CSU hosts Western Consortium for the Grand Challenges for Social Work

members of the western consortium for the grand challenges for social work assembled for the 2019 meetingOn September 13, social work educators, researchers, and practitioners from the western region of the U.S. gathered on the Colorado State University campus for a conference focused on tackling society’s toughest social problems.

The Western Consortium for the Grand Challenges for Social Work was chaired and hosted by CSU’s School of Social Work Director Audrey Shillington and co-chair Carlton Craig, director of the University of Nevada – Las Vegas School of Social Work.

The planning committee also included Marilyn Flynn, retired dean of the University of Southern California School of Social Work and Edwina Uehara, dean of the University of Washington  School of Social Work.

The Grand Challenges for Social Work is a groundbreaking initiative to champion social progress powered by science. It’s a call to action for social work researchers, educators, and practitioners to:

  • Harness social work’s science and knowledge base;
  • Collaborate with individuals, community-based organizations, and professionals from all fields and disciplines; and
  • Work together to tackle some of our toughest social problems.

Attendees included representatives from across the western U.S. including: University of Denver, Loma Linda University, Brandman University, Portland State University, the University of Montana, the University of Southern California, the University of Washington, California State University – Fullerton, San Diego State University, Boise State University, Arizona State University, California State University – Long Beach, and the University of Utah.

History of the Western Consortium

Defined as deeply significant problems which, if solved, will fundamentally improve society or human knowledge, “grand challenges” have been adopted by disciplines, professions, and major organizations in the United States for more than 100 years.

As CSU’s Provost Rick Miranda pointed out in his opening remarks at the event, grand challenges started within the discipline of mathematics. Most draw on science as a part of achieving major advances, with a planned time horizon of 10 to 15 years.

The formation of a Western Consortium to address the Grand Challenges for Social Work began in 2016 with the University of Washington – Seattle, the University of Southern California – Los  Angeles, and Portland State University.

Today the Western Consortium includes more than 60 accredited departments and schools that form a collaborative network based on the Grand Challenges for Social Work. The group identifies, spotlights, and implements initiatives such as teaching innovations, new practices in field education, learning networks for scholarly professionals, and fresh concepts of community service.

Focus on community-university partnerships

The theme of this year’s conference, “Town-Gown Collaborations for the Implementation of the Grand Challenges,” featured the development of partnerships between communities and universities and highlighted models for success in achieving shared goals.

Jeff Jenson of the University of Denver – Graduate School of Social Work detailed a process for universities to establish state and community practitioner partnerships that focused on “Unleashing the Power of Prevention” and progress related to a “Communities that Care” model for substance abuse prevention efforts.

Two panels featured other community-university partnership success stories in Colorado and included representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Southwest Denver Communities that Care Coalition, the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, and the Colorado Health Institute.

One panel focused on community organization for effective prevention laid out in the Communities of Care model. The second panel described state-wide efforts for prevention of substance abuse.

Afternoon conference presentations, moderated by Michael Hurlburt, associate professor and director of doctoral programs in the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, and Jose Coll, dean of the Portland State University School of Social Work, expanded on the theme of partnerships, for enhancing social work student experiences, and for advancing community engagement for public health.

Anne Williford, associate professor and Ph.D. program director in CSU’s School of Social Work, and Kim Bender, professor in the University of Denver – Graduate School of Social Work, addressed infusing the Grand Challenges for Social Work into university curricula.

Amanda Lee, director of field education in San Diego State University’s School of Social Work highlighted a collaborative program focused on preparing students to work with immigrant and refugee populations.

Final presentations of the day demonstrated examples of guiding university-wide initiatives that advance community engagement with the Grand Challenges for Social Work.  Carlton Craig presented an example of using university engagement offices. Lianne Urada, assistant professor in San Diego State University’s School of Social Work, talked about using libraries as a hub to impact and address issues of homelessness. Nancy Meyer-Adams, director of California State University – Long Beach’s School of Social Work, also highlighted university-community collaborations to address homelessness.

Plan to include smaller schools and international schools

Discussion of the Western Consortium’s future plans was moderated by Edwina Uehara, professor and dean of University of Washington’s School of Social Work and member of the Grand Challenges for Social Work leadership team, James Herbert Williams, professor and director of Arizona State University’s School of Social Work, and Martell Teasley, dean of the University of Utah’s School of Social Work.

Participants discussed the importance of expanding the group to include schools of social work with a primarily educational focus. “Small schools have many ideas about collaboration,” said Flynn. “The original emphasis in developing the Grand Challenges for Social Work was to let a thousand flowers bloom. Everyone is entitled to their own fashion of interpretation; the goal is raising awareness to improve society.”

“We need to make an advances in the next 10 or 15 years. The Challenges have also been an inspiration internationally, so another next step would be to invite other countries to capture what we started,” Flynn said. “The Grand Challenges for Social Work act as an anchor in science.”

Elevating the Grand Challenges for Social Work

In her remarks to attendees, College of Health and Human Sciences Dean Lise Youngblade noted, “You are identifying a growing interdisciplinary toolbox that is informing how we tackle these problems—through integrated theory, innovative methodology, and a commitment to community engagement—as we develop, implement, and sustain solutions.”

“I have watched the capacity on the campus grow in the area of prevention,” Youngblade said. “Not just within departments, but in rich interdisciplinary collaborations across faculty, and across departments and centers – partnerships that connect Social Work, Human Development and Family Studies, Psychology, Public Health and centers such as the Social Work Research Center and the Prevention Research Center.”

“The Grand Challenges for Social Work represent a dynamic social agenda, focused on improving individual and family well-being, strengthening the social fabric, and helping create a more just society,” said Youngblade.

School of Social Work Director Audrey Shillington reiterated the importance of partnerships at the close of the conference. “Social Work leadership and faculty can lead the charge, but we need to call in all the partners possible—interdisciplinary teams for research and inter-professional educational training programs; community and state partners for the successful launching, translation, and implementation of best practices; as well as creative field practicum partnerships—to launch our next generation of leaders.”

The School of Social Work is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

Read more news about CSU’s School of Social Work.