School Strengths & Areas of Emphasis

MLandsman"The purpose of my scholarship is to build and disseminate knowledge about the child welfare workforce and child welfare services that attempt to infuse a family-centered approach within a largely coercive system of state control.  The child welfare field is in a continual state of change, and building that evidence base requires keeping up with policy and practice changes and using the most rigorous and feasible methodologies possible in field research."

Miriam Landsman

Family and Child Welfare

The use of family-centered and community-based practice approaches is central to the School's curriculum. We prepare culturally competent social work scholars and practitioners with a commitment to social justice and social work values and ethics. The application of these theories and practice approaches to the development, implementation, and evaluation of social welfare policy and practice with vulnerable populations, is a focal point for curriculum, faculty research, and the activities of the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice (NRCFCP).


The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice has had a home at The University of Iowa for more than thirty-five years. Beginning as a small training project funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the center was one of the first organizations in the country to promote home-based, family-centered services- later known as "family preservation." Over the years its scope has expanded to many different service systems and it now provides a range of services throughout the United States, in several U.S. protectorates, and through collaborations in Europe, Asia, North, Central and South America, and Australia. The Center and its staff and partners, including the National Indian Child Welfare Association, have worked in almost every facet of child welfare research, evaluation, training and program development, include placement prevention, in-home services, permanency, adoption, paternal involvement, family group decision-making/family conferencing, youth transitioning out of foster care, positive youth development, reducing the over-representation of minority children and families in the child welfare system, and child welfare workforce development. NRCFCP's projects also include the Disproportionate Minority Confinement/Contact Resource Center (DMC), which conducts research and provides technical assistance in the overrepresentation of minority children, youth and families in the child welfare, juvenile justice and educational systems. NRCFCP also hosts the Iowa Center for Evaluation, which is focused on public health related research and evaluation. 

Organizations and Communities

MGilster“I am committed to promoting social justice for disadvantaged communities. I do this by investigating how to improve neighborhood conditions, educating students about the impact of the social context, and encouraging social workers to work for neighborhood change.”

Megan Gilster

Social work has a long tradition of working with communities and organizations to improve the quality of life for individuals and families. To improve culturally competent practice and to benefit vulnerable populations, social change at the community and organizational levels is essential. The curriculum teaches students to apply family-centered and community-based practice approaches to build strong communities, make organizations more humane, and improve social policy. Developing, implementing, and evaluating interventions with communities, organizations, and social welfare policy are focal points for curriculum, faculty research and School outreach efforts. 
Communities of immigrants and refugees have added diversity to the population of Iowa and created social change in its communities. The School of Social Work is involved with outreach projects to communities in Iowa where students can apply culturally competent practice and community building approaches.

Health, Mental Health

Farley  My favorite class is Spirituality and Social Work.  I love examining spirituality, resilience, forgiveness and self-love and how they assist people in recovery processes. I am also thrilled about incorporating mindfulness into my classes during the last year. I believe these issues connect people to the core of healing.”

Yvonne Farley

At Iowa, students have opportunities to work with faculty interested in health, mental health, substance abuse prevention and treatment, child and adolescent development, resiliency, and youth interventions. The School offers an approved program of preparation for School Social Work endorsement in Iowa. The university is home to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics which offers practicum and research opportunities for students.

Aging, End-of-Life Care

Merce“While my research efforts have been aimed at helping better prepare family members and formal caregivers (especially social workers) to identify and address long term care issues, I am also committed to developing ways to tap the strengths of older adults, regardless of functional abilities, to enjoy this stage of life to the fullest.”

Mercedes Bern-Klug

The School has a long history of advancing research and training in gerontology. As participants in the Geriatric Enrichment program, faculty incorporated aging content into each foundation course.  With the leadership of faculty who are Hartford Scholars, Hartford Fellows and pre-dissertation awardees, students have opportunities to learn from national leaders. The School also offers MSW students' opportunities through the Hartford Practicum Partnership in Aging Education program.  The School of Social Work is the home department for the Aging & Longevity Studies Program at The University of Iowa, which is designed to provide undergraduate and graduate students with a multidisciplinary approach to gerontology. The program consists of courses that have been coordinated and sequenced to provide a broad background in aging for students from various disciplines. Social work students are able to participate in the Aging & Longevity Studies Program, and can earn either a Certificate or Minor in Aging & Longevity Studies. The PhD program is noted for its strong mentorship for research in the area of area of aging.
At present, there is a severe shortage of social workers who have the knowledge and skills required to work with older persons, with an estimated 60,000-70,000 more needed. The need for all social workers to have basic knowledge and skills about aging is particularly evident in the state of Iowa, which consistently ranks fourth or fifth in percentage of persons aged 65+. The School of Social Work is committed to increasing the number of students who are prepared to serve older persons and their families. 
The School of Social Work developed its innovative End-of-Life Care Field of Practice to foster social work leadership in the important work of providing services in end-of-life care, palliative care, and bereavement. Acknowledging the growing need for professionally trained social workers who can provide high quality services to people at end-of life, to their families and to those who are bereaved, the program prepares students for practice in hospice programs and in hospital pediatric and adult oncology, palliative care units and other settings that focus on the needs of individuals and their families, at the end of life. It is based on the family-centered and community based principles that permeate the entire curriculum in the MSW program. 
The end-of-life care field of practice also emphasizes cultural competence in serving the needs of rural Iowans. Students learn to value and build on the cultural strengths that diverse groups use in dealing with end-of-life and bereavement. Diverse populations in Iowa include Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans, many refugee and immigrant groups, and populations from varied ethnic backgrounds and who may speak a range of languages. Diverse groups also include people with disabilities, people of different ages, people of different socio-economic groups, and people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Diversity and Social Justice

