Strategic Directions for the School of Social Work: 2016 - 2020

A Mission of Social Justice and Positive Change: The MSU School of Social Work is dedicated to educating students for innovative, competent, responsive, and ethical social work practice, and to conducting and disseminating research that contributes to the well-being of the most vulnerable in society. Our teaching, research, and outreach are mutually reinforcing, with the common purpose of promoting positive change, social justice, and solutions to the problems facing diverse communities, organizations, groups, families, and individuals.

Strategic Directions: The School celebrates entrepreneurship and the individual pursuit of creative endeavors. At the same time, as a community we recognize that focusing on selective directions and activities can stimulate meaningful progress in fulfilling our mission. Toward that end, the School has developed strategic directions designed to move us forward toward our goals in key mission-related functions by 2020. In particular, we have developed strategic directions across our research, teaching, and service missions, and we recognize that progress in each of these areas only can flourish in a diverse and respectful work environment. While each of these work areas has its unique aspects, the importance of integrating research, teaching, and service likewise includes many important intersections (See Figure 1). Following are goals in these areas, and related directions considered to be critical in making progress over the next five years.

Figure 1: School of Social Work Strategic Directions

Graph showing the strategic directions of the School of Social Work
  • Conducting Research that Matters. The ultimate goal of our research is to provide real solutions to problems facing individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. To find solutions we are committed to engaging and working with community members. These solutions can assist many different target groups, and may involve a wide range of preventive, rehabilitative, curative, and other intervention strategies. However, our research has a common focus on improving understanding of complex social problems, and on developing and testing high quality interventions and policies that improve well-being. We likewise value disseminating research results to broader communities in a manner that brings new ideas and best practices to the forefront of social work practice and community development.
    • Enhance the quality and sophistication of our research. As the complexity of social problems and the possibilities for addressing them change rapidly, sound and creative research strategies are critically needed. Advancement of our research requires recruiting strong faculty members, pursuing funding sources that adequately support complex work, engaging in on-going training to stay abreast of new methods and technologies, and building research teams with specialized expertise.
    • Provide access to the resources, technologies, and training necessary to continually upgrade School research capabilities and engagement. Conducting impactful research requires providing faculty members with the resources and tools needed to engage in high quality work. We therefore support cutting edge training and access to new research technologies; the development of infrastructure required to pursue and manage large research projects; and investment in promising research ideas of faculty members.
    • Engage in interdisciplinary research that brings diverse and complementary expertise to bear on complex societal problems. It increasingly is recognized that strong research projects benefit from the expertise and perspectives brought by different disciplines. We therefore seek to build new research partnerships that cross traditional boundaries and in turn encourage innovation and greater expertise in research projects.
    • Improve the impact of our research findings through the careful selection of research projects and research dissemination venues. Conducting impactful research first requires selecting projects with the most likely impact from among the myriad of possibilities that exist. Determining the best venues to share research findings with both scientific and practice communities then is critical in assuring that well-conducted studies impact research, educational thinking, and social work practice.
    • Create interest in our research products through improved dissemination strategies. Extending the reach and impact of our research requires creativity in promoting our work beyond common academic venues. Developing dissemination strategies toward this end requires the creative use of traditional and social media, web sites, and other emerging technologies.
  • Educating Cutting Edge Social Work Practitioners. Making significant contributions to the education and training of social work practitioners requires upgrading our teaching skills and technologies, reaching across disciplines, improving our understanding of and connections to diverse communities, infusing evolving best evidence and practices into our teaching, and preparing students to work in culturally responsive ways with diverse populations. As a leading social work research program, we also strive to provide high quality doctoral training for the next generation of social work scholars and educators.
    • Expand statewide and international reach of degree and certificate educational programming. The School will promote access to BASW and MSW education across Michigan, utilizing our extensive networks and new technologies. We also will extend our international reach through educational and research exchanges, international field placements, international curriculum content, and online programming.
    • Develop educational specializations that meet social work practice needs and distinguish the School in areas of high impact. As the social work field constantly changes, the School will refine existing degree specializations and explore new certificate programs in response. The focus in doing so will be to build on strengths to enhance the School’s unique identity and contributions. Attention to transdisciplinary content and emerging social work practice areas will receive priority in these efforts.
    • Lead the development of high quality technology in social work education. The School was an early leader in distance social work education. We will use our expertise together with new technologies to improve both distance options and the integration of technology in in-person classes, with an emphasis on improving not only access but the quality of learning.
    • Create new teaching and field education models that improve the quality of our education. Field education training is central to social work education, and faces new demands in increasingly complex services environments. We will develop responsive field placements that feature interdisciplinary content and practice, and that meet varying agency and student scheduling and geographic needs.
