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Toward a More Just Future: A Five-Year Strategic Plan
March 30, 2021

Toward a More Just Future envisions a world grounded in justice.Faculty and StudentsRutgers School of Social Work commits to leading for this cause through a focus on innovation, excellence, collaboration, and community. Deeply grounded in inclusion, intersectionality, diversity, equity, and advancement, our plan focuses on core elements of our mission as a leading school of social work. 

In 2020, celebrating our 65th year and ranking as one of the top twenty schools of social work in the nation, we were poised to launch our strategic plan during March – Social Work Month – at a gathering to mark our accomplishments and show off our new school spaces in downtown New Brunswick. Then COVID-19 sent us into uncharted territory.

We moved to remote work and education, reimagined many aspects of our work and community, and responded daily to the demands of COVID-19 and our grappling with the longstanding plague of systemic racism. It might have been that our strategic planning work became irrelevant, but that was not the case. Our goals rang truer than ever in our new environment. As we worked together over the last year, the strategic plan framework began guiding our community and our actions.

The result of more than two years of planning, our strategic plan started with a rigorous, data-rich method – an environmental scan process that engaged many constituencies, including our students and alumni, field instructors and community leaders, faculty, and staff, along with consideration of national trends and comparisons to top schools of social work. The environmental scan was comprehensive and provided rich data for our Strategic Planning Committee (the Dean’s Advisory Committee and key staff leaders), Strategic Planning Steering Committee, and faculty and staff to consider.

By last fall, we had identified a set of strategic initiatives that would guide the work of the School over the next five years:

  • Inclusion, Intersectionality, Diversity, Equity and Advancement (IIDEA)
  • A Curriculum for the Future of Social Work
  • Supporting the 21st-Century Student
  • Research for a Just Future
  • Innovative Community Engagement
  • Organizational Foundations for Success

These initiatives shape our vision of a future for our country and our world that is grounded in justice. We commit to leading for justice through a focus on innovation, excellence, collaboration, and community. We will prepare and support the nation’s best students for leadership in diverse communities, and for innovative social work practice that addresses our most pressing social problems. We will expand our research and research partnerships to focus on indispensable social issues. We will build a reputation for innovation in community engagement, and the organizational culture and supports to sustain our work.

Leaders within the School share their goals and how these initiatives are beginning to be put into action.

INCLUSION, INTERSECTIONALITY, DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND ADVANCEMENT (IIDEA)

Rutgers School of Social Work embraces inclusion, intersectionality, diversity, equity and advancement as core principles for our curriculum, our community engagement, our research portfolios and our faculty, student and staff community.

  • Goal 1: Develop a shared definition of IIDEA.
  • Goal 2: Create mechanisms to infuse strong IIDEA practices across the curriculum and our community life.
  • Goal 3: Ensure recruitment and retention of faculty and staff that advance IIDEA goals.

Antoinette Farmer, Professor and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Since the School of Social Work’s strategic plan was formalized, I have chaired and facilitated the work of the IIDEA Committee comprised of faculty, staff, and students who represent the various programs at the School. This committee has been charged with: 

(1) Working in partnership with Office of Academic Affairs to advance a conceptual/theoretical framework that undergirds the initiatives that further inclusion, intersectionality, diversity, equity, and advancement (IIDEA) for social justice for the School, and for agencies that partner with the School, in order to carry out the core mission of SSW;

(2)  Working in partnership with multiple School of Social Work entities, including the curriculum faculty and the staff council, to lead development and implementation oversight of a comprehensive, evolving, multi-year that plan that advances IIDEA within the School and agencies that partner with the School; and

(3)  Identifying areas where inclusion, intersectionality, diversity, equity, and advancement need to be addressed and make recommendations to the dean, administration, and faculty to address the identified areas.

To address the first goal and charge, separate subcommittees have been formed. In addition, the IIDEA Committee also partnered with Social Workers Advocating for GLBTQA and Gender-Nonconforming Equal Rights (SWAGGER), a student-run organization funded by Rutgers School of Social Work’s Graduate Student Association, to host the School’s first Transgender Day of Remembrance event. The IIDEA Committee has made recommendations to the dean that will ensure that faculty, staff, students, and others affiliated with the School are better equipped to work with transgender individuals. Moreover, the IIDEA Committee will host a diversity, equity, and inclusion event in partnership with student advisors from the Office of Student Affairs this semester. Members of the committee believe that transparency is important in advancing inclusion, intersectionality, diversity, equity, and advancement efforts. Therefore, plans are underway to develop a diversity, equity, and inclusion website and publish a IIDEA progress report, which will be posted on the website.

