School of Social Work celebrates 50 years of educating leaders, community engagement

Friday, Nov 10, 2017

By Antwan C. Williams
School of Social Work


The University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and owes its existence to the support of several community organizations that advocated and lobbied the Texas legislature to establish the School.

"Social work is inherently community and people focused, so it's quite fitting that we are celebrating our 50th anniversary due in large part to the unwavering support and hard work of local leaders and social services organizations," said Scott D. Ryan, dean of the UTA School of Social Work. "We owe these community organizations and early pioneers a debt of gratitude and thanks for pushing to get our School established."

The Community Council of Greater Dallas, the Dallas Council of Jewish Women, the Women's Council of Dallas County and the Junior League were involved in the lobbying process as early as 1956.

Within a couple of years the Tarrant County Community Council, the Rotary Club, Dallas County Child Welfare Division, Tarrant County Mental Health Association, Dallas Medical Board of Baylor University and the Dallas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers joined the movement supporting the establishment of the School of Social Work.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, under the leadership of the Executive Director Roy Dulak and with the help of staff members Peter Gaupp and Ed Protz, the Community Council of Greater Dallas conducted community surveys to assess the need for a school of social work in the north Texas area.

According to Social Work Professor Emeritus James W. Callicut, who published a history book in 2008 about the first 40 years of the UTA School of Work, the Community Council of Greater Dallas collected statistics in 1966 ranking Texas 42nd with the lowest number of social workers per 100,000 residents. At the time, there were only two social work schools in the state and neither were in north Texas.

"Large-scale social programs under the rubric of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and its War on Poverty drove the demand for trained social workers even higher," wrote Callicut in "Commemorating 40 Years of Advancing Social Work Education." "Dallas and Fort Worth in 1967 had 550 recognized social work positions with only 130 filled."

According to Callicut, who was one of the founding faculty members and served as interim dean twice from 1977 to 1978 and from 1992 to 1993, the Community Council of Greater Dallas led the charge and worked to involve community leaders and organizations to lobby elected officials and state legislators to appropriate funds to establish the school.

"A flurry of political activity by business leaders, agency representatives and the print media, principally by Joe Dealey of The Dallas Morning News and Burt Holmes of the Dallas Times Herald, produced a campaign to educate legislators on the shortage of social workers and the need for funds for the school," wrote Callicut.

As a result, legislation passed in May 1967 and the Texas legislature appropriated funds to establish a graduate school of social work in Arlington.

For fall 1968, the school enrolled 26 students for the first semester in the Master of Social Work program (formerly Master of Science in Social Work) and graduated its first class of 24 in June 1970. The school started with only the graduate program and eight full-time faculty, including the director, Fernando Torgerson. Later Torgerson, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel with extensive experience in military/veteran social work, would become the founding dean.

Torgerson focused the first two years on hiring faculty, recruiting students, fundraising and most importantly ensuring the accreditation of the School. Faculty and staff spent the first two years with offices on the sixth floor of the UTA Central Library and in the Science Building. Classes were initially held in Trimble Hall and the Central Library.

Again, community organizations played a significant role in supporting the early days of the School. The Women's Council of Greater Dallas, Hope Cottage and the Dallas Council of Jewish Women each provided funds for scholarships and to purchase reference books. In addition, these organizations and other social service agencies donated bookcases, as well as surplus books and periodicals.

In 1969, UTA bought the three buildings the School of Social Work currently occupies (at the corner of Cooper and Abram streets) through a federal grant for nearly $1.4 million. The buildings were renovated using part of the federal grant funds and later in 1969, faculty and staff moved into the new complex. But for a brief period from 1983 to 1985, when the buildings were closed for extensive renovations, the School of Social Work resides in the same complex.

In June 1970, when the school graduated its first class, it also received its accreditation from the Council of Social Work Education.

"It was a remarkable feat for Dean Torgerson, faculty and UTA leadership to not only get the social work program started, but in two years they successfully enrolled and graduated students while simultaneously earning accreditation," said Ryan, who is the sixth dean of the UTA School of Social Work and has been in the position since 2009. "On paper our school was created in 1967, but since the first class was not admitted until 1968 and graduated in 1970 with the accreditation, we will honor the first class and alumni by celebrating our 50th anniversary for the next two to three years."

