Our Future Vision
The Next 90 Years
Fall 2021 marks the 90th anniversary of the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). We have countless accomplishments and milestones to celebrate, as well as almost a century of contributions from the many incredible social work scholars, educators, alumni and leaders who made GSSW the remarkable place it is today.
While we’re celebrating our legacy, we’re focused on the future — a bold vision for social work that is centered on community and collective care and that delivers on the long-overdue promise of equity and justice. We’re focused on the ways we will transform social work research, practice and education to imagine, ignite and sustain change.
Learn more about GSSW’s strategic goals and vision for the future.
The Future of Social Work
The Future of Work
What will the future of work be for today’s youth? GSSW Assistant Professor Marquisha Lawrence Scott explores the impacts of globalization and automation on healthy youth development.
Social Work and Mutual Aid
A GSSW research team is studying the ways that mutual aid has been meeting Colorado community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health Futures Fellowship
Led by PhD alumna Laura Nissen, GSSW fellows are applying futures thinking and foresight practices to social work as part of the Social Work Health Futures Lab.
Social Work Scholars, Educators and Leaders
People of vision and purpose make GSSW what it is today, and that has been our legacy from the start. Get to know some of the individuals who shaped our trajectory.
2007–2016: James Herbert Williams, Dean & Morris Endowed Chair
As dean, James Herbert Williams shepherded GSSW’s rise in the national rankings (from No. 38 to No. 17 according to U.S. News & World Report), a revision of its doctoral program, and an overhaul of its MSW program, creating seven of the eight concentrations available today. The school also added 20 faculty members and saw steady growth in the number of graduate students during his tenure, from 383 to 525. The Western Colorado MSW Program was established in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, expanding GSSW’s reach across the state. The school’s endowment also grew substantially under Williams’s leadership, the number of named scholarships increased dramatically, and the school’s first endowed professorships were established: The Philip D. and Eleanor G. Winn Professor for Children and Youth at Risk, the American Humane Endowed Chair, and the Dean and Milton Morris Endowed Chair. Williams, a GSSW dean emeritus, became director of the Arizona State University School of Social Work. Learn More
2006–07: Christian Molidor, Interim Dean
During Christian Molidor’s yearlong term as interim dean, GSSW’s multidisciplinary Institute for Human–Animal Connection was established in 2006 to address the relationships, both positive and negative, between animals and people. It was the first such program to be based at a U.S. social work school. A member of the GSSW faculty, Molidor had been associate dean for academic affairs; he went on to become dean of the Louisiana State University School of Social Work.
1996–2006: Catherine Alter, Dean
Catherine Alter (1938-present) earned her MSW at the University of Iowa in 1975. Data from her master’s thesis—indicating the overrepresentation of children of color in special education classes in Davenport, Iowa, schools—were used to support a complaint of racial bias filed with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which eventually led the school district to institute a remediation plan. Prior to GSSW, she was a faculty member at St. Ambrose College (Iowa), the University of Maryland and the University of Iowa. She established GSSW’s Four Corners MSW Program in Durango, Colorado, in 2002. She also established certificates in trauma, Latino/a social work and animal-assisted social work, in addition to a Jewish Communal Certificate. Alter also instituted GSSW’s first comprehensive strategic planning and budgeting process; greatly expanded the size of staff and faculty; significantly increased student financial aid; and created continuing education and outreach programs to alumni, community practitioners, and human service agencies. Alter led a capital campaign that raised over $11 million for the renovation and expansion of the school’s present home, Craig Hall, which opened in 2005. Also during Alter’s tenure, the Child Welfare Training and Research Project was renamed the Erna and Brad Butler Institute for Families, and the University of Denver Latino/a Center for Community Engagement and Scholarship (now known as the Latinx Center) was established. Read More
1987-1996: John "Jack" Jones, Dean
Under the leadership of John “Jack” Jones (1929–2013), enrollment nearly doubled, the faculty grew, and external research funding increased significantly. The concentration curriculum was organized according to specialty fields of practice (children, youth, and families; community mental health; drug dependency; health; and gerontology), though the structure was then changed to direct practice and indirect practice. The Bridge Project was launched as the only direct service program in the nation administered by a graduate school of social work. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Latino Mental Health Project resulted in creation of new courses and scholarships for Latinx students specializing in clinical practice; it laid the foundation for the eventual Latino/a Certificate Program. The Child Welfare Training and Research Project was established during his tenure as well. Before joining GSSW, Jones directed the social work program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, helping to rebuild the social work profession in China. At GSSW, he established an international exchange program with the China College of Youth Politics. Read More
1985–87: Katherine “Kay” Vail, Acting Dean
