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

January 2016 Connect

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

Just before the “Snowpocalypse” — Portland’s recent January weather event that postponed the start of our winter term — a number of Portland State University faculty visited Washington, DC to attend the 20th annual Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Conference.

Just prior to the conference start, I was privileged to meet with a group of deans who lead research-intensive social work education programs. This group has been active for more than 10 years and is working with other social work leaders to envision the future of social work research and related education nationally.

The meeting centered on four interrelated topics:

  1. Understanding the changing environment for social work research
  2. Re-envisioning our profession at this moment in history
  3. Exploring how to prepare the next generation of faculty and leaders
  4. Exploring how to increase our impact in policy and practice

The meeting was dynamic, far-reaching and inspiring as we talked about the future of our shared work.  We prepared position paper which was vetted with leaders in attendance. A draft of this paper is available through me if anyone would like a preview. Our active participation in this group has been an important aspect of our role as a leading social work program. The collaboration was truly energizing!

freeze-frame-from-GC-video-529x298The conference itself started with a special session dedicated to the Grand Challenges for Social Work. This is an initiative which has been in the works for more than five years. It is a call to action and a platform for communicating and focusing social work research in an entirely new way. Twelve new focus areas endeavor to amplify the power of social work research and increase impact of this valuable work. You can read more about the entire effort  and watch a video which introduces the project. Each of the challenges involves a focal paper.  I’m very proud that I was part of a working group that contributed to a supplemental paper in the “Close the Health Gap” challenge entitled “Reducing and Preventing Alcohol Misuse and Its Consequences.”

In the coming months, we’ll be having a number of discussions regarding the Grand Challenges effort to determine how to engage intentionally and strategically with these larger conversations. Stay tuned!

As always, the SSWR conference contains literally hundreds of papers, poster sessions and presentations covering a wide variety of social work-related topics. You can peruse the offerings from this year’s event online.  To learn more about the SSWR organization, Dr. Bowen McBeath on our faculty is the treasurer of the national board of directors and can provide additional information.

Read on for more of the many goings on in our School this past term.  Happy New Year!

Laura Nissen Signature




Laura Nissen
Dean and Professor

Good News!

Portland State University Strategic Plan Published

https___www_pdx_edu_president_sites_www_pdx_edu_president_files_StrategicPlan2016-4_pdfPortland State’s university-wide Strategic Plan has been released!

Many thanks to the variety of School of Social Work representatives who participated in this effort.   We will continue to be seeking ways to interface, collaborate and maximize the effectiveness, reach and impact of this plan through our own work in the School.

-> Read the Plan

Key Facts About the School of Social Work

The School of Social Work is ranked 33rd, in the top 25% of social work programs in the countryDid you know that the School of Social Work at Portland State University is ranked #33 in the nation, which puts it in the top 25% of social work programs in the United States? Or that our students have delivered 3.2 million hours of community service since 2010? Or that our brand new online Master of Social Work program has an unheard of 98% student retention rate after its first year?

We’re highlighting these and many other facts about the School in a special 12 week campaign that runs through March. Read a new fact posted each Thursday on the web or get each new key fact in your news feed by following us on Facebook!

Positive Youth Transitions

Positive Youth TransitionsMobilizing the expertise of over 100 leaders and staff from multiple youth and family agencies and systems in Oregon, a School of Social Work research project called Positive Youth Transitions helps foster youth transition into healthy adult lives.

New Avenues for Youth (NAFY), a long time agency partner of the School of Social Work, was concerned about the number of youth in their street youth programs who had been clients of the foster care system. In a desire to be part of the solution, they reached out to PSU School of Social Work faculty with expertise in youth programming and systems change.

Thanks to a generous gift from the Joyce N. Furman Charitable Trust, the School led a collective impact and action research initiative to change the system to better support foster youth.

While the investment started with Multnomah County, this planning approach caught the eye of statewide leadership, and researchers made contributions to the state’s five-year plan for stronger youth transitions. In addition, the team’s findings were presented at the annual conference of the Society for Social Work Research earlier this month.

