with Laura Nissen, Dean and Professor, School of Social Work at Portland State University

Terry Cross Speaking at Commencement 2015

July 2015 Connect

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Dear Friend of the Portland State University School of Social Work,

As I reflect on my first full year as dean of the School of Social Work at Portland State University, I’m humbled by the scope and scale of challenges we face in social work education, as well as in higher education as a whole.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that we’ll get all the problems we face solved in the next few weeks, months or even years.  But here in the School of Social Work we have made great progress this past year.  For instance, the bones of our first strategic plan in the history of the School are in place.  We’re working in a rapidly changing ecosystem that requires our agility and creativity.   Further, it requires deep consideration and a new level of political acumen to protect what is most important about our work of preparing students and developing new knowledge.   At the same time, we must be courageous and take chances to respond to the changing landscape around us.

As an organizational scholar, in addition to other areas of my own practice, I’ve found the “wicked problems” lens to be helpful as we navigate these complicated times.  First coined by Rittel and Weber in 1979, the idea of wicked problems is that they are constantly changing, defy consistent identification and location, are connected to lots of other challenging issues, are high stakes, and that even potential solutions may cause other problems. Solutions are only possible through strong leadership teams in partnership with those people who are most impacted.

By working closely together, communicating clearly, “de-tangling” our challenges, and finding creative solutions, we’re on the best path forward to arrive where we want to be.  I’m honored to work in a place where our practice causes us to not only focus on the issues “out there” in the social work and human service practice areas, but to have the courage to look at ourselves honestly as well and be available for challenging conversations.  Building our capacity to “get to solutions” means helping each other navigate new kinds of complexity. As Ramaley says in her 2014 piece on this topic, we must commit even further to being boundary spanners which is the only road to success.

Happy summer and here’s to being committed, courageous and effective collaborators.   Thanks for all that each of you do to make that happen a little more every day.

As always, the best way to keep in touch with us day-to-day is via our Facebook page. “Like” us today!Laura Nissen Signature
Laura Nissen
Dean and Professor

Good News!

Terry Cross Receives Honorary PhD from Portland State

Terry Cross at PSU Commencement

On Sunday, June 14, 2015, Terry Cross — a distinguished alumnus and former faculty member of the School of Social Work — received an honorary PhD from Portland State University at its commencement ceremonies.

After receiving his degree, Terry delivered the commencement speech to graduates and assembled guests. His address was a mixture of reflection on his own experiences working for social justice and advocating for Indian child and communities and advice to the new graduates.

-> Read the full text of Terry’s speech.

Some highlights from his address:

“An MSW does not a social worker make.  Remember, it’s not the degree. It’s what you do with it.”

“When people ask me ‘what is the secret of your success?’ I usually say that it’s mostly about ‘showing up.’ You see, I didn’t set out to be a leader. I didn’t set a goal of establishing a successful national nonprofit or writing a seminal work defining cultural competence. I set out to confront and correct, wherever I could, the racial inequities that I had experienced as a child….”

“When there were moments of opportunity to bring change, I took advantage of them.  When an elder said, ‘You will speak on our behalf,’ I did. When someone said, ‘Go dream,’ I jumped in.”

“The deepest feeling I have about this life of service is gratitude. I have learned that every door that opened was prepared by others before me. I have come to know that for me to make a difference, someone had to prepare me, believe in me, support me, or teach me.”

“Will we repeat unsustainable patterns of artificial hierarchy based on culture and skin color, or will we pursue a path of truth, healing, and reconciliation? The answer depends entirely on our collective internal compass. We can easily look back 50 or 150 years and see the injustices that were then commonplace. It is much harder to see injustices as they exist around us, such as over-incarceration or income inequality. But somehow, we must.”

“My invitation to you all is simply this: show up, in service to others, with gratitude and courage, with your compass held firmly on true North, and I guarantee that you will have an interesting life. You will not just have letters behind your name or volumes of acquired knowledge. You will understand that knowledge in context is the essence of wisdom.”

-> Learn more about Terry’s amazing history, work and spirit.

Congratulations, Terry!  We are humbled by your work and service and delighted that you have been recognized with this distinguished honorary degree.

Commencement 2015

2015 Commencement Statistics

The countless hours of classroom, field, and study time for 362 students in Portland State University’s School of Social Work came to an exciting culminating point as participated in commencement ceremonies this past June.

At the School’s individual commencement ceremonies and the university’s commencement exercises, students from our Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Child and Family Studies (CFS), Master of Social Work (MSW) and Doctoral (PhD) programs were recognized and celebrated for their academic and community service achievements.

An impressive 35% of this year’s BSW, CFS and MSW students graduated with special academic honors. Our MSW program graduated 223 students, making it the top Masters program in terms of number of graduates at PSU this year.

-> View an album of commencement photos on Facebook.