Katherine Vail (1924–2007) was a GSSW professor from 1969–1989, when she retired as a professor emeritus. She completed an MSW at GSSW in 1955, specializing in group work. After working with the Girl Scouts, the Metropolitan Council for Community Services, and other organizations, Vail returned to GSSW in 1967 as a field instructor and course instructor in group work. She joined the faculty full time in 1969, teaching a wide range of courses. Vail also took on many administrative tasks, including managing the school’s continuing education programs and establishing a satellite education Program in Pueblo, extending MSW education to an underserved area of the state. As associate dean (1983–1985) and then acting dean (1985–1987), she put GSSW’s financial affairs back in order, led the faculty in reevaluating and revising the curriculum, and developed the school’s Information Technology Center. Read More
1978–85: Leverne McCummings, Dean
Following 15 years as a public school teacher, social worker and social services administrator, Leverne McCummings (1932–2015) earned his doctorate in social work from Ohio State University in 1975. His areas of expertise included group work, administration, health and aging. He spent two years as a faculty member at Syracuse University School of Social Work and then joined the GSSW faculty in 1977 as an associate professor. He became the school’s third dean in 1978 and served as president of the Council of Deans and Directors from 1982 to 1985. His tenure as dean was marked by a severe financial crisis at the University, which considered consolidating GSSW with the School of Professional Psychology and College of Education. McCummings left the University to serve as president of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, which is one of the nation’s oldest historically Black colleges. McCummings was the first person of color to serve as director or dean of GSSW and was the first Black graduate dean at the University of Denver.
1971–78: Kenneth W. Kindelsperger, Dean
The school’s second dean was Kenneth W. Kindelsperger (1914–2000), who held a doctorate from the Syracuse School of Social Service Administration. Following service in World War II, he was secretary for planning and research for the Council of Social Agencies in Syracuse, New York. He then joined the social work faculty at the University of Buffalo and served as dean of social work programs at Syracuse University and the University of Louisville before joining the University of Denver. Committed to international social work, he worked in India for two years and made two visits to South Vietnam as a consultant for the Agency for International Development. He was active in the U.S. civil rights movement, and at GSSW, he increased the number of faculty of color and the number of MSW and PhD students of color. He served as the University’s interim vice chancellor for academic affairs (1978–79) and was acting dean of the Colorado Women’s College in 1980–82 when it merged with the University. Kindelsperger received the Outstanding Service to the University of Denver Award in 1986.
1947–71: Emil M. Sunley, Director & Dean
GSSW’s first dean, Emil M. Sunley (1906–1977) completed his PhD at the University of Chicago in 1938 and headed social work departments at West Virginia University and the University of Louisville before arriving at the University of Denver in 1947. He secured Templin Hall as GSSW’s home in 1954, and later raised funds for the school’s longtime home in Spruce Hall. He created a pre-professional undergraduate social welfare program in 1948 and founded the school’s doctoral program in social work in 1968. When he retired in 1971, Sunley was the longest-serving dean of social work in the nation. Established in his honor, GSSW’s Dean Emil M. Sunley Merit Award is presented annually by the dean to an MSW student in recognition of meritorious service to the school or the profession of social work.
1934–47: Florence W. Hutsinpillar, Director, Graduate School of Social Work
Florence W. Hutsinpillar (1883–1968) was director at the Denver Bureau of Charities and Corrections. In 1921, she cofounded the Denver chapter of the American Association of Social Workers, which encouraged graduate training for social workers. Unfortunately, at that time, the only graduate social work programs were in the eastern United States. She left Denver for the University of Chicago to pursue her own master’s degree but returned in 1934 to become the second director of the University of Denver Department of Social Work. She guided the program through the end of the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war years. During her leadership, the department became a graduate school and began offering an MSW degree.
1931–34: (Grace) Eleanor Kimble, Founding Director, Department of Applied Social Sciences
G. Eleanor Kimble (1894–1977) received a doctorate from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration in 1931. Her dissertation research and several subsequent published research studies focused on transients and people experiencing homelessness, especially women who were forced into homelessness because of pregnancy and/or subsequent desertion by their husbands. She came to Denver to head the Department of Applied Social Sciences (renamed the Department of Social Work in 1932), where she taught courses in casework, social policy and research, and supervised students’ master’s theses.
1930: Florence Roberts Day, Founder
A social work professor from Western Reserve University, Florence Roberts Day (1898–1957) came to the University of Denver at the invitation of chancellor Fredrick Hunter to establish the School of Social Work Education, which enrolled its first students in 1930. After founding the school, she returned to Western Reserve University. In her teaching and scholarship, Day emphasized the connection between emotional and economic health and that social workers had a dual responsibility to provide social treatment and social action for clients.