Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree and master of social work degree from Grambling State University in Louisiana in 1992 and 1993, respectively. I earned my Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh through the School of Social Work. I am currently an associate professor in the UGA School of Social Work, where I coordinate the Part-Time Master of Social Work Program on the Gwinnett Campus and direct the Interdisciplinary Ghana Study Abroad Program.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I arrived at UGA in 2003. Following the completion of my doctoral studies, I was committed to returning to my home state to make a contribution to professional social work education in the region. You see, I am originally from the small west Georgia city of Hogansville and had spent over 15 years living, studying and/or working professionally in Louisiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My current favorite courses are “Social Welfare Policy” (SOWK 6011) and “West African History, Culture, and Society” (SOWK 6098–Study Abroad). For most graduate social work students, “Social Welfare Policy” is their introduction to the social problems and the undergirding beliefs, values and tensions that our country has struggled to resolve. In fact, most current social debates are unsettled old debates that are intractable. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, for instance, is an ongoing debate about whether health care in this country should be a privilege versus a basic human right. This course helps students develop a long view regarding how social ills, at times, become family, community, state or national problems, and how we organize resources to intervene in the process. The West African history course is a part of the university’s Interdisciplinary Ghana Study Abroad Program. This course is designed to enhance students’ cross-cultural awareness and develop their skills for international leadership. I am currently preparing to travel to West Africa with a group of 15 students and two colleagues for my 11th consecutive year. Students are exposed to history, culture and society through different instructional formats, such as reading assignments, classroom lectures, small seminars, guest lectures by native scholars, field research, site visits and experiential activities, and benefit from our university and community-based partnership. This process keeps everything very interesting for students and faculty. Before the course is done, students will have used almost every one of their senses in an effort to understand this new culture. From their disciplinary perspective, it provides them an opportunity for leadership.
What interests you about your field?
The social work profession is a very progressive field that is very hopeful about the future. Although things may not change as fast as we would like, the evolution of social science, culture and policy always leans forward.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
In my more than 10 years at the university, I have been proud of my contribution to the academic environment in teaching, research and service. Now, some of my research and scholarship can be found in some of the leading journals and books in my field. My scholarship has focused primarily on mental health, workplace violence, social work profession and policy, and international education. I am currently developing a line of scholarship that intersects social justice, public policy and Georgia history that includes a story about my hometown. In the area of international service, we achieved new heights in our outreach efforts in 2013 during the study abroad program travels to Ghana. After recognizing the educational needs in one village in West Africa nine years ago, I initiated the Ghanaian School Uniform & Resource Project to help needful children and families get access to schools. Previously, children whose families could not afford a uniform could not go to school. In 2004, I raised $300 with faculty, students and friends that enabled the purchase of 25 school uniforms. Last year, we were able to raise $2,800 to purchase 400 school uniforms and other school supplies for poor children and families. So, with the help of many faculty, students, family and community friends, the project to date has raised over $10,000 in nine years that has gone toward purchasing over 1,300 school uniforms and other supplies (i.e. sandals, books, tablets) primarily in two traditional West African villages. The impact is seen with increased school enrollment and reports from elders in the community.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I find that teaching inspires you to ask new questions, and research informs the process of teaching. In short, they both go hand-in-hand.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
In my social policy course, I hope students come from my class with an understanding that they must become “fearless lifelong learners” and effective social work advocates, and that policy always matters. In my study abroad course, I expect that students understand the universal nature of hopes and needs. It does not matter whether the family lives in Athens, Ga., or the Togome village in the Volta region of Ghana, they want for access to basic health care, nutrition, shelter, education and employment to care for their families, so they can dream.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is someone who is motivated to learn or open to learning.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
My favorite place to be in the fall is traveling over to Athens on game day with my wife, friends or nephew to support the Georgia Bulldogs football team. I am a season ticket holder.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I like to take every opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Returning to Georgia has allowed greater access to my family and friends down home.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I take the opportunity to volunteer in a host of local ventures. Specifically, I serve as a volunteer with the local recreation department, youth basketball camps and others in the Hogansville area and generally support Georgia Public Broadcasting, the American Cancer Society and other organizations.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
“The Warmth of the Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. This book combines two of my passions— genealogy and history—in such a creative, effortless and powerful way that you look forward to the next page and next chapter. It is a page-turner.
Proudest moment at UGA?
I really can’t think of one moment. In general, I am proudest when my students are successful in any number of ways. This includes winning a fellowship or scholarship, publishing papers or articles, and presenting papers at conferences.