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Social Work honors faculty with endowed chair, professorships

Dean Marilyn Flynn, Ron Avi Astor, William Vega and Suzanne Wenzel share a special occasion

The USC School of Social Work recently installed four professors as endowed faculty members. They include Dean Marilyn L. Flynn, who was installed as an endowed chair, and Ron Avi Astor, William Vega and Suzanne Wenzel, who how hold named professorships.

“An endowed professorship in social work is among the most powerful ways to demonstrate a basic faith in humanity — and the incredible value of people working to help other people,” said USC Provost Michael Quick at the Town and Gown event.

Suzanne Wenzel, William Vega, Michael Quick, Marilyn Flynn and Ron Astor

Suzanne Wenzel, William Vega, Michael Quick, Marilyn Flynn and Ron Astor (Photo/Andrew Taylor)

We are working to create scholarship that is ahead of the curve.

Michael Quick

“We often think of this profession as reactive. It responds to enduring problems like poverty, abuse, addiction and the challenges faced by military families, and we do work to find the most effective ways to approach these issues,” he said. “But at USC, we go beyond this response to anticipate problems. We are working to create scholarship that is ahead of the curve.”

On to the festivities

The evening started with the installation of Astor as the Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health.

Astor, an internationally renowned expert in school violence and safety and author of School Violence in Context: Culture, Neighborhood, Family, School, and Gender, is working on“Welcoming Practices That Address Transition Needs of Military Students in Public Schools,” a four-year, $5 million grant from the Department of Defense.

The project’s goal is to ensure that school staff members create effective transition procedures for students and includes the development of a mobile app to connect families to resources.

“To Lee and to Bill, thank you very much for your generosity and for perpetuating his memory,” Astor said, referring to the Woods’ son. “I will do my utmost to make sure that schools are welcoming, caring and supporting places.”

Research and advocacy

Vega was installed as the Cleofas and Victor Ramirez Professor of Practice, Policy, Research and Advocacy for the Latino Population.

Vega, provost professor and executive director of the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging with appointments in social work, preventive medicine, psychiatry, family medicine, psychology and gerontology, is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine who studies health, mental health and substance abuse in the United States and Latin America. Throughout his career, Vega has been interested in investigating how an individual’s health status changes over time after arriving in the United States from another country.

“The issues faced by Latinos in the United States are not restricted to one ethnic group nor are they restricted to one nation. I’m committed to a wide lens of critical thinking that addresses fundamental causes and fundamental solutions,” Vega said. “I’m committed to setting a standard of scholarship for future occupants of this chair.

“I want to thank Helen Ramirez, our donor. The work that her family did and the work that she did in her lifetime are very much the kinds of things that have inspired me throughout my career and keep me going in my research,” he said, referring to Ramirez’s work as director of the Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Vulnerable populations

Wenzel was named the Richard M. and Ann L. Thor Professor in Urban Social Development.

Wenzel, who chairs the school’s Research Council, has devoted much of her career to interdisciplinary research on the health-related needs of vulnerable populations, particularly individuals experiencing homelessness in urban communities.

She organized a Los Angeles County-wide forum on integrated care and housing for homeless persons, and has participated in several regional and national efforts to prevent and end homelessness. The former senior behavioral scientist at RAND Corp. has served as principal investigator on 10 grants from the National Institutes of Health.

“In accepting the honor of this professorship, I’m making a commitment to Ann Thor and to the legacy of her husband, Richard, to uphold the highest standards and values of social work,” Wenzel said. “To me, this means I must continue to conduct research of meaning and consequence on behalf of some of the most vulnerable individuals in our urban communities.”

To cap the evening, Flynn was installed as holder of the 2U Endowed Chair in Educational Innovation and Social Work.

“So here I am tonight with an almost miraculous chair endorsing the idea of social work and educational innovation. I’m indebted to 2U and its founder Chip Paucek, who has been the most thoughtful and responsive collaborator and friend in the creation of our amazing Virtual Academic Center, which is truly a joint project and an effective demonstration of what universities and businesses can create together,” she said. “This chair will ensure the future presence of innovators in the school and establish an enduring commitment to future possibilities of human experience and human learning.”

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Social Work honors faculty with endowed chair, professorships

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