Nov. 2, 2006 • Volume 15 Number 5

Thanh Van Tran and Kathleen McInnis-Dittrich have taken on new roles in the Graduate School of Social Work. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

GSSW Initiative Seeks to Support Teaching, Research

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

The Graduate School of Social Work, having launched a strategic plan to enhance its research, scholarship and teaching, has appointed two faculty members to spearhead the school's efforts in those areas.

GSSW Dean Alberto Godenzi said Prof. Thanh Van Tran and Assoc. Prof. Kathleen McInnis-Dittrich, respectively, will support their colleagues' research and teaching endeavors. Fulfilling these new responsibilities might entail for Tran and McInnis-Dittrich such tasks as organizing workshops, distributing teaching or research-related information or being available for one-on-one discussions, Godenzi said.

"In the past, we have had annual meetings, where we review our accomplishments in teaching and research and encourage faculty to build upon these achievements," he said. "But we felt it was important to have 'go-to' people who can help faculty assess, monitor and improve their teaching and research on a constant basis.

"We are very fortunate to have two people in Katie and Thanh who embody excellence in those areas: Katie's distinguished accomplishments in the classroom allow her to challenge all of us in a constructive way to constantly improve our teaching; in Thanh, we have someone who, due to his outstanding record as a scholar, can truly be a mentor in terms of publishing and conceiving grant proposals."

McInnis-Dittrich, who joined GSSW in 1994 and won the University's Distinguished Teaching Award in 2004, said the charge she has been given "sends a message to both our faculty and our students that teaching is valued here. And that's important, because we owe our students good teaching - and we owe it to ourselves as professionals to be the best teachers we can be.

"We're seeing now a generation of students that is visually oriented and used to relying on the Internet and other technology. We're not going to change that, so we have to be able to integrate these characteristics into our teaching."

While she hopes to aid all GSSW faculty as needed, McInnis-Dittrich said she aims in particular to provide support for new and junior faculty. "I want to be able to sit down with them each semester, talk about their challenges, observe and then discuss what they do. As a group, we can look to hold workshops on teaching challenges, whether it's classroom direction, grading or concerns about diversity.

"The point is, people don't become good teachers without some help."

Originally arriving at BC in 1988, Tran returned last year after a four-year stint as director of the California State University at Los Angeles School of Social Work, an experience he said "helped make me a better faculty member, because it helped me appreciate the challenges an administrator faces."

Tran describes his task as creating "a culture of collaborations among faculty. To do research in the social sciences, you need to engage each other, not only in GSSW but throughout, and even beyond, BC. It takes a team to design a good project, and figure out how to make use of statistics and models.

"Collaboration requires participation and dialogue. Often in our isolation we are working on similar things. Getting to know one another and our areas of interest takes time, but it's worthwhile."

Among other planned research-oriented events and activities, the school will hold a workshop next Wednesday at which faculty can present findings from their current projects, Tran said. He also will offer assistance to junior faculty in developing research ideas and grant proposals, and provide regular information and updates from funding organizations such as the National Institutes of Health.

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