Graduate School of Social Work 2019–2020 Progress Report

The 2019–20 academic year was one of tremendous change as we shifted every aspect of our work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, we continued our forward momentum and doubled down on our work to advance social and racial justice. Learn more about our progress in the past year.

woman at a desk

Strategic Goal: Engage

At a time when the pandemic demanded social distancing, we used technology to expand and strengthen our connections to and from the community. We remained active in the public policy arena, advocating for critical supports such as paid leave policies, and our research portfolio continued to expand, with research expenditures topping $12 million in the last fiscal year.

  • Strategy | Reinforce and expand our bridge to and from the community
    • Expanding Continuing Ed Options: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually all continuing education (CE) offerings were in person, which constrained their reach to local alumni and community members. When the pandemic hit, we quickly moved to offer all CE courses and workshops online. In addition to our regular slate of programs, we also added courses to meet emergent professional needs in areas such as crisis management, clinical skills for online groups, and community care. CE seminars also covered topics including disability justice, racial justice, and trauma-informed practice. Altogether, we offered 14 CE programs in the past year, which were attended by nearly 400 alumni and other community members nationwide.
  • Strategy | Advance training and knowledge that influence public policy
    • Advancing Paid Leave Policy: Associate Professor Jennifer Greenfield has emerged as a national expert on paid leave policy. In fall 2019, she and University of Denver colleagues completed an economic impact analysis of paid family and medical leave for the state’s FAMLI Task force. Greenfield met with members of the governor’s staff, the Colorado Division of Insurance, and state legislators, helping to shape legislation planned for introduction in early 2020. When the pandemic hit, the state’s focus shifted from family and medical leave to paid sick leave, and Greenfield was called on to help. Colorado’s governor signed the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act into law in July 2020, requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees. Greenfield now is focused on securing national paid leave protection for workers.


    • Powering Prevention: Emeritus Winn Professor for Youth Development Jeff Jenson worked with the Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health to create Colorado’s first statewide strategic plan for prevention of substance abuse. The 2019–2024 plan focuses on advancing prevention through evidence-based programs and strategies, strengthening the prevention workforce, aligning state agency funders of prevention, and addressing inequities in substance abuse treatment and prevention services.


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  • Strategy | Engage in scholarship and research that is driven by communities and rooted in social justice
    • Highlighting Resilience and Resistance: PhD grad Shanna K. Kattari, M. Killian Kinney, MSW alum Leonardo Kattari, and Professor Eugene Walls edited a new book, Social Work and Health Care Practice with Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals and Communities (Routledge, 2020), which examines issues across the lifespan of transgender and nonbinary individuals while synthesizing conceptual work, empirical evidence, pedagogical content, educational experiences, and the voices of transgender and nonbinary individuals. The book highlights the resilience and resistance of transgender and nonbinary individuals and communities to challenge narratives relying on one-dimensional perspectives of risk and tragic lives. Walls, Clinical Associate Professor Stephen von Merz and PhD grad Brittanie Atteberry-Ash authored the chapter on “Culturally Responsive Mental Health Care for Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals.”
  • Strategy | Continue our influential and innovative research legacy
    • Mentored Scholarship: In 2019–20, the school piloted a Mentored Scholarship Program, whereby faculty received doctoral student support for a project that furthered their research agenda, and the doctoral students would get mentoring and funding for a summer research experience. Eight student–faculty pairs received funding in the first year for projects exploring topics such as restorative justice for juveniles, online parenting classes for dads, and the impact of traumatic brain injuries on people experiencing homelessness.


    • Securing Federal Funding: In 2019–20, our faculty and staff received $7.2 million in federal funding for 44 research projects—62% of total awards—including grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institutes of Health, and the Administration for Children and Families.


    • Increasing Research Expenditures:


    2016–17      $8.4 million

    2017–18      $9.9 million

    2018–19      $10.5 million

    2019–20      $11.7 million

Associate Professor Ramona Beltrán produced the award-winning animated short film Source of the Wound to teach the concept of historical trauma.

$11.7 Million Research expenditures were $11.7 million in 2019–20, including $7.2 million in federal funding.

Examples of Community-Engaged Research & Scholarship

Donny Gerke
Reducing LGBTQIA+ Health Disparities

With an emphasis on HIV prevention and treatment, GSSW Assistant Professor Donny Gerke is working to reduce health disparities and improve outcomes among sexual and gender minority communities.

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Antonia Alvarez
Understanding Historical Loss and Mental Health

Award-winning research by PhD graduate Antonia Alvarez explores historical loss among Native Hawaiians to reduce health, mental health and suicide disparities.

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vote sticker 2020
Engaging Latinx Youth

A new GSSW study asked Latinx youth to share ideas for reducing barriers and increasing opportunities for civic engagement.

