Department of Social Work

  • 2022 Padma Award recipients named

    The Padma Award recognizes UAB faculty, staff and students who go the extra mile in support of underrepresented populations.

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  • UAB Department of Social Work Debuts in the U.S. News & World Report Rankings

    The Department of Social Work’s graduate program is celebrating a milestone in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. This is the first year the MSW program was eligible to be considered for ranking by its national peers.

    The Department of Social Work’s graduate program is celebrating a milestone in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. This is the first year the MSW program was eligible to be considered for ranking by its national peers.

    To determine the current rankings, U.S. News & World Report surveyed 298 social work programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education. The rankings are based solely on peer assessment surveys sent to deans, other administrators, and/ or faculty at accredited degree programs. The department received a score of 3.2 out of 5.

    The Department of Social Work debuted at No. 51 out of 298 social work programs in the 2023 Best Graduate Schools report. This achievement places the MSW program among the top 20% of social work programs in the nation and reflects the hard work and commitment of our students, faculty, and staff.

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  • 2022 winners of the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching

    The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes full-time regular faculty members of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

    2022 winners of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching: Ragib Hasan, Ph.D.; Dione King, Ph.D.; and Andrew Baer, Ph.D.The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes full-time regular faculty members of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

    Award winners must have held faculty status at UAB for a minimum of three years and may receive the award only once in any three-year period.

    The CAS Excellence in Teaching Committee selected award recipients for being outstanding representatives of effective teaching and thoughtful pedagogy from the Arts and Humanities, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    • Arts and Humanities: Andrew Baer, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of History
    • Natural Sciences and Mathematics: Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science
    • Social and Behavioral Sciences: Dione King, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work

    Congratulations to this year’s winners. Also, in the near future, one of these faculty members will be awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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  • Laurel Hitchcock seeks innovative ways to train future social workers

    After Laurel Hitchcock, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Social Work, graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin in 1991, she joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer.

    After Laurel Hitchcock, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Social Work, graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin in 1991, she joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer. She served two years in Senegal, West Africa, and, when she returned home to the Midwest, she wanted to further expand her knowledge of public health. While exploring graduate school options, she found UAB and developed an interest in the young university.

     

    Laurel Hitchcock, Ph.D.“UAB is a top-notch public health program,” said Hitchcock. “I fell in love with the University and the state.”

    Soon after discovering UAB, Hitchcock packed her things and moved to Birmingham. She earned a Master of Public Health from UAB, then continued her academic journey at the University of Alabama where she earned a Master of Social Work and a Ph.D. in Social Work.

    While conducting research for her dissertation at UA, Hitchcock identified areas where both public health and social work intersect.

    “I started off being very interested in historical research—social welfare policies—and the combination between social work and public health,” said Hitchcock.

    This interest prompted a deeper connection to the field of social work. So, as Hitchcock entered the early days of her academic career, her research and teaching interests began to shift.

    “Early on, I really got interested in how we train people to do really difficult helping professions,” said Hitchcock. “My research is about training the best social workers we can. And, additionally, using new tools to do that… doing innovative things like simulations.”

    As she continued to seek out innovative ways to train future social workers, Hitchcock found several opportunities to work with UAB, including as an adjunct instructor and a team member for the Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Through these relationships and experiences, she formed a deep connection to the institution and, eventually, moved into a full-time faculty role with the Department of Social Work in the College of Arts and Sciences in 2013.

    When she arrived at UAB as a faculty member, she brought a valuable partnership with her. Prior to joining the Department of Social Work, Hitchcock frequently worked alongside Alabama Possible, a statewide nonprofit organization that breaks down barriers to prosperity through education, collaboration, and advocacy. Hitchcock was (and continues to be) a strong advocate for the organization’s Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS).

    “They were using poverty simulations to educate professionals in the community,” said Hitchcock. “When I came to UAB… I connected Alabama Possible with my colleagues, and we thought, ‘Let’s do some of these simulations! We should be doing this with students before they become professionals.’”

