Rebecca Matthew, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, introduces students to the many ways that social work research and practice can enhance the well-being of youth, families and communities.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
Following active duty service as a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, I began my scholastic education (with financial support from the Army College Fund and GI Bill) at Hillsborough Community College in Florida, where I earned an Associate of Arts degree. Thereafter, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of South Florida and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Lastly, I earned my Master of Social Work degree and Ph.D. in social welfare from the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. I am currently an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I joined UGA’s School of Social Work in August 2014 as an assistant professor. My decision was based on several factors, including esteemed and collegial colleagues, support for community-engaged scholarship, and opportunities to pursue interdisciplinary research, teaching and service.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I truly enjoy all of the courses I have the opportunity to teach here at UGA, but—if I must choose—I would say “Introduction to Community Practice” (SOWK 7117) and “Community Organizing and Social Action” (SOWK 7133). The first exposes first-year, fist-semester Master of Social Work students—many of whom are drawn to the clinical (i.e., therapeutic) aspects of social work—to the varied possibilities of social work research and practice. Therein, we focus on the ways in which community has and continues to be a space of collectivity, capacity building and organizing for positive change. Within the second course, we delve deeper into the theory and practice of community organizing, calling upon and learning from domestic and international examples. Time and time again I am inspired by the curiosity and humility with which students approach these topics as we collectively engage in a process of (re)discovering alternative histories and untold possibilities.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
One of the greatest highlights of my time here at UGA has been co-supervising the grassroots, student-organized Athens Social Justice Symposium, held yearly since 2017. This daylong, conference-style event draws together individuals and organizations engaged in social justice work to celebrate these efforts, share best practices and explore innovative opportunities for collaboration.
In regard to my research, I have been honored to work collaboratively with interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners to explore innovative models supportive of community health and well-being. Therein, I have explored the role of worker-owned cooperatives (as part of the larger solidary economy movement) to enhance labor conditions and support community (re)development, worked collaboratively with several local leaders to conduct a multidimensional assessment of positive youth development, and supported the development a community health worker program to foster leadership development and increase access to health and social services among immigrants.
How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
My work focuses on community health and well-being among under-resourced/served individuals, families and communities. This is seen in my work concerning the solidarity economy, where I explore community-based models of human service delivery (worker-owned co-ops) that prioritize quality services and dignified labor conditions among low-income workers. It is also reflected in my more recent community-based efforts concerning positive youth development and community health workers, as we seek to enhance—multi-systemically—the well-being of youth, families and communities via the intentional prioritization of leadership development and equal access to resources and opportunities.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
My scholarship and teaching are in constant communication. Given my teaching focus on community-oriented practice and research, I call upon prior and current experiences with organizing, research and practice to inform and enliven conversations regarding the limits and possibilities therein—and encourage students to do the same. Within this co-learning space, I find we are collectively inspired to think more critically, more innovatively, and more holistically regarding questions of community organizing, self-governance and social justice.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope students are inspired to think critically, to remember the power of the collective, and to continue to seek out interventions, practice models and organizing strategies that support justice. And, may they be inspired by and recognize their connection to those who have done so in the past.
Describe your ideal student.
I truly enjoy working with students who are willing to question, to think critically and creatively, and to support others in doing so.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I am filled with gratitude as I walk through North Campus early in the morning, admiring the natural beauty that surrounds our campus.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Spending time with my family is the greatest joy in my life. From preparing and sharing wholesome meals, to exploring and working to preserve our natural world, to having impromptu dance parties in our living room, my time with loved ones is precious to me.
Community/civic involvement includes….
My involvement in/commitment to community is reflected in the previously noted work/research. In support of local, sustainable agriculture, my family actively supports the local farming community.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
A book that continuously calls me back is Jack Kornfield’s “A Path with Heart.” It provides gracious opportunities for reflection as we strive toward greater peace and well-being.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
The inaugural Athens Social Justice Symposium – the palpable feelings of gratitude, inspiration and hope as all in attendance listened to the keynote address delivered by Reverend Attorney Francys Johnson.