Alberto Godenzi, who brought vitality and world vision to Boston College as dean of its school of social work and through his leadership as University vice provost for global engagement, died on October 20 from complications after a three-month battle with leukemia. He was 66.
There will be a memorial Mass for Dr. Godenzi at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, October 25, at Saint Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
During the 15 years Dr. Godenzi served as its dean, the BC School of Social Work achieved international prominence, rising to 10th in the U.S. News rankings of social work schools and programs. Applications for the BCSSW Master’s Degree in Social Work program rose from 400 to 1,200, and the school’s AHANA representation increased from 10 percent to 40 percent. The school simultaneously attracted a national pool of top graduate students for its MSW and PhD programs. In addition, faculty publications rose steadily, and research funding quadrupled.
A native of Switzerland who was fluent in five languages, Dr. Godenzi pursued interests in comprehensive internationalization—leveraging the dynamic interplay between strategic global partnerships, internationalizing learning, faculty global engagement, and student mobility. His research focused on violence against women, and he was part of the Council of Europe’s Group of Specialists for Combating Violence Against Women.
As BCSSW dean, he incorporated innovation and entrepreneurship into the curriculum, resulting in the creation of nationally recognized programs such as the Latinx Leadership Initiative, the Center for Social Innovation, the Immigrant Integration Lab, and the Global Practice Program, helping brand the school as a leader in pioneering responsiveness to emerging social issues. He also attracted the attention of leading academics with his interdisciplinary approach to social work education, which led to the hiring of top faculty in fields such as sociology, neuroscience, epidemiology, and public health.
“I am very happy about what we have accomplished as a school of social work,” said Dr. Godenzi, when he announced in August of 2015 that he would step down as dean of BCSSW. “We are known as a place that does cutting-edge work in areas such as neuroscience, immigration and naturalization and environmental justice, in addition to the more traditional fields of social work. It has resulted in a cultural shift for the school that has distinguished us in academe and enabled stakeholders outside of the academy to see us as partners in helping to resolve the world’s most compelling challenges.”
“I was blessed to serve alongside Alberto Godenzi as a fellow dean from 2008 until 2014 and greatly enjoyed partnering on a range of initiatives over the years,” said Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley. “Alberto was a remarkable leader for the School of Social Work and for the field at the national and international level. His most recent leadership for the University focused on developing a vision for Boston College’s global engagement.”
Added Gautam Yadama, who succeeded Dr. Godenzi as BCSSW dean, “Alberto Godenzi led the school to national prominence. He was a leader among the deans in social work and a tireless advocate for Boston College. Alberto was gracious in helping me transition when I arrived in 2016 and generous with his time. Subsequently, we worked together to strengthen BC’s global engagement. We will miss him dearly.”
After stepping down as BCSSW dean, Dr. Godenzi took on a new task, serving as a special assistant to University President William P. Leahy, S.J., on Boston College’s global engagement—an area of great potential outlined in the University’s 2017 Strategic Plan. As co-chair of the Global Engagement Committee, Dr. Godenzi helped lead an extensive review of BC’s international activities, with an additional charge of identifying best avenues for growth, and determining the resources and structures necessary to fulfill these opportunities. He and the committee held discussions and town hall events to glean perspectives and ideas from the University community on how BC could continue to bolster its international presence through academics, research, service, and other avenues.
Interviewed by the Boston College Chronicle in 2018, Dr. Godenzi explained the importance of global engagement: “Boston College has evolved from a local to a national to an international university. Today, many of our faculty are engaged in global activities, and the number of international students is at a new high. Moreover, we have a strong global base of loyal alumni. A strategic and coordinated approach to global engagement will allow us to be more intentional and more effective in our international endeavors. This in return will increase opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
“Global awareness and global competence are essential skills in today’s interconnected world. An enhanced global brand will position us well to address complex issues of our time and to engage in meaningful and impactful partnerships.”
Dr. Godenzi was president of the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work and served on the board of directors of the Council on Social Work Education. He also was a member of the Commission for the Protection of Children of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Dr. Godenzi’s interest in international and cross-cultural initiatives was reflected in his long-term study on the use of non-violent conflict resolution to ease family problems. The project involved assessing the effectiveness of conflict resolution training given to 800 parents, who received home visits from social workers. It is an approach that Massachusetts helped to pioneer, Dr. Godenzi noted, and his observations of its application in Greater Boston helped to shape his own efforts.
Dr. Godenzi came to BC from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where he chaired the Department of Social Work and Social Policy and served as a professor of social research. He also was an associate scholar of social psychology at the University of Zurich—where he had earned a graduate degree in psychology and sociology and a doctorate in philosophy—and in the Department of Child and Juvenile Psychology at the University of Bern in Switzerland. He taught in the Sociology Department at the University of New Hampshire and was an international research associate for the UNH Family Research Laboratory.
Dr. Godenzi is survived by his wife, Brigitt, daughter, Franca, and son-in-law, John Nurczynski.