Founding Dean Torgerson served until 1977. He was followed by Paul Glasser, who served as dean from 1978 to 1988. Other deans include, Roosevelt Wright Jr. who served from 1988 to 1992, Dorcas Bowles from 1993 to 1996 and Santos Hernandez from 1998 to 2008. In addition to Callicut, John McNeil (1988), Richard Cole (1996 to 1998) and Phillip Popple (2008-2009) served as interim deans.

Although the School of Social Work started only as a graduate program for the MSW, today the School includes the Bachelor of Social Work, the Ph.D. in Social Work and two minor academic programs (Diversity Studies and Social Welfare/Social Justice). In addition, the MSW program now includes five specialized areas: Direct Practice with Aging; Direct Practice with Children and Families; Direct Practice with Health, Direct Practice with Mental Health and Substance Use; and Community and Administrative Practice. The School also has a highly ranked MSW fully online program with a cohort option.

The BSW program started in 1979 in what was then the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. In 1982, the university created an interdisciplinary doctoral degree in administration, which included elements of social work, business administration, urban studies and public affairs. Later this degree became the Ph.D. in social work.

In 1991, UTA transferred the BSW and Ph.D. programs to the School of Social Work. The BSW program has nearly 700 students and the MSW program has approximately 1,400 students. Both the BSW and MSW programs not only offer classes in Arlington, but also at UTA Fort Worth with cohort options. The BSW and MSW programs can be completed as full-time or part-time students. The Ph.D. program with approximately 35 students also offers both a full-time and part-time path.

Since the 1990s the School's enrollment grew at a moderate pace, but under Dean Ryan's leadership the size of the School of Social Work has more than doubled.

"Because of our academic and research reputation our enrollment spiked from 970 students enrolled in fall 2009 to more than 2,150 students this year," said Darlene R. Santee, admissions coordinator for the school. "On a daily basis applicants mention that they are applying to our School because of its rankings and reputation in the social work career field."

Today, the UTA School of Social Work is one of the largest schools of social work in the country. The school for decades has ranked among the best in the nation.

"It's been a top school since I've been here," said Catheleen Jordan, UTA social work professor since 1985.

In 2016, U.S. News and World Report ranked the UTA graduate social work program 38th in the nation and ranked the school third on its list of top 25 social work schools. This year College Choice ranked the MSW program among the best in the country at No. 29.

"These rankings continue to affirm the hard work being done by our talented faculty, staff and students," said Debra J. Woody, who joined the social work faculty in 1997 and has been the associate dean for academic affairs since 2011. "Through our cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, internationally recognized faculty, and diverse program offerings, the school enjoys an excellent reputation for producing social work leaders dedicated to community service and life-long learning."

According to Dean Ryan, the school has more than 10,000 alumni and a majority of them still live and work primarily in north Texas.

Some of the School's distinguished alumni include, Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers; Jo Ann Coe Regan, vice president of education at the Council of Social Work Education; Heather Reynolds, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth; Alan J. Dettlaff, dean of the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston; Jill Fuller Johnson, department chair of social work and criminal justice at Lubbock Christian University; U.S. Army Lt. Col. Nathan Keller, director of the social work program at Joint Base San Antonio; and Tammy McGhee, recently named executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition.

"Part of our anniversary celebrations will include events and activities designed to reconnect with our alumni," said Ryan. "We are proud of the fact that you can find UTA social work alumni in leadership roles in just about every social service agency in the state."

It was community organizations that led the effort to create the school, and to this day community engagement and involvement remain bedrock principles for the faculty, staff, students and alumni.

In 2005, following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, the school led a robust effort to respond and assist victims in Louisiana and Mississippi.

"Within days the school established a UTA-SSW Katrina Relief Effort committee, solicited hundreds of volunteers and worked with the University and Red Cross to provide support," said Santee. "The school accepted dozens of students for admission from social work programs and schools affected by Katrina."

The school continues to be community-centered and focused. Through its field education office, the school places hundreds of students each semester in more than 600 agencies and organizations to complete required social work internships. More than 600,000 hours of student volunteer hours are provided to these community organizations each year.

"We strive to develop social work leaders who are focused on improving the health and human condition and are life-long learners committed to helping the disadvantaged, underprivileged and the most vulnerable in our society,"said Ryan. "To this end, our faculty, students and alumni continue to repay the community that worked tirelessly to get us started 50 years ago."