Matthew Leads New Publications

PhD candidate Lenore Matthew leads two new publications examining the challenges and added value of international social work—in the classroom and the field.

Findings from both studies suggest implications for social work practice and education, as well as other helping fields involved in international development.

Lenore Matthew, Lissette Piedra, and Chi-Fang Wu have published a study in the Journal of International Social Work examining lessons learned from the Guatemala Water Project, an interdisciplinary international service learning project housed at UIUC. Co-authored with project partners from the College of Engineering and Wuqu’ Kawoq Maya Health Alliance, a Guatemalan NGO, the researchers suggest that despite the best intentions for a mutually beneficial exchange, international service learning projects are inherently affected by power imbalances between foreign and local partners. Differences in communication patterns, frequent turnover of team members, and prioritization of immediate research-driven outcomes over long-term social change exacerbate power imbalances and affect project efficacy. The authors further argue that employing a social work perspective, with its emphasis on human relationships, helps mitigate some of these challenges.

Last week, Lenore Matthew and Ben Lough released a complementary study in the Journal of Social Work Education examining the challenges that students of social work face in international field placements. As the authors argue, a combination of eight institutional and personal factors—such as language and communication barriers; cultural value differences; and limited institutional support before, during, and after placement—may comprise students’ placement experience abroad and potential impact at host agencies.  Matthew and Lough set forth five recommendations for social work education to address these challenges.

Taken together, these studies suggest that there is not only an innate synergy between social work and international development, but that the profession has much to contribute to the design, development, and implementation of programs in vulnerable communities worldwide. However, response from the profession must include a willingness to address the institutional, personal, and structural challenges of training social workers in international contexts.

To access the articles:

“Social work and engineering: Lessons from a water filtration project in Guatemala,” published in the Journal of International Social Work, may be accessed here:;0020872816655869v1

“Challenges Social Work Students Encounter in International Field Placements and Recommendations for Responsible Management,” published in the Journal of Social Work Education, may be accessed here:

Questions may be directed to Lenore Matthew at