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GSSW Earns Top-10 Rank Among National Peers

Heights Staff

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

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Daniel Lee / Heights Editor

A year after celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) has reached another milestone. It is the first of Boston College’s graduate schools to be ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News and World Report. After coming to BC in 2001, Alberto Godenzi, dean of the GSSW, made a top-10 ranking the school’s 10-year goal in 2004.

Originally from Switzerland, Godenzi came in 2001 from the University of Fribourg, where he chaired the department of Social Work and Social Policy. He spent the first few years making an assessment of the GSSW’s strengths and weaknesses before setting the goal.

“It was a goal that we set in 2004, when we were 19th, and some people laughed at us,” Godenzi said. “The social work ranking is done by reputation, and you are not in full control of that.”

After setting this target, Godenzi led strategic retreats with the faculty. In order to achieve his goal, he asked them the questions, “Where do we want to make a name for ourselves? What fields aren’t already highly populated?” The impetus behind the retreats was to get the faculty to engage with the goal and form an identity as an organization.

Godenzi thought it favorable that he worked at a Jesuit Catholic school. “The fortune for the school of social work is its center in BC’s identity,” Godenzi said. “We grapple with issues of equality, injustice, the poor, and the sick. What we do, in a way, is God’s work.”

In his attempt to create an identity for the school, Godenzi concentrated on making the school prominent in three areas. He wanted the school to excel on global issues, issues of aging, and diversity.

“Schools of social work were relatively U.S.-centered,” Godenzi said. “We decided that we wanted to be known for our global perspective. [The students] work with international agencies and relief programs. When we are engaged with global communities, we are in line with the vision that Ignatius had for setting the world aflame.”

After noticing the changing demographics in the world population, Godenzi settled on the problems associated with aging for the second area for the school to focus on. There are three centers at BC, one in CSOM and two in GSSW, that form the Institute on Aging. The director of the institute is James Lubben, who holds the Louise McMahon Ahearn Chair in Social Work at Boston College.

The third goal was that Godenzi wanted to create a distinction for the school in diversity. “This school had only about 15 percent AHANA students,” Godenzi said. “The goal was to double the percentage, which we achieved. We increased our efforts to reach out.”

When looking to the future and moving up further in the rankings, Godenzi spoke about the four areas in which BC is behind. “The people are key,” Godenzi said. “We needed distinguished faculty with global perspectives. It is easier to attract the best faculty when you offer them an endowed chair which allows them to sustain their successful careers, but BC has a relatively low number of endowed chairs. The top 10 social work programs have up to 10, while we have two.”

Unlike many of its competitors, BC’s school of social work does not have its own building. Before the economic downturn, the Master Plan had a building planned for the school of social work, but it was scrapped.

The third area was student-to-faculty ratio. “In 2003, our ratio was 1:22 and we set our goal to be 1:13,” Godenzi said. “Today we are at 1:18. The ratio of the top 10 is 1:10.”

The fourth area was financial aid. When comparing BC to other schools, Godenzi stressed that BC did not have the same resources as the other top-10 programs. “The financial aid that [social work students] got was very moderate, but it was increased strategically twice over the past 10 years,” Godenzi said. “We are one of the most expensive social work schools in the nation.”

Looking to the future, Godenzi emphasized the need for constant innovation. “We are about to launch the first dual language social work program in the nation,” Godenzi said. “This is a response to the changing climate in demographics. We don’t plan beyond two years because we don’t know what is going to be around the corner.”

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