    • Recruit, mentor, and provide high quality supports to talented doctoral students seeking to become leading scholars and educators. Successful doctoral education requires multi-year investments in financing, training, and mentoring of students. The School will make such investments to enhance the quality of our doctoral program, and the related contributions of our Ph.D. graduates.
    • Educate students across degree levels to be effective research consumers. As a School that combines a focus on applied research with a commitment to educating practitioners, we can be at the forefront of infusing research evidence into our teaching. We will further our commitment to educating undergraduate and graduate students on how to use research to inform their social work practice. We likewise are committed to mentoring students across our degree programs on conducting research, with the intent of inspiring a subset of our students to become research practitioners.
  • Engaging Communities in Collaborative Problem-Solving and Mutual Support. Communities, their members, and the agencies that serve them are confronted by complex and rapidly changing social problems, as is state government. Our expertise as social work researchers, educators, and practitioners allows us to constructively engage with communities as they work to solve these problems. Communities likewise are fundamental to our research on social issues, and partnerships are essential for developing promising social work interventions. Community agencies also are the most important sites for field placement training for our students. All of these activities require the thoughtful development and nurturing of collaborations with diverse community partners.
    • Foster state and community partnerships to stimulate research on issues of greatest concern to vulnerable communities and groups. Both state and community agencies require research assistance as they strive to provide the best possible services to vulnerable groups, and they likewise are uniquely positioned to test new service strategies. The School will develop community-based partnerships with these agencies to investigate problems and test innovative interventions.
    • Provide technical consultation and training to social service agencies to improve service provision. Community social services agencies typically face fiscal challenges, and they often lack specialized expertise as they engage in practice. The School will reach out to social service agencies to improve agency capabilities in our areas of greatest expertise – through participating on boards and planning groups, conducting training and evaluation projects, and consulting on practice and research issues.
    • Create and operate innovative community-based projects to test new service models and to provide field training to social work students. The School has a unique history of directly operating small social service programs; these programs all provide needed community service while training students through field placements. The School will refine existing community projects, with a focus on measuring their efficacy. We also will selectively develop new community-based projects if they meet the dual criteria of meeting community needs and providing high quality field placement training.
    • Contribute to social work and interdisciplinary professional communities through leadership and participation in organizations, task forces, and other bodies. The reach of the School and its ideas depends partially on effectively engaging in social work and interdisciplinary professional organizations. The School will seek constructive engagement in organizations that couple high impact with faculty member expertise.
    • Serve as leaders in the development and provision of innovative, ongoing continuing education for social work and allied field professionals. The School is a leader in providing continuing education for social work professions on a wide variety of topics. We will extend this role through selectively expanding continuing education offerings and by focusing on new online course delivery strategies.
  • Creating a Diverse and Respectful Workplace that Fosters Productivity and New Ideas. The environment in which we conduct our work is crucial to the productivity and well-being of our School community; it critically affects our collective ability to develop innovative and effective solutions across all of our work. Our goal is to create a workplace where people are treated with equal respect regardless of their roles, new ideas are embraced and openly debated, decision-making is transparent, and it is recognized that teamwork and the contributions of all allow us to maximize our impact.
    • Promote and celebrate diversity in recruiting, hiring, and decision-making. Consistent with social work values, diversity promotes equity and community building, and improves our collective capabilities and related work quality. It recognizes the importance not only of people with different characteristics and backgrounds, but diverse opinions as well. The School will emphasize diversity across its workforce and student bodies in recruiting, hiring, involvement in management and decision-making, and through promoting openness and respect for diverse ideas.
    • Provide the tangible resources, training, and mentoring needed to allow School members to maximize their capabilities and to grow professionally. The quality of our work force is the most important asset in the School. Especially in the face of rapid change, equipping our work force to maximize its productivity and capacity building depends heavily on the supports available for individual growth and development. The School will work with our members to identify and make available training and mentoring that strengthens our collective capabilities. We also strive to provide the tangible work place resources needed to enhance performance.
    • Foster transparency in decision-making, and establish equitable rules for the compensation and treatment of all School members. A respectful and productive work place requires seeking input from members on key decisions, and also clearly communicating the rationales for decisions that are made. It likewise requires making rules, procedures, and practices involved in compensating and treating community members clear. The School and its administrative leadership will enhance both written and oral communication strategies toward this end.
    • Continually learn about and implement new technologies that can improve the productivity of the work force. During a time of unprecedented technological change, a special focus on technology is needed to enhance both the efficiency and quality of our performance. The School will aggressively stay abreast of technological improvement that can enhance our productivity across functions, and invest in those that appear most promising.
    • Create a culture of innovation, where new ideas are sought, respected, and implemented to improve our School across functions. Being innovative requires seeking and assessing new ideas, taking carefully calculated risks, and being willing to change past and existing practices. We will encourage a culture that expects all community members to bring new ideas forward, and in turn that is receptive to change.