New Faculty

Leah Brookner - SquareWhile by no means new to the School, we’re delighted to welcome Leah Brookner to a new role as an Assistant Professor of Practice. Leah has spent the last five years providing clinical supervision and training at a local child welfare organization where she specialized in delivering psychoeducation to foster and adoptive parents, child welfare workers and community partners. Prior to that, she was a child and family therapist, working mainly with victims of trauma and profound neglect. She has been an adjunct instructor in the School of Social Work and University Studies Department since 2007.
Leah is especially passionate about early childhood, family dynamics, mental health and wellness, child welfare, school-based services, and multi-systemic collaboration.
Leah earned her MSW from Portland State University in 2006 and Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University in 2003. She is close to completing her doctoral dissertation, which focuses on using therapeutic dogs in an early intervention setting.
Welcome to this new role, Leah!

Oregon High School Ethics Bowl Participation Doubles in Its Second Year at PSU

Oregon High School Ethics Bowl 2016 - No LogoOn January 23 the second annual Oregon High School Ethics Bowl took place at Portland State University, co-organized by the Philosophy Department and the School of Social Work. The event more than doubled in size from last year. 85 high school students formed 22 teams from 12 high schools across Oregon and Southern Washington. They were helped by over 100 volunteer teachers, coaches, moderators, and judges.

After the morning elimination rounds, Camas High School, Lincoln High School Team 2, and Sam Barlow High School advanced to the finals. In a very impressive final round, Lincoln 2 and Camas nearly tied, with Camas High School winning the 2016 Oregon High School Ethics Bowl by a tiny margin. Camas will go on to compete in the National High School Ethics Bowl competition in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on April 15 & 16th.

Congratulations to co-chair and School of Social Work assistant professor Greg Pugh and all the students, faculty and volunteers who made this year’s bowl such a smashing success!

Faculty News and Contributions

Tamara Sale in NYTOur own Tamara Sale, director of care for the Early Assessment and Support Alliance (EASA) program, was recently featured in a New York Times article about that program’s leading edge treatment of psychosis and schizophrenia.  This School of Social Work affiliated project is administered by the School’s Regional Research Institute.

-> Read Article


Katharine Cahn, Executive Director of the Child Welfare Partnership in the School of Social Work, recently served on a panel at the Portland State University Office of Academic Affairs Winter Symposium 2016.  This year’s symposium approached the topic “What does it mean to be educated in the 21st century?”  Katharine spoke on the topic “Balancing Personal Wellness with the Need for Productivity.”

-> Watch Video

Peg SandeenSchool of Social Work alumna and adjunct faculty Peg Sandeen was featured in the latest issue of Portland State Magazine, PSU’s alumni magazine, for her work as director of the Portland-based Death with Dignity National Center.

Her work with the center and as adjunct faculty has had a profound effect on how our nation looks at end-of-life choices.

-> Read Profile

Two School of Social Work Master of Social Work (MSW) are running for public office this spring.  Diego Hernandez MSW ’12 and Tawna Sanchez MSW ’12 are both candidates for state representative seats in Oregon in the May primary election.

RF-CostSavings-624x624Five communities using Reclaiming Futures — a national public health and juvenile justice reform framework that promotes effective treatment practices — saved $11 million in one year. A recent national evaluation of this program housed in the School of Social Work showed that juvenile drug courts implementing the Reclaiming Futures model saw significant reductions in crime and delinquency, which drove these notable fiscal savings.

-> Learn More

Blakeslee, B., Turner, S., Schmidt, J. (2015) Addressing homelessness among youth aging out of care: A social networks approach. Webinar presentation at the Regional Research Institute, Portland, Oregon.

Bradley, S, May, E. “MSW Online Field Seminar and Liaison– Curriculum Development and Implementation” presentation accepted for the SW Distance Education Conference.

Friesen, B., Buekea, N. & Koroloff, N. (2015). Stepping up: Successful advocacy by youth and young adult-led organizations. Conference presentation at FFCMH, Washington, DC.

Hawash, L.  “Facilitating sustainable recruitment, retention and community building within an MSW Online program” presentation accepted for the SW Distance Education Conference.

