Social work is the second most popular graduate program at UGA and more than half a million social workers practice in the U.S., but social work remains a misunderstood profession.
“Many people think only about child welfare when they think of social work, but social work’s commitment to social justice spans child welfare on one end of the spectrum to gerontology on the other end,” said Maurice Daniels, dean of the School of Social Work. “Social workers aren’t earning huge salaries, so students who major in social work are committed to empowering individuals in settings such as schools, hospitals, senior centers, prisons, mental health clinics, public social agencies and nonprofits.”
Daniels, who was named dean of the school in 2005, traces his interest in social work to community meetings held in his home in rural Rochelle during the late 1960s.
“There was a lot going on during that period particularly in the South,” said Daniels. “The struggle for civil rights, the war on poverty and the Vietnam War were very much a part of the fabric of American society. I was inspired to have a concern about what was going on around me, and I wanted to do what I could to better our society.”
Daniels has been a faculty member at UGA for more than 25 years. Before becoming dean of the school, he served as associate dean and director of the Master’s of Social Work program. He was also assistant to the dean of the graduate school and director of the Patricia Roberts Harris graduate fellowship program. He is the founder and director of the Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies, which chronicles the civil rights movement in Georgia.
“It has been very rewarding to research the brilliant stories of unsung foot soldiers such as Mary Frances Early, Hamilton Holmes, Horace T. Ward and the Killian family,” he said. “Their stories are American stories of courage and valor, and they provide important lessons for studies about social change and democracy.”
The School of Social Work is also home to the Institute for Nonprofit Management. The school offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in social work, and the master of arts and graduate certificate in the management of nonprofit organizations through the institute.
“We have a number of significant things going on now,” said Daniels. “We are proud that our enrollment and credit hours are up in all of our programs, which reveals a sustained commitment to our mission of helping others even during times of economic downturn.”
And support of the school from alumni and friends is up, according to Daniels. Since 2004, the school has increased fundraising and development by more than 400 percent, and the school is completing fundraising for its third endowed professorship, the Donald L. Hollowell Professorship of Social Justice and Civil Rights Studies.
“We also are collaborating with our colleagues in the College of Public Health to develop a joint MSW/MPH degree,” said Daniels. “If you asked me what was the number one problem as it relates to social and economic justice in our state and the world, I would say it’s access to health care.”
One of the social work profession’s biggest challenges, according to Daniels, is closing the gap between social work research and social work practice.
“We have to take the empirical research we do and direct it to practitioners and establish closer relationships with community-based agencies and practitioners to make sure our work is applicable to the challenges they face on the front line,” he said.
Daniels recently appointed a team of social work faculty to an academic planning and evaluation committee with the goal of assessing how the school is serving the needs of students, alumni, practitioners, social agencies and the community.
“We need to do that because as a profession our mission is social and economic justice, so we need to know that we are having an impact on poverty, on infant mortality, on mental health, HIV/AIDS prevention, child welfare and so on,” said Daniels. “That’s what our school should ultimately be judged by.”