    The Missouri Community Action Network created CAPS, and Alabama Possible describes the simulation in the following way:

    [A] unique, interactive experience that helps facilitate understanding of the challenges faced by individuals in our community who are living at or below the poverty level. The simulation increases participants’ understanding of hardships and the emotional toll experienced by impoverished members of our society and the work it takes to achieve self-sufficiency.

    During the simulation, participants role-play the lives of families living at or below the poverty level. Participants will experience typical challenges faced by individuals living in the context of constrained financial circumstances including maintaining employment, caring for children or elderly family members, seeking public assistance, and dealing with transportation issues.

    After partnering with Alabama Possible on poverty simulations during her first year at UAB, Hitchcock—and her colleagues from the School of Nursing—decided it would be wise to build internal capacity to facilitate future experiences at the university. Also, they wanted to ensure they were achieving specific learning outcomes for students.

    These goals sparked campus-wide partnerships with the School of Nursing, the Center for Interprofessional Education and Simulation, the School of Dentistry, the Heersink School of Medicine, the School of Optometry, the School of Health Professions, the School of Public Health, the African American Studies Program, and the Department of Criminal Justice. According to Hitchcock, these partners—including students and faculty—came together because they recognized the experience(s) can prompt people to think about poverty as a systematic problem that needs to be addressed by everyone.

    Now, over six years later, hundreds of students participate in the simulations across campus each year. Also, dozens of faculty and staff members volunteer their time to facilitate the experiences and participate in conversations with each other (and students) afterwards. For Hitchcock, the growth has been inspiring and has influenced her scholarly work.

    “It’s a nice trajectory for how an academic can use a community partnership to create a body of peer-reviewed work,” said Hitchcock. “I have six peer-reviewed articles from the work of the poverty simulations—all done, of course, in collaboration with others.”

    These publications examine a number of topics related to the poverty simulations, ranging from the overall of structure of the experiences to the impact on students. Most recently, Hitchcock and several of her colleagues conducted a comprehensive reflection on the simulations, which led to two articles that were published in the Journal of Health Communication in 2021.

    According to Hitchcock, “These two articles are an accumulation of all the work and really help tell the story of why we should do poverty simulations in higher education.”

    Thankfully, Hitchcock and her collaborators identified a way to continue these valuable simulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the experiences are offered virtually through a platform called Spent, which was developed by Urban Ministries of Durham. This pivot embodies Hitchcock’s own teaching philosophy, which is ever evolving and flexible.

    “My teaching philosophy is dynamic—we do have to pivot a lot. Especially given recent events,” said Hitchcock. “My most recent pivot in my teaching philosophy has been around trauma-informed teaching and really trying to bring my understanding that our students are going through traumatic experiences, just like everybody else, so how can we bring that into our teaching with students.”

    It’s an approach that is rooted in active listening, empathy, and, in some instances, service learning—all themes that Hitchcock has embodied throughout her academic career.

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  • New social work course resonates with students

    In November 2020, the College of Arts and Sciences awarded “Building a Multicultural Curriculum” grants to eight faculty members for academic year 2020-2021. With the grants, faculty members could develop new courses or revise existing courses to support students’ diversity awareness and build their multicultural competence.

    In November 2020, the College of Arts and Sciences awarded “Building a Multicultural Curriculum” grants to eight faculty members for the academic year 2020-2021. With the grants, faculty members could develop new courses or revise existing courses to support students’ diversity awareness and build their multicultural competence.

    Dione Moultrie King, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Social Work, was one of the faculty members who received a grant. King’s research focuses on minority health disparities and adverse childhood experiences, and she has a deep interest in preparing her students to serve communities effectively. With this in mind, King used her grant to develop a new course entitled, “The Health and Well-being of Black Americans: A Social Work Approach,” which she taught for the first time in Spring 2021.

    “In social work, diversity is really important. It’s one of the new standards that we’ll be continuing to bridge on,” said King. “I wanted to build a course that focused largely on the Black experience.”

