Following a long career shaping how social work is taught at Colorado State University, Bachelor of Social Work program director Brenda Miles will retire from CSU at the end of August. Miles has been recognized as a champion and constant source of support and encouragement for her students.
“I have loved teaching and interactions with students,” said Miles. “The reason we are here is to teach students so that good social workers can change the world.”
Miles completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee at Martin. “I grew up in a small town and was a first generation student,” Miles said.
Like many social work students today, she started out as a psychology major.
“About my junior year, I began to wonder what kind of job I could get with a bachelor’s degree in psychology,” said Miles. “Social work was this new major I heard about.”
“While I have always been grateful for what I learned in psychology, social work ended up being a better fit for me because of the focus on social justice.” Miles added. “I was drawn to wanting to make a contribution to the world and it seemed that social work allowed for that.”
Discovering a passion for teaching
Miles began practicing as a social worker after receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1975. She received her MSSW from the University of Tennessee in 1977. Her experience included work in the fields of developmental disabilities, learning problems, and families and children.
Miles discovered her passion for teaching while serving in a clinical faculty position at Vanderbilt University Medical School. “I learned that I enjoyed teaching and work with students, so teaching became my goal,” she said.
She accepted a position at Colorado State University’s School of Social Work in 1990 and moved to Fort Collins. Miles recalled her excitement mixed with surprise at the challenges and rewards.
“How much work it was! How much I didn’t know! How much I had to learn! I would spend days preparing one lecture. And it was fun. I enjoyed learning as much as teaching,” said Miles. “I would get nervous before every class. But after a while, I could get creative with assignments and teaching techniques in the classroom.”
“Every fall, I’d ride my bike to campus and see the excitement and energy of the beginning of a semester. I would pause in awe, ‘Who would have thought that I get to do this?’”
Her teaching has included organizational practice, group practice, individual and family practice, developmental disabilities, practicums, and field seminars.
“We have such wonderful students!” said Miles, who says she always aimed to listen to student voices and feedback. “Truly, I have been blessed to be part of their lives.”
In 2015, Miles’ dedication to positive working relationships with students resulted in a Best Teacher Award from the CSU Alumni Association.
Prioritizing student learning in program development
As BSW director, Miles aimed to be a solutions-oriented administrator. “I enjoyed the program development and problem solving,” she said. “I liked thinking about how to make things work better.”
During her career at CSU, Miles led the development of a four-year plan that can integrate with a student’s file in ARIES, which was a first for the university, and created orientations for adjunct faculty.
“I focused on making things be supportive and workable for students,” said Miles, who had a vision for prioritizing student learning in her role.
“I hope that I have always thought about what our goal is, to create ethical and competent social workers,” Miles said, “and that the learning is what is important, and I have been guided by that.”
She has also valued national trends in teaching and competencies for social work education, as well as diversity and social justice. During her career at CSU, Miles has served on several agency boards and the school’s Committee for Social Justice.
“Brenda has been a long time member of the Committee for Social Justice in the School of Social Work,” said committee chairperson and instructor Marie Villescas Zamzow. “She has helped schedule speakers that address environmental justice, an issue she is passionate about, and worked on centering the voices of students and making sure that their needs are heard and represented. She will be missed, as will her steady presence, deep knowledge, calm demeanor, and thoughtful way of reflecting before taking action.”
Reflecting on a career in social work education
When asked about reflections on her time at Colorado State University, Miles expressed optimism about the future of the School of Social Work.
“I hope the school continues to support and prioritize social justice and our best resources, our students,” Miles said. “The vision now belongs to others to create and carry out. I have had the honor of working with people who care deeply about the work we all do.”
“The reason I became a social worker was to make a contribution, to ‘change the world,’ just as our students hope to do,” said Miles. “I hope I have accomplished that to some degree, by having a part in teaching students who will go out and change the world for the better.”
After helping countless students work towards success during her 31-year career at CSU, Bachelor of Social Work program director Brenda Miles is retiring. School of Social Work students, colleagues, alumni, and members of the campus community are invited to celebrate her accomplishments. A retirement party will be held on Friday, September 17, from 4:00-7:00 p.m. at the Spring Canyon Park Creekside Shelter, 3156 S Overland Trail, Fort Collins. Bring a dish to share. RSVP requested at this link.