New Dean, Steven Anderson, Sees Bright Future for School of Social Work

As a two-time alumnus and former faculty member at the University of Illinois, Steven G. Anderson, the new dean of the School of Social Work, has deep roots both within the school and the university. Anderson, who earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at Illinois and was a faculty member in the school from 1997 to 2010, takes the helm of the school Sept. 16.

“I’m very excited to be returning to the U. of I.,” Anderson said. “I spent a lot of time in my career here conducting research, teaching and developing curriculum. I’m really excited about the personnel who are in place. I know the school and the university, so for me it’s a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to getting started.”

Anderson sees fertile ground for growing the educational, research and public engagement programs offered by the U. of I.’s 72-year-old School of Social Work – consistently recognized as one of the best social work programs in the U.S.

With Illinois also being a leader in information technology, and health technologies in particular a growing industry, Anderson sees a wealth of collaborative opportunities ahead for social work faculty members and students.

“In general, what I’d like to do is build upon things that have already been started at the U. of I., and work with the faculty and the broader community to envision new initiatives that will help keep the school current and innovative,” Anderson said.  “There’s a lot of interest right now in health disparities, and many faculty members in the school are working in that area. I really hope to be able to move that work forward and tie it in with the work being done in the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine, the College of Engineering and other units.

“Over the past 10 to 15 years, the health care sector has been more interested in collaborating with social work ­­because the social determinants of health increasingly have been recognized as important,” he said. “Social workers can play a role in helping understand the social components of health and interacting with people around related issues.”

The Community Learning Lab, a campuswide initiative based in the School of Social Work, holds significant potential for extending the school’s and the university’s outreach, Anderson said.

Through CLL’s partnerships with classes on campus, students in social work and a variety of other majors at Illinois have completed 1,750 projects for local nonprofits and other organizations, helping these agencies meet the needs of people in the community while giving students real-world applications of classroom concepts.

Another area that Anderson views as ripe for potential collaborations with social work is business, a unit with which Anderson has existing ties from his 12 years as a faculty member at the Urbana campus. During that time, he co-developed the course SW321, “Social Entrepreneurship and Social Change.” Aimed primarily at students majoring in either social work or business, the course is still being taught in the School of Social Work.

“It was interesting to see that most of the curriculum I was involved with has survived and been enhanced, so that’s gratifying,” he said.

Social work as a partner in driving social change is a focus of Anderson’s research and of his book, “New Strategies for Social Innovation: Market-based Approaches for Assisting the Poor.”

In the book, published by Columbia University Press in 2014, Anderson explored the historical development and underlying assumptions of social change initiatives such as social entrepreneurship and fair trade, as well as these initiatives’ potential applications in bettering the lives of people in the developing world.

“Much of my writing is focused on bringing business expertise into social work, so that we do a better job of designing our programs efficiently and learning from the particular skills that business people have in developing programs,” said Anderson, who also holds both a master’s degree and a doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan.

In 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship lured Anderson away from central Illinois to Tianjin, China, where he taught a development course for graduate students at Nankai University and conducted research on that country’s not-for-profit social agencies.

Prior to his most recent position as a faculty member and director of the School of Social Work at Michigan State, Anderson served as the director of the School of Social Work, College of Public Programs at Arizona State University.

By Sharita Forrest, Illinois News Bureau