Kennedy, M.O., (2015). Increasing Self-Determination of Foster Youth Positively Impacts Transition, School and Employment Outcomes. Poster presentation at DCDT, Portland, OR.

Phillips, L., Powers, L.E., Geenen, S., Schmidt, J., Winges-Yanez, N., McNeely, I.C., Merritt, L., Williamson, C., Turner, S., Zweben, H., Bodner, C. and the Research Consortium to Increase the Success of Youth in Foster Care (2015). Better Futures: A validated model for increasing the postsecondary preparation and participation of youth in foster care with mental health challenges. Children and Youth Services Review, 57, 50-59.

Powers, L. E. (2015). Contributing meaning to research: Integrating methodological rigor with participatory action. Conference presentation for the Evidence-based Practice and Implementation Science Colloquium at the TASH National Conference, Portland, OR.

Research and Training Center for Pathways to Positive Futures. (2015). Sugerencias para tus Reuniones en Equipo: Una Guía para Jóvenes. Spanish translation of Tips for your team meetings: A guide for youth. (2013). Portland, OR: Research and Training Center for Pathways to Positive Futures, Portland State University.

Research and Training Center for Pathways to Positive Futures. (2015). “Durante las Reuniones no Soporto Cuando…” Una Guía para Facilitadores y Miembros del Equipo. Spanish translation of “During Meetings I Can’t Stand it When…” A Guide for Facilitators and Team Members. (2013). Portland, OR: Research and Training Center for Pathways to Positive Futures, Portland State University.

Schmidt, J., Turner, S., Asula, D. (2015). Take charge for the future: Strategies for enhancing self-determination with high-school and college students. Conference presentation at Blueprint for Success, Los Angeles, California.

Schmidt, J., Kennedy, M.O. (2015). Stability of racial and ethnic self-identification among youths in foster care. Poster presentation at CSWE, Denver, CO.

Schmidt, J., Croskey, A., McNeely, C. & Bell B. (2015). Better futures: Supporting young people with mental health challenges in foster care to participate in higher education. Conference presentation at DCDT, Portland, OR.

Schmidt, J., Farkas, J., Crosland, K., Napolitano, D., & Smith, B. (2015). Supporting Youth with Intellectual/ Developmental (I/DD) and other Disabilities in Foster Care: Examples from the field. Conference presentation at AUCD, Washington, DC.

Walker, J., Lieberman, B., Heine, S., Moser, C., Baird, C., Croskey, A., Duron, S., Boehringer, H., Jackson, S., & Welch, M. (2015). Training and supporting young people who provide peer support. Presented at the National Wraparound Implementation Academy, Portland, OR.

Articles and Resources for Social Work and Human Resource Professionals

You’ve gotten your degree and have landed that first social work job.  What else do you need to be a successful professional?  Check out these 9 Tools for Your Professional Social Worker Toolkit.

Health systems improvement and reform is big right now and integrating community health workers into care teams a critical piece of the work being done.  Read this issue of Transforming Care from The Commonwealth Fund to learn about new models of care, payment approaches, and patient engagement strategies that have the potential to reshape our delivery system to better meet the needs of the nation’s sickest and most vulnerable patients.

Where do you get most of your news of the world?  What are skills needed for digital literacy?  Do you use social media for any part of your school or professional work?  Will universal digital literacy lead to world peace?  The age of digital literacy is now, and it touches social work in a variety of ways.  Read this blog post on the age of #digitalliteracy and the media revolution.

Higher Education

Check out seven truly transformational shifts that will create the classroom of the future in this article from teach thought.

Read how to cite social media in scholarly writing in another great post from teach thought.

Read these 3 super helpful rules of academic blogging posted in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Can Portland give displaced residents a path back?  Read about gentrification in Portland in this OregonLive article.

20 pieces of legislation have significant impacts on communities of color in Oregon.  Read about what they are and how the impact these communities in Facing Race in Oregon: 2015 Oregon Racial Equity Report.


Author: sswdeanconnect

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

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