In addition to the School of Social Work’s IIDEA efforts, the IIDEA Committee will be leading the diversity planning process in the School. On January 28, Rutgers launched its University-wide diversity strategic planning process. Building on the University Equity Audit, Rutgers will assess and align its efforts across the Chancellor-led units and the central administration recognizing that diversity, equity, and inclusion lead us to excellence. A first step in the process is surveying students, faculty, staff, and other internal partners to reflect on where the University currently is and where it needs to be.

A CURRICULUM FOR THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL WORK

The BASW, MSW, Ph.D. and DSW curricula will prepare graduates for leadership and innovation in community organizations to redress social, racial, economic, and environmental disparities.

  • Goal 1: Prepare students for exemplary work with diverse populations and to lead in diverse and inclusive settings.
  • Goal 2: Prepare students to lead and drive innovation in the non-profit, public, private and academic sectors.
  • Goal 3: Prepare students to lead and practice in a technology-driven environment.
  • Goal 4: Prepare students to work in complex health care environments.
  • Goal 5: Enhance innovative methods of curriculum delivery.

Laura Curran, Associate Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
In response to the School of Social Work’s strategic plan initiative to develop a curriculum for the future of social work, our faculty is working to review and integrate technology content into the curriculum as it relates to social work practice, administration, and the social environment. We have already made significant strides in this area of our work. Faculty members have started to update course content, and we have developed a new mini-course on e-social work practice designed by Associate Professor Patricia Findley, Director of our Master of Social Work Program and Special Assistant to the Dean for Interprofessional Health Initiatives. We have also launched a new field education lab that teaches our students about telehealth management and provides them the skills they need to administer services in virtual settings.

While our plan pre-dated COVID-19, the pandemic accelerated our actions. A significant percentage of our students have been working in virtual field placements since the pandemic began, and we expect these arrangements to continue into the future. As a result of the changing needs of our students brought on by the pandemic, our faculty are integrating enhanced leadership content into the curriculum, including leading through crises and leading organizations in a virtual context. Finally, our curriculum committees are working in conjunction with the Inclusion, Intersectionality, Diversity, Equity and Advancement (IIDEA) Committee to ensure our curriculum reflects the School’s deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and grounding in anti-racist practices.

SUPPORTING THE 21ST-CENTURY STUDENT

RU-SSW will maximize success for 21st-century students by providing access to necessary tools and support to prospective and current students, and to alumni.

  • Goal 1: Develop a framework and multi-year plan for responding to the needs of 21st-century students in the BASW, MSW, Ph.D. and DSW program options.
  • Goal 2: Continue the strong focus on raising dollars for student scholarships and additional student supports.
  • Goal 3: Partner more effectively with Rutgers Career Services.
  • Goal 4: Build stronger community among students and the School.

Arlene Hunter, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs

One of the main reasons students have difficulty beginning or continuing their MSW education is lack of funding. We all know how expensive higher education has become. Even attending Rutgers School of Social Work, which is a New Jersey resident’s best academic choice at a reasonable tuition rate, is daunting to many. More than 89% of MSW students take out federal loans, and other students work full time and attend school part time to pay for their education. 

At the same time, the entire scope of financial aid is confusing and complicated, and many students do not fully understand the loans and the consequences of withdrawing from courses if one has a loan. Many students do not have a feasible plan to re-pay loans once they graduate or grasp how much they will be required to pay on a monthly or yearly basis.

In order to ensure students understand the serious issues of financial aid and financial planning, the Office of Student Affairs is committed to developing a comprehensive financial wellness program for MSW students. As part of this ambitious strategic plan, the following steps will be taken:

  • Review and strengthen current new student financial aid webinars, which are currently facilitated by professional staff from the University Office of Financial Aid.
  • Develop a downloadable guide to financial aid for MSW students based on information from the University Office of Financial Aid.
  • Develop a list of possible funding sources for MSW students, including those outside the University.
  • Develop a financial planning document for continuing MSW students. This document will focus on students’ post-degree financial issues and will provide the tools and resources for new graduates to navigate their financial futures.

