Marilyn L. Flynn, dean of the USC School of Social Work, has received the International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award for her efforts to advance the public image of professional social work.
Flynn has been at the helm of many firsts at USC. She established the School of Social Work’s military social work program, the first of its kind at a civilian research institution, and obtained the first congressionally directed appropriations ever received by a school of social work to create the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families. Flynn also launched MSW@USC, the first national Web-based Master of Social Work program at a major research university.
“Dean Flynn’s innovative and entrepreneurial vision has made a substantial impact on the field of social work, as she champions not just the possibility but the true necessity of the profession,” said Elizabeth Garrett, USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “In conferring on her the prestigious Sarnat Award, her colleagues honor this great success and transformational leadership that will continue to improve the lives of people and families in need.”
The Sarnat Award is given annually by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASW) and includes a $3,000 reward made possible by an endowment established by Rhoda G. Sarnat and her husband, Bernard Sarnat. Rhoda Sarnat is a retired clinical social worker and former faculty member of the School of Social Work.
The recipient of the Sarnat Award is selected each year by a panel of social work leaders, which this year unanimously agreed that Flynn “exemplif[ies] the spirit of this award” and that her groundbreaking work on behalf of social work education has increased awareness and respect for the profession.
Flynn’s unique accomplishments include the use of advanced technology to train future social workers. In conjunction with the creation of the military social work program and research center dedicated to helping veterans and their families successfully reintegrate into civilian life, Flynn led the school’s involvement with the USC Institute for Creative Technologies to develop Virtual Iraq and Virtual Patient, avatar-based simulations designed to replicate the experiences of veterans exposed to combat stress and prepare students to interact with real clients. Through conversations with digital avatars, students hone their clinical and interviewing skills to prepare them for future interactions with soldiers returning from war. The Virtual Patient program is supported by a $3.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Web-based MSW@USC program also utilizes creative technology to take social work education beyond brick-and-mortar universities and offer a prestigious educational opportunity to students who might not otherwise have access. A highly advanced Web-based learning management system uses robust social networking platforms and face-to-face “Skype-like” interactive technology to create a real-time, personal classroom experience, accompanied by local internships selected by the school for students where they live and work. Since the MSW@USC launched in fall 2010, more than 1,200 students have enrolled from 43 states.
Flynn also is credited with advancing the school’s research agenda by investing in domains of research excellence to bolster collaboration and high-impact scholarship, and greatly expanding the Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services, now recognized as an exemplar in the U.S. social work research community for its emphasis on interdisciplinary intervention research and translational research in mental health. She also established the nationally respected Flynn Prize for Social Work Research.
“Through her efforts to expand the scope and visibility of social work at the University of Southern California, using innovative partnerships and collaborations, while embracing new technologies, Marilyn Flynn has demonstrated the critical contributions of social work in solving urgent real-world problems,” said Robert Arnold, director of the NASW Foundation. “Her innovative outreach efforts have improved perception of the profession within the academic community, among allied professions and with the general public.”
Flynn’s next endeavor is USC Telehealth, a virtual clinic providing one-on-one therapy using video conferencing technology. The project, which currently is under development, is a collaboration among the School of Social Work, the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the USC School of Pharmacy and other disciplines.
“USC is the perfect place to lead and innovate for all the professions, and I have tried to take full advantage of this environment,” Flynn said. “I am deeply grateful for this recognition and to all those colleagues who made it possible.”