    For King, a former middle school teacher who grew up in Birmingham and graduated from Ramsay High School, examining the systems and institutions that perpetuate inequity in Black communities is a necessity for future social workers.

    “[We have] students learning to serve marginalized and vulnerable populations, [and] there really was a gap in them understanding the historical component that… was impacting their ability to deliver services,” said King. “[Clients] have been engaging in systems that weren’t designed for them and/or didn’t support them, so there’s a general level of mistrust.”

    As King developed the new course, she worked diligently to identify the main learning objective that would align with her grant proposal and her discipline’s national accreditation standards.

    “The main objective was for students to critically examine and explore macro systems that have contributed to structural and systematic health disparities for Black Americans in the U.S.,” said King. “This was very much at the macro level.”

    To achieve this objective, King avoided textbooks, and, instead, sought out a variety of course materials, including journal articles, news articles, and websites. She collected these items and identified ways in which she could prompt in-person discussions with her students. Although COVID-19 limited in-person classes at UAB in 2020, King was hopeful the public health landscape would improve by Spring 2021. Unfortunately, by January 2021, COVID-19 continued to be a significant concern, so King had to leverage virtual tools for the course.

    “I had to be intentional with thinking about strategies,” said King. “We set norms in advance [for discussions]. It gave students a chance to talk it through in a safe space.”

    King knew the conversations could be challenging, so she was intentional about creating an environment where students could engage with and learn from one another. By deploying effective strategies and supplemental tools, King created a space where students collaborated and engaged in thoughtful discussions on many subjects, including oppressive practices and theoretical frameworks.

    Overall, King viewed the course as a success. That said, she wanted to know how her students felt about the experience. So, like all great teachers, she dove into the course evaluations.

    “The evaluations that I received from this class…were simply amazing,” said King. “The averages are extremely high for this type of content. Students are saying this course should be a requirement.”

    These evaluations and insights reflected what King saw throughout the duration of the course. From day one, students engaged with the content, participated in discussions, and explored ways to confront injustices.

    “Our students really grew,” said King.

    King finds this growth inspiring, and, based on the glowing course evaluations, it’s clear that “The Health and Well-being of Black Americans: A Social Work Approach” will have a lasting impact on the 24 future social workers who took the course.

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  • Five undergraduate students selected as recipients of the esteemed Gilman Scholarship

    The prestigious program aims to make study abroad experiences accessible to a more diverse population of students and prepare them to assume leadership roles in government and the private sector.

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  • I am Arts and Sciences: Lisa Higginbotham

    Many Blazers donate to and engage with the Benevolent Fund, a charitable giving campaign that supports health and human service agencies, selected health-related charities, and University of Alabama at Birmingham employees through the Employee Emergency Assistance Program.

    Lisa HigginbothamMany Blazers donate to and engage with the Benevolent Fund, a charitable giving campaign that supports health and human service agencies, selected health-related charities, and University of Alabama at Birmingham employees through the Employee Emergency Assistance Program. Through the Benevolent Fund, UAB has distributed over $43 million to local nonprofit organizations and to UAB employees. The work changes lives, and it is a model of charitable excellence.

    One of the key people behind the Benevolent Fund is Lisa Higginbotham, a two-time graduate of UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences. Higginbotham earned both her Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Public Administration in the early 1990s, and, afterwards, she navigated a prolific career in nonprofit management across Alabama.

    “I fondly reflect on my time in CAS,” said Higginbotham. “From the friends I made who are now colleagues to working alongside Dr. Norm Eggleston researching discrimination in the workplace against people living with HIV or exploring ethical decision making with Dr. Mary Guy, it was all instrumental in me becoming the person I am today.”

    During her time in the nonprofit sector, Higginbotham worked for Childcare Resources; Girls, Inc.; and the Children’s Trust Fund. Often, she improved processes and structures to ensure the organizations and institutions could do their best work and maximize impact—a skillset she gleaned from her time in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

    When it came time to expand her family, Higginbotham decided to seek a part-time position, so she could achieve her desired work-life balance. Thankfully, at that time, UAB needed a new team member to support the Employee Emergency Assistance program—a perfect fit for Higginbotham.

