Skip to main content

Faculty Emeriti Look Back: Gary Bowen

Kenan Distinguished Professor Emeritus Gary Bowen, who joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work in 1985, left a lasting impact at the School of Social Work. Bowen helped develop the School’s doctoral program, established in 1993, served as dean for five years, mentored countless students and received numerous accolades.

Bowen, who retired on Jan. 1, 2024, shared his memories of the doctoral program and its impact as it celebrates more than 30 years of excellence.

”Former Dean John Turner felt that a Ph.D. program was essential for the School to achieve its status as a top-10 school of social work. According to Dean Turner, the foundation for such a program had to be a strong intellectual foundation and faculty research capacity, including a significant increase in external research funding. Professor Emeritus Dennis Orthner was a pivotal hire during the early period of program development. Working with Dean Turner, Dennis established the Human Services Research and Design Laboratory, which almost immediately begin generating research contracts. Ray Kirk, a child welfare expert, was appointed as associate director of the laboratory. Dennis and Ray were a productive team. Since the School had no space, the lab was located in leased space on Airport Road (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). Other pivotal hires during this period and in the early years of the doctoral program included Professors Emeriti Marie Weil, Mark Fraser, Lynn Usher, and later, Rick Barth and Sheryl Zimmerman. Dean Turner asked me to chair the doctoral planning committee; Professor Anne-Linda Furstenberg later joined me as co-chair. Anne-Linda and I were later appointed as the first co-chairs of the Ph.D. program. Anne-Linda was an extraordinary colleague to work with, and she later assumed primary leadership for the Ph.D. program. In some ways, we were advantaged by being late in developing a Ph.D. program compared to many other top schools of social work.

”As co-chair, I made calls to many of the highly rated social work Ph.D. programs in the United States and talked with their directors about what they would do differently if they were establishing their doctoral program today. I also met with Ph.D. directors across the UNC campus. One recommendation that was echoed by many of these contacts was the importance of having a program theme. In other words, how would the UNC program be distinguished from other programs across the country. After many discussions with the planning committee and other stakeholders, “social intervention” was identified as the organizing theme for the program, which was a forerunner to what became known in social work as intervention research. Professor Emeritus Mark Fraser evolved as a leading voice for intervention research in social work across the country, and the School’s Ph.D. graduates became known for their focus on developing and testing empirically-based interventions and for their strong research and statistical competencies. This remains true today.

”As Dean Turner had concluded, establishing a quality Ph.D. program was an essential element to the School’s ascendency as a top-ranked school of social work. Since its establishment, the School’s Ph.D. program has been blessed with capable leadership, including Professors Kathleen Rounds, Sheryl Zimmerman, Matthew Howard, and Mimi Chapman.“