Ramona Denby-Brinson, Ph.D., began her appointment as dean of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work in August 2021. She is the 13th person and the first Black woman to serve in this role.
Training new generations of social work professionals, Denby-Brinson has taught social work for more than 27 years and served 17 years in academic administration. Creating access to education for diverse students and advancing their success has been one of her critical missions.
In leadership roles at The Ohio State University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas, she grew the enrollment of underrepresented minority and first-generation undergraduate students (32% increase) and graduate students (22%). She led graduate curriculum redesign work to prepare practitioners to practice using an inclusive, antiracist, social justice–oriented curriculum.
Denby-Brinson came to UNC-Chapel Hill from Ohio State’s College of Social Work, where she served as professor and associate dean of academic affairs. Previously, she served on on the faculty of Arizona State University as associate dean of research with the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and professor in the School of Social Work.
She served for 20 years at UNLV in various academic, research, and administrative roles. Denby-Brinson began her career at the University of Tennessee Knoxville as an assistant professor and researcher at the first-ever NIH-funded social work research center on children’s mental health services.
A proven leader in faculty development and mentorship, Denby-Brinson has assisted countless faculty in launching their research programs, developing research centers and institutes, and securing funding to advance impactful research. She was one of the co-creators of UNLV’s The Lincy Institute and was the founding director of its Social Science Research division and Senior Resident Scholar. In six years, she established significant community partnerships between all levels of local government and industry, business, philanthropy, nonprofit, federal entities, and the Nevada System of Higher Education.
Her scholarly interests include policy, programming, and treatment issues relevant to children and families; child welfare; children’s mental health; and culturally specific service delivery. With a career-long dedication to improving the lives of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) families, she is one of the nation’s leading scholars in the area of kinship care.
Recognized as one of the preeminent national experts in culturally adapted child welfare services, Denby-Brinson has published extensively on the topic. In 2014, she received the Senator Harry Reid Silver State Research Award in recognition of her research, community engagement and response to the needs of vulnerable communities and populations.
An expert in child welfare services, Denby-Brinson recently published the book, “Kinship Care: Increasing Child Well-Being through Practice, Policy, and Research.” She has also authored three additional books, including “African American Children and Families in Child Welfare: Cultural Adaptation of Services.”
Throughout her professional career, Denby-Brinson has demonstrated a commitment to communities through work that not only fosters intellectual discoveries but also builds the capacity of nonprofit and community agencies and organizations to address local and national mental health and child welfare challenges. She has used curricular innovations to prepare and equip students academically with solution- and evidence-oriented approaches that address protracted and emerging social challenges.
Denby-Brinson lives by the ethos that community-engaged research must be usable and have measurable impact. She has devoted her career to helping others develop their research programs and skillfully engage at the local, regional, and national levels. In multiple states, she, her teams, and the scholars she has supported have established programs and services and helped multiple organizations build capacity and sustain their services. In her position with UNC-Chapel Hill, she looks forward to expanding and strengthening partnerships within the campus and broader community.
To date, Denby-Brinson has been awarded more than $34 million in competitive grants, including federal funding to conduct research related to child and family well-being from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Health Resources and Services Administration; and the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health.
She as published numerous peer reviewed journal articles, books, chapters, technical reports, issue briefs, media presentations, and professional papers/presentations at state, regional, and national juried conferences. Denby-Brinson is currently disseminating the results of a multi-million dollar, multi-year federal study on former foster youth. In June 2021, she was awarded a four-year $1.92 million federal grant for a project that aims to ensure that mental and behavioral health care services are provided to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ children, adolescents, and transitional-age youth and their families living in high-need or high-demand areas. The interdisciplinary project will focus on training students in social work, nursing, and education to assist with these services.
Denby-Brinson has demonstrated leadership within the social work profession, serving as treasurer of the Society for Social Work and Research, 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 is a licensed social worker and, prior to her academic career, she served children and families in various social service settings, including medical social work, substance use disorders counseling, family counseling, and public guardianship.
Denby-Brinson earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree at Arizona State University, Master of Social Work from UNLV, and doctoral degree from Ohio State.
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, she has nine siblings. She and her husband, Jesse Brinson, have three children: Avery (23), Zaila (16), and Jesse Aaron (15). The family is looking forward to connecting with new friends and exploring North Carolina.