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woman doing yoga

Strategic Goal: Envision

We’ve sharpened our focus on equity and justice in all of our programs and operations. From our expanding alumni outreach to a growing global research footprint, the scope and reach of our impact continues to elevate the discipline and profession of social work.

  • Strategy | Invest in meaningful relationships with alumni
    • Connecting Students and Alumni: GSSW’s alumni engagement and career services teams collaborate to produce a Lunch & Learn (now a virtual Zoom-In & Learn) series that invites an alumni panel to discuss career directions with students and answer their questions several times each quarter. Topics have spanned integrated behavioral health, working with clients experiencing domestic violence, community organizing, and more. The sessions are recorded so all students can access the information later as well. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the school also began offering self-care opportunities for alumni, including a popular weekly online yoga class and a meditation group. Special panel presentations addressing telehealth and trauma each drew hundreds of participants.


    • Supporting Clinical Social Work: To ensure GSSW has one of the best clinical social work programs in the nation, alumna Jana Edwards, MSW ’78, led a campaign that has raised more than $600,000 for a Clinical Master Teacher Fund, with the ultimate goal to endow a clinical chair.


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  • Strategy | Advance and celebrate the uniqueness of our school
  • Strategy | Enhance our financial, physical, and human capital
    • Creating an Inclusive Climate: Launched in fall 2019, our Culture and Climate Initiative explored topics such as microaggressions, implicit bias, and power and privilege to instill the attitudes, knowledge and skills necessary to support a diverse, inclusive and equitable school culture and climate. The initiative aims to build community and trust among faculty, staff and doctoral students; lead in the development of socially just social work practitioners and scholars; and model equity and justice throughout operations, teaching, research and community engagement. In a related effort, our field education program now offers a full slate of training opportunities focused on equity, diversity and inclusion. We also extended GSSW’s power, privilege and oppression framework — the core of our academic curriculum — to our field training curriculum.


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    • Supporting Faculty Success: In 2019–20, GSSW piloted a new mentoring program for pre-tenure faculty. The program starts with orientation to school leadership roles and teaching, service and scholarship processes, giving new faculty clear guidance about expectations and where and when to seek support. Pre-tenure faculty also meet one-on-one with the dean as well as the associate dean for research and faculty development each fall until tenure, developing goals for the coming year and identifying resource needs. A mentoring map guides them through the identification of mentors who can support their goals and progress. In addition, pre-tenure faculty participate in quarterly peer support meetings with senior colleagues. Ultimately, the mentoring program will expand to include all faculty ranks and series.


    • Contributing to Community Prosperity: Fifteen small local catering companies owned by women and people of color were invited to the University of Denver in February so school staff could sample their food and consider them for future events. GSSW Director of Community Engagement Trish Becker-Hafnor helped to organize the event in partnership with the Center for Community Wealth Building. Putting our values into practice, our Office of Community Engagement has committed to using catering businesses owned by women and people of color for the next year, and we’ve expanded that commitment to other areas of our operations.


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  • Strategy | Illuminate the vast fields of social work practice and impact in the global community
    • Increasing Public Impact: The winter 2019 issue of the Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research included a special section on Public Impact Scholarship in Social Work guest edited by Assistant Professor Shannon Sliva and Associate Professor Jennifer Greenfield. The section explored critical issues in public impact scholarship and provided examples of measurable efforts to influence public policy, practice and behavior through the dissemination of social work research. An article by Sliva, Greenfield, Professor Kimberly Bender and Associate Professor Stacey Freedenthal introduced the section, and an article by GSSW Dean Amanda Moore McBride and fellow social work deans and directors described promising approaches for supporting and promoting public impact scholarship.


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    • Responding to the Substance Use Epidemic: Led by Executive Director and Professor Lena Lundgren, a new international research effort at GSSW — the Cross-National Behavioral Health Laboratory — is addressing the global substance use epidemic through education, research and implementation of evidence-based prevention and treatment approaches for substance use disorder.


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“At GSSW, we emphasize public impact for all of our research and scholarship. We engage with the community to ensure we’re answering questions that are meaningful, and we consider the general public as a primary audience of our work.”

Dean Amanda Moore McBride, Professor, Morris Endowed Dean
Amanda McBride

14 GSSW offers 14 MSW dual-degree programs in areas including international studies, business, law, public health and theology.

50 Our dual-degree programs currently enroll 50 students, and 5 students are enrolled in our 3+2 undergraduate/graduate degree program.

40% Dual-degree enrollment has increased 40% from fall 2018 to fall 2020.

two women talking

Strategic Goal: Learn

We learn from listening to our community, and social work values drive our research. To meet workforce needs across a human-centered society, we continue to innovate in how and what we teach — from prevention, treatment and recovery services for opioid use disorder to anti-racist, feminist and queer pedagogies — and prepare students to lead in the 21st century economy.

