel!”