    Higginbotham accepted the role, and, eventually, she became the fund manager for the Benevolent Fund. She deployed a systems leadership approach to her work and uncovered opportunities to do more than provide funding to local nonprofits. For example, under Higginbotham’s leadership, the Benevolent Fund expanded service-learning opportunities for UAB students, developed new systems for Employee Emergency Assistance, and launched Blazer Kitchen (UAB’s campus food pantry which has provided 400,000 meals in just over four years).

    “I launched Blazer Kitchen with a lot of help and support from our council and the UAB administration,” said Higginbotham. “We knew there were employees who needed help through our Employee Emergency Assistance program… and they could [also] benefit from access to healthy food.”

    Every step of the way, Higginbotham has leveraged data, best practices, and her past experiences and knowledge to ensure her work is people-focused and impact-driven.

    Over the past two years, the pandemic created numerous challenges for the Benevolent Fund, including limitations on grant-making and a pause on house builds with Habitat for Humanity, a long-standing nonprofit partner. That said, Higginbotham still encounters individual stories that illustrate the impact of her work—even during the pandemic. Recently, she worked closely with a UAB employee who experienced trauma and loss due to COVID-19. By highlighting UAB’s sick leave bank and counseling services offered by local nonprofits, Higginbotham was able to support the employee and help them navigate a heart wrenching moment.

    As Higginbotham reflects on her experiences during her 18 years at UAB, she notes her passion for connecting employees to resources in the community.

    “When I listen to nonprofits talk about the programs they have in the community, I think, ‘How can this help our UAB employees,’” said Higginbotham.

    Now that she is back on campus (and in a new building), she sees endless opportunities to continue pursuing that passion and to deepen partnerships with nonprofit organizations. She also aims to expand Blazer Kitchen’s operating hours and further engage with the Department of Social Work and its students. Moving forward, the horizon is bright as the Benevolent Fund steers through the pandemic and continues its life-changing work.

    “I encourage everyone—students, alumni, and employees—to reflect on where you are today, thank those who have helped you achieve your success, offer mentorship to the next generation of leaders, engage with your community to contribute to the public good, and stay connected to UAB,” said Higginbotham.

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  • Three UAB students awarded fellowships from the Council on Social Work Education

    Three social work master’s students have secured prestigious fellowships with the Council on Social Work Education.

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  • Two CAS faculty receive Fulbright-Nehru Scholar awards for work in India

    Colleen Fisher, Ph.D., will examine microfinance to alleviate poverty among vulnerable women in low-resource countries, and Cathleen Cummings, Ph.D., will study and map temples from the Bhosle dynasty of Nagpur, India.

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  • Pitner selected to lead UAB Department of Social Work

    Ronald Pitner, Ph.D., ACSW, has been named the chair of the Department of Social Work in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    Ronald Pitner, Ph.D., ACSW, has been named the chair of the Department of Social Work in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    Dr. Pitner received a Master of Social Work and a Ph.D. in Social Work and (Social) Psychology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He also earned an M.A. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

    He currently serves as the interim dean in the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina, where he is also the I. DeQuincey Newman Endowed Chair for Peace and Social Justice and the director of the I. DeQuincey Newman Institute in the College of Social Work. Dr. Pitner previously served as the associate dean for curriculum in the College of Social Work.

    Prior to joining the College of Social Work, Dr. Pitner worked at a global market research firm where he managed research projects focused on consumer health care practices and pharmaceutical brand perceptions and attitudes. Moreover, prior to his industry experience, Dr. Pitner was on faculty at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.

    “The College is very fortunate to attract a candidate with Dr. Pitner’s academic profile and significant leadership experience,” said Kecia M. Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “I am confident that under his leadership, the Department of Social Work will continue to experience growth in its undergraduate and graduate programs while extending the department’s reach throughout the community, the state, and the world. Dr. Pitner’s career is a model of engaged scholarship for the College as well as for the university community.”  