  • Strategy | Create a dynamic learning experience for all members of our community and prepare students to lead in a diverse society
    • Innovating in Field Education: GSSW’s field education team responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with new and improved programs and processes, including alternative internship opportunities, a virtual field education pilot course, allowing employment-based internships, and more. GSSW’s policy on interruption of field education became a national model as well.


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    • Diversifying the Curriculum: We’re evolving our curriculum to better represent diverse perspectives and prepare students with the theoretical framework and critical thinking skills needed to respond to client, organizational and community needs in a just, equitable and human-centered way. That evolution includes the addition of Critical Approaches to Facilitating and Teaching: Anti-Racist, Feminist, and Queer Pedagogies — a new course for both PhD and MSW students — and an advanced Power, Privilege and Oppression course for MSW students.


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  • Strategy | Meet workforce needs through specialized skill-based training
    • Preventing & Treating Opioid Use: With a new $1.12 million grant, we’re expanding Colorado’s behavioral health workforce trained to address prevention, treatment and recovery services for opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders. The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funds the Collaborative Learning and Innovative Educational Models of Behavioral Health–Opioid Workforce Expansion Program (CLIMB-OWEP), which includes $10,000 stipends and specialized training for 67 MSW students over three years.


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    • Improving Geriatric Care: The Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence has partnered with the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) and other university and community partners to implement the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP), a statewide initiative to expand and improve geriatric care in Colorado. Funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, GWEP formed an academic–clinical partnership that aims to educate and train a geriatric workforce; educate and train the health care workforce in interprofessional care, geriatric primary care, geriatric oral health, and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias; to transform clinical environments into Age Friendly Health Systems; and to provide geriatric training for the community.


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250+ In fall 2019, more than 250 community members attended our Catalyst Series for Social Justice events.

woman surrounded by flowers

Strategic Goal: Transform

Equity and justice are centered in all aspects of our work. To better meet the needs of those who have traditionally been excluded from institutions like ours, we are intentional about our efforts to recruit and retain faculty and students of diverse identities and backgrounds and to center the voices of those who have historically been silenced.

  • Strategy | Challenge and disrupt systems of oppression within and outside our school
    • Increasing Student Racial & Ethnic Diversity: Racial and ethnic diversity among MSW students has continued to improve, increasing 204% in the last three years across all programs.


    Fall 2017 Students of Color: 111 (22% of all MSW students)

    Fall 2018 Students of Color: 204 (24% of all MSW students)

    Fall 2019 Students of Color: 338 (31% of all MSW students)


    • Increasing Faculty Racial & Ethnic Diversity: In fall 2019, 30% of full-time appointed faculty identified as people of color, up from 21% in 2015.


    • Reducing Harm in Prisons: Assistant Professor Shannon Sliva is co-leading a multidisciplinary University of Denver team working to advance prison reforms in Colorado and nationally. Funded by a four-year, $500,000 grant from the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, the team is working with administrators, staff and incarcerated people at Sterling Correctional Facility to design and test reforms that improve the well-being of people inside through a community-based research process. The DU team is a member of the Prison Research and Innovation Network, a five-state research consortium.


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    • Focusing on Social and Racial Justice: Community engagement efforts focused on social and racial justice throughout the year. For instance, our Catalyst Series for Social Justice featured the work of photographer Jess T. Dugan and social work Professor Vanessa Fabbre, who traveled the United States capturing the experiences that exist within the complex intersections of gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class and geographic location (watch). The series also included Indigenous Women Lead: Resistance, Creativity, and Healing, which featured film screenings and a fireside chat with singer, songwriter and activist Kinnie Starr and Associate Professor Ramona Beltrán. Continuing education workshops and seminars covered topics such as “Racial Battle Fatigue” and “Addressing Identity with POC Clients.” And, a new racial justice web page curates resources, events and calls to action.
  • Strategy | Increase the accessibility of social work higher education for those who have historically been excluded
    • Supporting MSW Student Success: We provide more than $9 million in merit aid each year, and every two-year MSW student receives a scholarship of $11,000 or more. We also award $520,000 in student stipends each year.
  • Strategy | Invest in and elevate our unique programs
    • Investing in Rural Social Work: A generous gift from community member Bob Follett has been renewed for the third year to fund scholarships for 10 students in our Western Colorado MSW Program. Recipients are local residents who commit to working with immigrant and Spanish-speaking populations in the region or providing behavioral health services. Educating “locally grown” social workers is key to meeting rural Colorado’s workforce needs. “Bob Follett’s generosity will go a long way toward ensuring that members of the Western Slope community — especially those who are farthest removed from the services most take for granted — will receive treatment in their time of need,” says Associate Professor and Program Director Rachel Forbes.


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    • Celebrating Doctoral Student Impact: Our PhD program is among the nation’s oldest doctoral programs of social work. Today, PhD students are drawn to GSSW by our approach to social and racial justice. Recent graduates are social justice scholars, educators and policy experts whose work responds to today’s most pressing community needs. See some of the places recent PhD grads are working.

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