*Infographic data based on Portland State University School of Social Work data as of June 12, 2015.  Includes BSW and CFS students with Latin honors and MSW students with 3.95 GPA or higher.

Student Award Winners

Thirteen School of Social Work students won Portland State University Student Achievement Awards this year.

2015 Student Achievement Award Winners

The awards highlight students who have exhibited exemplary scholarship, service to PSU, or service to the broader Portland area. The six MSW winners in the Dean’s Award for University Service category were nominated for their work with the Student Support Network, a new peer-led group focused on providing support, leadership and action to SSW students.

Public service is at the heart of a social work education, so having 8 of the School’s 13 winners recognized for service awards reinforces the important work our students are doing to build and strengthen community.

Congratulations to our 2015 Student Achievement Award winners!

Dean’s Award for Academic Achievement
Doctoral — Nick Winges-Yanez
Master’s — Jeremy Swanburg
Undergraduate — Nicole Barquist

Dean’s Award for University Service
Doctoral— Joseph DeFilippis
Master’s — Elaine Szeto, Karissa Moden, Joshua Wrolstad, Seth Cohen, Jeremy Swanburg, Melissa Rochford
Undergraduate — Areli Lopez

Dean’s Award for Community Engagement
Doctoral — Sarah Lazzari
Master’s — Hannah Heller
Undergraduate — Nicole Hannah

Doctoral Defenses

Congratulations to the three School of Social Work Ph.D. students who passed their dissertation defenses this quarter!

Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis PhD Defense

Joseph N. DeFilippis passed his defense on June 24th.  His topic was “A Queer Liberation Movement? A Qualitative Content Analysis of Queer Liberation Organizations, Investigating Whether They Are Building A Separate Social Movement.”

Pictured above from left to right are Stephanie Wahab, Joseph N. DeFilippis, Sally McWilliams, Laura Nissen, and Ben Anderson-Nathe.

Jeffrey D. Waid Dissertation Defense

Jeffrey D. Waid passed his defense on July 2nd.  His topic was “Investigating the impact of sibling foster care on placement stability.”  See Jeffrey in the photo above (second from left) with his dissertation committee.

Pictured above from left to right are Neal Wallace, Jeffrey D. Waid, Bowen McBeath, Katharine Cahn, and Lew Bank.

Jessica Schmidt Dissertation Defense,  Pictured (left to right),  Tom Keller, Sarah Geenen, Laurie Powers and Ann Fullerton (Lew Banks not pictured).

Jessica D. Schmidt passed her defense on June 29th.  Her topic was “Assessing the Impact of Restrictiveness and Placement Type on Transition-Related Outcomes for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care.”

Pictured above from left to right are (back row) Tom Keller, Jessica D. Schmidt, Sarah Geenen,(front row) Laurie Powers and Ann Fullerton. (Lew Banks not pictured).

Please join us in welcoming these newly-minted scholars into the social work community!

Upcoming Events

Liberation Based Healing ConferenceThe 10th Annual Liberation-Based Healing Conference — “Challenging Inequities: Decolonizing Practices and Social Action” — will be held this November on the campus of California State University, Northridge.

Many of you will remember that last year’s conference was held right here in Portland and our School has long standing and deep ties with the conference, its leadership and the work. In fact, two of our esteemed faculty members are serving on this year’s conference planning committee.

-> Learn more.
-> Register online.

Faculty Publications


  • Catania, J., Dolcini, M.M., Harper, G., Orellana, E.R., Tyler, D.H., et al. (2015). Self-Implemented HIV Testing: Perspectives on improving dissemination among urban African American youth. American Journal of Public Health, 105(S3), 449-452. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302531
  • Catania, J., Dolcini, M.M., Orellana, E.R., & Narayav, V. (2015). Nonprobability and probability-base sampling strategies in sexual science. Journal of Sex Research. 52(4), 396-411. doi:10.1080/00224499.2015.1016476
  • Briggs, H.E., Quinn, A., Orellana, E.R., & Miller, K.M. (2015). Community Adversity and Children’s Mental Health: Moderating Effects of Service Utilization and Race. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal. doi: I10.1007/s10560-015-0395-3

Faculty Presentations

  • Orellana, E.R., Yac, J. & Brouwer, K.C. (2015). Structural factors that increase HIV and drug use among indigenous gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in Guatemala. He Manawa Whenua Indigenous Research Conference. Hamilton, New Zealand.
  • Orellana, E.R., & Yac, J.  (2015). Structural factors that increase HIV and drug use vulnerability among indigenous men who have sex with men in Guatemala. 4th Global Congress for Qualitative Health Research. Yucatan, Mexico.

Articles and Resources for Social Work and Human Service Professionals

On Higher Education

On Portland State University

On Oregon

On Social Media, Technology and Communications

Author: sswdeanconnect

Laura Nissen is Professor and Dean of the School of Social Work at Portland State University.

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