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BC Partnership with Jesuit Universities Worldwide Will Aid Social Welfare in Developing Countries


CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (July 6, 2011) - Economically developing countries in the Global South that seek to improve their welfare systems face a dilemma. Lacking adequate programs of their own, they typically send future scholars and advanced professionals to study social welfare in North America or Europe.  But those models of social welfare may not transfer well to the Global South, and the flow of talent abroad often leads to "brain drain" and impedes the development of professional networks at home.

Alberto Godenzi, William P. Leahy, S.J., Emilio Botín, James Lubben
A June 30 ceremony formalized an agreement between BC and Sovereign Bank/Santander Universities to establish an International Ph.D. in Social Welfare Program in the Graduate School of Social Work. (L-R) GSSW Dean Alberto Godenzi, BC President William P. Leahy, S.J., Santander Chairman Emilio Botín and Louise McMahon Ahearn Professor of Social Work James Lubben, director of the initiative and of GSSW’s doctoral program. (Photo by Rose Lincoln)


Boston College aims to address this issue through its newly established International Ph.D. in Social Welfare Program, which emphasizes and preserves students’ connections with their home countries as part of their training.

The groundbreaking program, which will be headquartered in BC’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), is being funded by a three-year agreement with Sovereign Bank, a part of Spain-based Banco Santander. The bank, through Santander Universities’ Global Division, provides financial support to universities for projects that advance common goals of expanding knowledge and experience throughout the world.

Through the doctoral program, Boston College will form partnerships and exchanges with Jesuit, Catholic universities worldwide to advance and professionalize the field of social welfare. According to program leaders, students will gain research-driven knowledge, experience-based insight, and field-tested skills to address the unique issues faced by each country or community.

Louise McMahon Ahearn Professor of Social Work James Lubben, director of the initiative and of GSSW’s doctoral program, says the BC program represents an alternative track for doctoral students interested in international social welfare, whose skills are increasingly in demand among newly democratic nations and those of the Global South.

“As more countries embrace democratic forms of government, there is even greater need for social welfare professionals — not just in practice but in teaching and research," he says.

“But in Mexico and South America, among other places, there is a serious shortage of faculty who hold doctorates in social work. Typically, though, students who enroll in social work doctoral programs in the U.S. spend five years or more away from their home countries. This deprives their home countries of an important academic and professional resource, and at the same time makes it extremely difficult for the doctoral students to form important contacts, or identify potential areas for research, in their countries.”

The BC doctoral program significantly shortens the time international students spend away from home.

Students enroll in courses in both BC and the partner university; during the first year they study at the partner university and take two online courses from BC. The second year is spent entirely at BC, while the third and fourth are split between BC and the partner university. During this period, students make the transition from taking formal courses to producing scholarly material, with particular focus on writing a publishable paper. The fifth year (and if necessary, sixth year) is spent completing a final dissertation that deals with a social problem in his or her home country.

A key component of the doctoral program will be a faculty coordinator at all partner universities, acting as "an ambassador for the program facilitating the recruitment and selection of students into the program as well as helping those admitted students navigate to a successful graduation," said Lubben.

Each student will be assigned two mentors, he added, one at BC and one at his or her partner university, who will foster scholarly formation and keep the student "on track."

The first of these partnerships is already being finalized, according to Lubben, and will link BC with a select group of Jesuit universities in Mexico and South America: Universidad Iberoamericana-Ciudad de México (Mexico), Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (Mexico), Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Colombia), Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and Universidad Alberto Hurtado (Chile). Discussions also are underway to expand the program to Spain.

The coming academic year will see the formalization of these partnerships, Lubben says, with the first students enrolling in the fall of 2012. "It is no accident that the partnerships are with other Jesuit institutions," says Lubben. "We want to build on the Jesuit foundation of social justice and global mission — values that are very important to Boston College and the Graduate School of Social Work.

"It is envisioned that many other productive scholarly exchanges will cross the bridges we are now constructing with this select group of Jesuit universities in Latin America. Additionally, the Latin American doctoral students will greatly enrich the educational experience of students who are enrolled in the traditional in residence social work doctoral program."

Lubben emphasized the critical role of BC Jesuit Institute Director T. Frank Kennedy, S.J. “It was Fr. Kennedy who challenged and inspired us to build bridges with our colleagues at Jesuit universities in Latin America.” Lubben also lauded the contributions from GSSW colleagues such as Assistant Professor Rocio Calvo and Doctoral Program Assistant Director Brenda Vitale as well as others across the University like Executive Director for Academic Technology Rita Owens.

"Success has many parents," he said, "and I firmly believe the more who play a role, the more that success is ensured."

“The new International PhD in Social Welfare is consistent with Ignatius’ emphasis of universality,” said GSSW Dean Alberto Godenzi. “The program, built on the principles of excellence and mutual respect, has been inspired by Jesuit Superior General Father Adolfo Nicolas’ call to share the resources that Jesuit universities have. I want to thank Boston College and Banco Santander’s Foundation for their generous support of this exciting new initiative.”

University President William P. Leahy, S.J., joined Godenzi and Lubben and other Boston College representatives, along with officials from Sovereign Bank and Banco Santander — including Santander’s chairman, Emilio Botín — at a June 30 ceremony at Boston College formally launching the International Ph.D. in Social Welfare Program.

Godenzi, introducing the event, praised Lubben for his role in bringing both an international and interdisciplinary dimension to GSSW’s doctoral program. He also thanked Fr. Leahy for his “staunch support” of the school and its initiatives.

In his remarks, Fr. Leahy called the International Ph.D. in Social Welfare Program “a milestone for BC” and a reminder “that universities can enhance the quality of life for people the world over.” He also expressed gratitude to Botín for Santander’s willingness to enter a partnership with BC. Botín said “supporting education is the best investment we can make.”

--Sean Smith is editor of the Boston College Chronicle; sean.smith@bc.edu