Charlotte Bright is the director and professor of the School of Social Work at Colorado State University. Learn about why she came to CSU and her committments to centering social justice and equity in all we do, and elevating social work research and scholarship with public impact.
What is your background and experience and what drew you to the School of Social Work at CSU?
I went to college to study music performance, and in my senior year I began questioning my professional path. I met with a social work professor to talk about my interests in serving families and communities, and I began taking a couple social work courses at that point. After earning my bachelor’s degree in music, I enrolled in a full-time MSW program. During field placements and coursework, I developed a passion for working with adolescents and their families. With my MSW in hand, I worked in community-based organizations that served youth and families. Most of my practice experience is with adolescents and families who had child welfare or juvenile justice system involvement.
When I was in practice, I was often frustrated with the limited information on how to best serve adolescents with court involvement – particularly girls and young women in a system largely centered around male youth – and I wanted to contribute to the field’s understanding of the service needs of this population. This desire led me to a PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis, where I gained research skills and teaching experience. From there, I went to the University of Maryland, Baltimore. In my 13 years at that School of Social Work, I taught across the MSW and Ph.D. curriculums, advised students and served as a field liaison, and directed the Ph.D. and post-doctoral fellows programs.
I came to CSU’s School of Social Work after a lot of reflection on the impact I wanted my leadership to have. The director’s role offers an amazing opportunity to elevate outstanding work of the staff, faculty, and students at the School, to center efforts that promote justice and equity, and to benefit from the outstanding collegial environment of the College of Health and Human Sciences. The size of the School is big enough to make a true impact in Colorado and more broadly, in terms of the number of students, graduates, and community-engaged faculty and staff. It is also small enough that I can meet every student at some point prior to their graduation, and that I can develop an individual working relationship with each person on the staff and faculty. Finally, the research opportunities here are appealing to me, as someone excited about scholarship with public impact.
How do you plan to incorporate your experience into the future?
One of the most important roles I have held is that of “mentor.” I am eager to offer my knowledge about social work as a profession, about engaging with current and prospective students and communities, and about strategies for learning and teaching. I see enormous potential for the School to grow in its service to the profession and the community, and I am excited to play a role in this growth. I have substantial experience working with colleagues to think through systemic and structural challenges to equity and justice, and I am committed to continuing that work here at CSU. I have found willing partners in that work here at the School, in the College of Health and Human Sciences, and in the broader campus community. I am eager to meet the moment when it comes to elevating our profession’s social justice commitment and ethics.
What are you most excited about regarding your new role and your potential to make an impact?
I am most excited to build connections here at the School. So far, I have found the staff, faculty, and students to be welcoming and enthusiastic about the work we can do together. Now that the semester is beginning in earnest, I see new opportunities to establish new partnerships and build on existing partnerships with agencies and organizations in the Fort Collins community, and in the state and the region. With these connections come opportunities for students and graduates, for engaged and impactful scholarship, and for serving our community.
What have been your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
I love teaching and have had wonderful experiences in a broad range of class content. One of my favorite classes to teach has been a foundation practice course for MSW students who are just starting to build their social work skills. The shared joy in thinking about a set of tools and approaches that allow us to serve as change agents is palpable in those classrooms. Another class I found truly rewarding was a Ph.D. seminar I developed, with an emphasis on social justice in research. The opportunity to think critically about what research can accomplish, about the researcher’s involvement with communities, and about how knowledge is constructed and disseminated was extremely rewarding for me as well as for students.
What is your research focus?
Most of my research has been on adolescent and young adult risk behavior, with an emphasis on services and outcomes. I apply a trauma-informed lens to thinking about services for adolescents and young adults with juvenile and criminal legal system histories, and I am very interested in understanding how trauma-informed services for this population are designed and delivered, as well as in service outcomes. I find implementation science to be well-aligned with social work research in that it considers practical elements of providing services in the real world. Finally, I view research as a powerful set of tools for identifying and addressing racial and ethnic disparities, gender disparities, and other inequities before, during, and after involvement in publicly funded services like child welfare and juvenile court.
What do you like most about living in Fort Collins?
I love all the opportunities to be outside. In addition to the amazing natural environment, I am frequently struck by the intentionally-built environments that encourage enjoyment of the outdoors. It seems like everywhere I look I find green spaces like parks, small areas with beautiful plantings, and places for walking, congregating, and eating outdoors. The other thing I love about Fort Collins is how friendly people are. I see a genuine interest from this community in knowing and supporting newcomers like me and my family. This has been a very welcoming environment, and my family and I are very appreciative of that!
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to be outside, and walks are a favorite activity. I am a big reader, and at home my nose is often in a book or magazine. I love to spend time with my husband and our 11-year-old daughter, our 5-year-old mixed-breed dog, and our feisty 7-year-old cat. Recently, we have had opportunities to reconnect with some members of our extended family after a long physical separation due to COVID-19, and it was a joy to see them again.