    Dr. Pitner’s research interests are broadly defined in terms of social cognition, stereotypes, prejudice, stigma, social cognitive aspects of interpersonal forms of violence, and youth and community based civic engagement. His primary area of research focuses on residents’ understanding of neighborhood violence and safety, as well as how neighborhood civic engagement can be used to help make such neighborhoods safer for residents who live there. His secondary area of research is focused on diversity, social justice, and multicultural and anti-oppressive social work practices. Dr. Pitner currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina.

    “The Department of Social Work at UAB is one of the few health social work programs in the nation, and it is well-positioned to become one of the preeminent programs,” said Dr. Pitner. “I am very excited to work with the faculty to make this one of the strongest programs in the nation.”

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  • 2 CAS faculty receive Fulbright-Nehru Scholar awards for work in India

    Social Work’s Colleen Fisher will examine microfinance as a way to alleviate poverty among vulnerable women in low-resource countries, and Art and Art History Associate Professor Cathleen Cummings will study and map temples from the Bhosle dynasty of Nagpur, India.

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  • Blazers honored for promoting mental health awareness

    Seven individuals and two registered student organizations were named Mental Health Champions by Student Counseling Services for their efforts during this past year.

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  • UAB professor receives research grant for HIV suppression study

    Scott Batey received his second NIH R01 award in the past six months — a five-year, $2.98 million award that will help examine the social support networks of young Black men living with HIV.

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  • UAB student, donors honored with national Collegiate Recovery awards

    Maysa Mohmoud was named Collegiate Recovery Student of the Year Award, and Kathy and Ray Hayes were chosen for the Collegiate Recovery Philanthropist of the Year Award.

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  • CAS grants spur interdisciplinary research

    Pilot funds enable cross-campus collaborations focused on mobility with disabilities and older caregivers with HIV.

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  • Give on March 4 and help UAB care for our community

    Donations for Giving Day will make an impact on UAB’s efforts to fight COVID-19, care for pediatric trafficking survivors, support students, provide dental, medical and eye care to those in need, and more.

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  • UAB professor receives $2.97 million for program aimed at improving access to treatment for those with HIV

    The new program, co-led by Scott Batey, Ph.D., MSW, will give study participants living with HIV individualized, strengths-based case management from a community health worker.

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  • Honors College students volunteer following Fultondale tornado

    Fifteen students helped sort and prep donated items and distribute them at the Gardendale Civic Center drive-thru.

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  • Winners of the 2020-2021 “Building a Multicultural Curriculum” grants

    Congratulations to the winning proposals for the 2020-2021 academic year.

    This fall, all tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-earning College of Arts and Sciences faculty were invited to submit proposals for a new grant titled, “Building a Multicultural Curriculum.” The goal of these awards is to support faculty in developing new courses or revising existing classes in order to expand the College’s offerings that will support students’ diversity awareness and build their multicultural competence.

    Congratulations to the winning proposals for the 2020-2021 academic year.

    • Dr. Erin Borry, Department of Political Science and Public Administration: “Isms in Public Administration”
    • Dr. Olivio J. Clay, Department of Psychology: “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research and the Workplace”
    • Prof. Michele Forman, Department of History: “Our Histories: Documentary Film and Public History in Birmingham”
    • Dr. Reginald Jackson, Department of Music: “African American Music from 1619-Present”
    • Dr. Dione Moultrie King, Department of Social Work: “The Health and Well-being of Black Americans: A Social Work Approach”
    • Dr. Angela Lewis-Maddox, Department of Political Science and Public Administration: “Social Justice and Pop Culture”
    • Dr. Samiksha Raut, Department of Biology: “Building a Multicultural Curriculum”
    • Prof. Ana Maria Santiago, Department of English: “Themes in Lit with a Latina-o-x American Identity Focus”

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  • Faculty fellows to foster education-abroad experiences for students

    Nine faculty and staff selected for the 2020-21 Faculty Fellows in Education Abroad program will develop courses to promote active and ethical citizenship, cultural immersion and community engagement.

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