Graduate School of Social Work 2020–2021 Progress Report

Although the global COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect our operations in 2020–21, we moved forward with important work to transform our curriculum, introduce new programs and build on our work to advance social and racial justice. Learn more about our progress in the past year. 

PhD Students at Hooding Ceremony

Strategic Goal: Engage

We deepened our connections to the community and advanced social justice through community-engaged courses and research. We also continued the transformation of our PhD program to focus more strongly on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. Our research expenditures led the University, setting the stage for the University of Denver to join the ranks of the nation’s R1 research institutions in 2022.

  • Strategy | Reinforce and expand our bridge to and from the community
    • Deepening Community Engagement: GSSW’s Office of Community Engagement piloted four courses through its new Pedagogy for Action and Community Engagement (PACE) Program. Faculty received logistical support for things like issuing RFPs, selecting community partners and developing formal agreements, and access to stipends and help from graduate teaching assistants. Courses focused on projects connected to needs related to the pandemic, racial justice and decriminalization; community partners included the Colorado Department of Corrections, West Mountain Regional Health Alliance, the Kempe Center, and the Longmont County Justice Partnership. 


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  • Strategy | Advance training and knowledge that influence public policy
    • Understanding Impacts of Guaranteed Basic Income: Led by Professor Daniel Brisson, GSSW’s Center for Housing and Homelessness Research assessed the Denver Basic Income Project, which provides direct income assistance to people who are unhoused. Denver was the first city in the nation to study the impact of basic income on homelessness.


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  • Strategy | Engage in scholarship and research that is driven by communities and rooted in social justice
    • Developing an Anti-Racist PhD Program: GSSW incorporated anti-racist, critical theory perspectives in an expanded doctoral quantitative methods course sequence piloted in 2020 by Professor Eugene Walls. Assistant Professor Marquisha Lawrence Scott, Walls and doctoral students also developed and piloted the course Critical Approaches to Facilitating and Teaching: Anti-Racist, Feminist, and Queer Pedagogies, which introduces students to theoretical frameworks; the role of identities in facilitation, training, and teaching; facilitation and course design and strategies; and supporting social action. 


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  • Strategy | Continue our influential and innovative research legacy
    • Innovating in Child Welfare: Professor Jenn Bellamy partnered on a multi-state project developing new ways to engage fathers in child welfare. Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, the Fathers and Continuous Learning in Child Welfare project is using the Breakthrough Series Collaborative continuous learning methodology to improve placement stability and permanency outcomes for children by engaging their fathers and paternal relatives and adding to the evidence base on effective engagement strategies. 


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    • Supporting Faculty Research: Launched in partnership with Senior Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Education Corinne Lengsfeld, an 18-month faculty grant development program supports GSSW faculty applying for federal funding, offering opportunities for peer review before a grant application is submitted and providing funds for needs such as statistical consultation or external review. 


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    • Leading in Research Expenditures: GSSW’s annual research expenditures have grown from $8 million in 2015–16 to $11.5 million in 2020–21, including $7.25 million in federal funding. GSSW’s research expenditures continued to lead the University, helping to set the stage for the University to become an R1 research institution in 2022. 


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$11.5 million Research expenditures were $11.5 million in 2020–21, including $7.25 million in federal funding.

Examples of Community-Engaged Research & Scholarship

woman working on computer

Strategic Goal: Envision

We continued to invest heavily in diversity, equity and inclusion across all of our programs and operations and explored new ways to tell the GSSW story of transformative education, practice and research that advances justice. 

  • Strategy | Invest in meaningful relationships with alumni
    • Engaging Alumni Experts: GSSW hosted 11 alumni panels in 2020–21, ranging from general networking events to career-specific topics such as working with clients with substance use disorders, public health, and community organizing. The school also launched its virtual Anti-Racist Book Club, which is facilitated by alumni faculty members and available to alumni participants nationwide. More than 1,332 alumni participated in these and other GSSW events during the year.
  • Strategy | Advance and celebrate the uniqueness of our school
    • Advancing Social Change: In spring 2021, we launched our Brave Ideas for Social Change podcast. Hosted by Dean Amanda Moore McBride, the podcast draws on faculty expertise for fast-moving discussions on emerging research, practice and policy innovations to spur social change. 


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  • Strategy | Enhance our financial, physical, and human capital
    • Transforming our Culture & Climate: Led by Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Michele Hanna, GSSW developed an infrastructure to support deeper changes across academics, operations and culture. This included establishment of new subcommittees of the school’s Inclusive Excellence Committee (IEC) focused on community values and expectations; education, training and community building; and hiring. Students will participate in DEI work via a student IEC subcommittee. Hanna and Clinical Assistant Professor Heather Arnold-Renicker began offering drop-in sessions for appointed faculty and adjunct instructors to discuss topics such as decentering whiteness in the classroom.
  • Strategy | Illuminate the vast fields of social work practice and impact in the global community
    • Exploring the Future of Social Work: Assistant Professor Sophia Sarantakos, PhD student Danielle Littman and GSSW alumnus Finn Bell (MSW ’09) were selected as Health Futures Fellows of the Social Work Health Futures Lab, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They are among 26 social work fellows from across the United States and Canada who have been learning to apply a futures lens to urgent social problems, including racial justice. The Health Futures Lab was founded by GSSW alumna Laura Nissen (MSW ’89, PhD ’97), a professor of social work and Presidential Futures Fellow at Portland State University and a research fellow at the Institute for the Future. 


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“At GSSW, we are thinking about not just the next 10 years, but the next 100 — how our school and social work must change to create a more caring and connected future where all people, other species, and our environment all thrive.”

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

Alumni Spotlights

Renata Heberton pictured right
Collective Community-Building

Faculty member and former student are transforming the community through Angelica Village, an intentional community serving refugee youths and people exiting homelessness.

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William Cloud
William Cloud Retires

As he prepares to retire from the social work stage after 30 years at GSSW, alumnus and Prof. William Cloud is celebrated for his contributions as a teacher, mentor and scholar.

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Katherine Riley
MSW + MA in International Development

GSSW dual-degree grad Katherine Riley, MSW ’20, MA ’20, is working to advance Latina opportunities and reproductive rights.

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Ecological Justice

Strategic Goal: Learn

Informed by our students and our community, we continued to innovate in how and what we teach and prepare students to lead in the 21st century economy. All of our programs focus on social and racial justice and help students to recognize and reckon with power, privilege and oppression. 

man in library

Strategic Goal: Transform

Equity and justice are centered in all aspects of our work, internally and externally. We helped other organizations to improve diversity, equity and inclusion while we worked to transform our own culture. 

  • Strategy | Challenge and disrupt systems of oppression within and outside our school
    • Improving Workplace Equity: In spring 2021, Equity Labs joined our roster of centers and institutes. Equity Labs workshops apply an intersectional approach to exploring inclusion in the workplace — particularly racial and gender equity — to prepare leaders and teams to make lasting change in their workplace. The curriculum and teaching methods are informed by research and best practices into what it takes to change workplace cultures. 


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    • Advancing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Associate Professor Michele Hanna was appointed as GSSW’s first associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The role is helping transform the culture and operations at GSSW to truly represent and reflect the school’s vision for equity and justice. 


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    • Diversifying the Curriculum: GSSW is transforming its MSW and PhD programs 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. 


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  • Strategy | Invest in and elevate our unique programs
    • Expanding MSW Access: Our MSW@Denver online MSW program has dramatically expanded access to our top-ranked MSW to students nationwide. MSW@Denver students hail from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

1,212+ In 2020–21, more than 1,212 community members attended our Catalyst Series for Social Justice events.


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