Turn Around

In her 20 years as dean, June G. Hopps has led GSSW's rise to prominence in social work education

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Graduate School of Social Work Dean June G. Hopps feels great achievements rarely come about single-handedly. While she takes pride in her school's progress during her 20 years at the helm, she recognizes it has not taken place in a vacuum.

"The context for change here was, and is, excellent," said Hopps, who was honored for her two decades of leadership at a campus tribute last Friday. "Our growth and development have been outstanding, but we have been part of a whole. The strides GSSW has made in 20 years mirror the rise of Boston College itself to become an established, competitive university.

"This school, this university, is a tremendous place in which to work," Hopps said. "Educating people for such a rewarding field is a very special and gratifying responsibility. It is a powerful role to help someone restructure their life and we help our students understand the meaning of that role."

Last Friday's two-hour tribute in Robsham Theater featured appearances by University President William P. Leahy, SJ, Carroll School of Management Dean John J. Neuhauser and Hopps' GSSW colleague and frequent collaborator, Adj. Prof. Elaine Pinderhughes. The event also included a panel discussion on the impact of anti-poverty policy.

GSSW Dean June G. Hopps. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

"Boston College is fortunate to enjoy the services and dedication of June Hopps, who is highly regarded not only as a dean but as a University person," said Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties William B. Neenan, SJ. "Under her direction, GSSW has moved to the forefront of national social work schools, with a widely recognized master's of social work program and a small but highly respected doctoral program."

GSSW's success is evident in the growth in its enrollment, which has nearly tripled since Hopps arrived and currently stands at 595. The quality of the applicant pool is stronger and GSSW has become one of the most selective social work schools in the nation. A 1994 US News & World Report survey ranked GSSW among the nation's top 20 social work schools.

Hopps is equally pleased at the respect GSSW has earned within the discipline itself. She points to the school's groundbreaking co-sponsorship of an annual conference on AIDS issues in social work, and international forums on developing social services in former East Bloc countries.

Faculty have produced innovative research in such areas as family preservation, aging, Social Security and marital disaffection, she said. Hopps and nine GSSW faculty also contributed to the most recent edition of the profession's Encyclopedia of Social Work , for which Hopps served as associate editor-in-chief.

"I look upon our administration and faculty as 'a very high mean,'" Hopps said. "I didn't go out to recruit stars, but when you have a faculty with a very high mean, you get stars. They are highly respected, they work hard and they work smart."

Growing up in central Florida, Hopps envisioned a career in law or business. But participating in the civil rights movement, especially as one of the "Freedom Riders" bent on integrating public transportation, spurred her interest in social justice and equality. A conversation with civil rights leader Whitney Young showed Hopps "the many roles and opportunities social work presented."

The GSSW deanship was a prime opportunity for the Ohio State University associate professor of social work in 1976. While BC was taking its initial steps to become a national institution, Hopps said, GSSW also faced an important transition: widening its focus to emphasize more research.

"For a school to be truly great, it must be committed to knowledge development," Hopps said. "That's the way the University was moving and it complemented our direction. Implementing that shift was very challenging, in that it changed the nature of our recruitment and encouraged initiatives such as workshops on faculty writing. But people started taking ideas and shaping them for national publications, and they - and the school - became more visible."

With the demands on human services, in an era of limited resources and managed care, GSSW students and faculty represent an important resource to the profession, Hopps said. She notes GSSW's efforts in such areas as continuing education, client and workforce diversity, and collaboration with education and health disciplines as evidence of the school's involvement in cutting-edge issues.

"Thanks in large part to the media, there is a greater public awareness of the problems we often address," Hopps said. "But even as this demystifies some of those problems, it can also trivialize them. The fact is, we work with a population many find unattractive, who have limited access to the political process. It will be an ever greater challenge to help them receive the services they desperately need."

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