       The Office of Student Affairs will continue to provide initial programs in the Spring and Summer 2021 semesters and implement the comprehensive program for the 2021-2022 academic year.

RESEARCH FOR A JUST FUTURE

RU-SSW will serve as an exemplary, top 20-ranked program, by identifying emerging social work research priorities, building research clusters/centers, and by enhancing support for our current research initiatives.

  • Goal 1: Continue current focus on increasing T/TT and NTT Research faculty size to better approximate ratios with key competitor programs (R1, Big Ten, NYC-specific) and to better align faculty representation with student diversity.
  • Goal 2: Increase faculty research productivity.

N. Andrew Peterson, Professor and Associate Dean for Research

In order to address some of the key components of the School of Social Work’s strategic plan (Research for a Just Future; Inclusion, Intersectionality, Diversity, Equity and Advancement (IIDEA); and Innovative Community Engagement), the Research Advisory Committee, in collaboration with the IIDEA Committee, has developed two Research Recognition Awards for:

1) Rutgers School of Social Work researchers who have made outstanding contributions to IIDEA research; and

2) Rutgers School of Social Work Emerging Scholars who have made outstanding contributions to IIDEA research.

These awards will recognize Rutgers School of Social Work faculty, staff, and students who have made outstanding and innovative contributions to IIDEA research initiatives. The individuals recognized with these awards will serve as a model for how IIDEA perspectives can permeate our research portfolio.

All Rutgers School of Social Work faculty, staff, and students will be eligible for nomination. The Research Advisory and IIDEA Committees will review applications based on the following the individual’s commitment and contributions to advancing IIDEA research efforts.

INNOVATIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

RU-SSW will actively support New Jersey social work practice communities through its research and community engagement efforts.

  • Goal 1: Identify, develop, and leverage new and existing strategic partnerships between the School and communities.
  • Goal 2: Increase faculty, staff and student engagement in social policy advocacy.
  • Goal 3: Create faculty promotion supports for community engagement activities.
  • Goal 4: Develop a robust community engagement communication plan.

Mark Lamar, Associate Professor of Professional Practice Executive Director, Office of Field Education
The Office of Field Education will continue to connect with our community partners – including the more than 1,500 field placements at organizations across the country – through many of our usual means and methods. However, we are also looking for additional ways we can support these agencies in a more focused way.

For example, we are interested in helping agencies make improvements by engaging with Rutgers School of Social Work faculty expertise. Agencies may need help or information about conducting research or improving their policies and procedures, and our faculty can provide the assistance they need. We view this as an expansion of our existing partnerships because many organizations have their own deep traditions of practice and expertise.

In addition, some of our field trainings offer CEUs, which our social work partners need for ongoing licensure. This includes training agency staff in our Seminar on Field Instruction, which covers how to teach and train students but also has implications for improving supervisory practice overall.

ORGANIZATIONAL FOUNDATIONS FOR SUCCESS
RU-SSW will invest to ensure strength in organizational foundations that support the development of faculty, staff and students to achieve the mission of the School. Organizational foundations elements will ensure achievability of goals, objectives, and measures for the other five initiatives and also will include goals, objectives, and measures of its own.

  • Goal 1: Creating a cohesive culture and climate.
  • Goal 2: Investments in infrastructure and other operational instruments, including, but not limited to:
  • Goal 3: Improving branding and communication.
  • Goal 4: External development and fundraising.

Sharon Fortin, Associate Dean for Finance and Administration
With the convening of the inaugural School of Social Work Staff Council during the fall of 2020, we are off to a critical start to further implement elements of the Organizational Foundations for Success initiative. Through its representation of staff across the School, the Council will work to build action plans that contribute directly to the goals established in this initiative as well as elements of the five other initiatives.

The School has achieved implementation of other action items that include the beginnings of more robust staff recognition, the expansion of the communications team, the formation of the School of Social Work Website Redesign Steering Committee, and action planning to effect administrative and technological improvements that will prove to be of great benefit to our faculty, staff, and students. 

These efforts don’t rest on any one person but on the strong team of staff here at the School of Social Work. I look forward to further collaboration so that we may implement the strategic plan across the School, and to ensure the School has the appropriate organizational foundations for success.

We invite you to join with us as we build our leadership in key strategic areas, to educate the next generation of social workers for our world, and to build the knowledge that supports social change. Read through our entire plan, which outlines critical goals and objectives for our community at go.rutgers.edu/sswstrategicplan.

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