The University of Iowa, School of Social Work values students with diverse academic and cultural perspectives. We actively recruit first generation college students, under-represented minorities and others who can contribute to a heterogeneous graduate program. The University of Iowa provides diversity scholarships to students who qualify.
The School strives continuously to enhance the cultural competency of its faculty, staff, students and curriculum. The faculty participates in monthly diversity training and the School was honored with the UI Catalyst Award for strengthening diversity within the university community. At the Des Moines MSW program, the Alumni of Diversity group has been particularly successful in conducting outreach activities in the community, and mentoring diverse students. 
Faculty members conduct research and publish their findings in a variety of areas that increase understanding of diverse populations and also improve practice and policy applications. For specific examples, see our research pages.

Since 1998 the School of Social Work's Latino Institute has been a co-sponsor of the Strengthening and Valuing Latino/a Families and Communities in Iowa conference and in 2010 was awarded the Mary Campos Award from the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs in recognition of their long-term efforts to improve the quality of life for Latinos in Iowa. The conference is an opportunity to explore the changing demographics and dynamics of Latino communities in Iowa, as well as, the responsiveness of policy makers, business leaders and community-based organizations to the fastest growing population in Iowa. From 2006-2008, the NRCFCP and the Latino Institute partnered with the Northwest Area Foundation and the Main Street Project to develop Raíces, is a four-state project focused on building community capacity in rural Latino communities in Iowa, Minnesota, Idaho, and Oregon. 

NRCFCP conducts research, evaluation, technical assistance and training in the area of cultural competence. One of the NRCFCP's projects, the Disproportionate Minority Contact/Confinement Resource Center (DMC), serves national, state, and community efforts to reduce disproportionality and over-representation of minority youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. It provides evaluation and technical assistance on reducing health and education-related disparities.   Each year the DMC Resource Center sponsors a statewide conference.

In 2009, the School received approval to administer the Certificate in Critical Cultural Competence to undergraduates at the University. The certificate is designed to augment a liberal arts education by preparing students to be critical thinkers about issues of human diversity and be active citizens and leaders in a pluralistic, multicultural, democratic society. The Certificate in Critical Cultural Competence is offered for undergraduate students in any major, and is administered by the School. Critical Cultural Competence focuses not only on individual responses but also on systemic change in order to create environments conducive to cross-cultural collaboration. Some current university certificate programs focus on particular types of human diversity (e.g., sexuality, aging), but Iowa has the only program that includes the multiplicity of human diversities as its focus, and critical cultural competency as its primary outcome. The certificate program is both interdisciplinary and intercollegiate.

In 2010, the School partnered with the College of Education to develop and implement a Graduate Certificate in Multicultural Education and Culturally Competent Practice. The certificate is available to all graduate students and post grads. The program is designed to develop culturally competent practice among students as they move into their professional careers and to enhance the cultural competence of those already in practice. 

The immersion learning programs at the School of Social Work are designed to complement classroom didactic learning by putting students into intensive learning experiences where they encounter people who live in dramatically different environments, who come from very different cultures, and in some cases, who speak a different language. Applying social work knowledge, skills, and values in these intensive immersion experiences can produce rapid learning. The immersion learning experiences enrich the education of students and faculty, help them to become more culturally competent, and prepare students for practice in a diverse, multicultural, and global world. The School has sponsored trips to Mexico, India, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Philadelphia and the Central City Lutheran Mission in San Bernardino, CA.

Since 1975 the School of Social Work has sponsored Wild Bill's Coffeeshop, a service learning opportunity for social work students. The Coffeeshop employs 13 persons with physical and intellectual disabilities, and reduces the isolation many people with disability experience. It also provides social work students with what Jane Addams called "learning through mutual exchange." By sponsoring the Coffeeshop, the School of Social Work helps to empower a marginalized group of people, as well as help the able-bodied to overcome their stereotypes about people who are differently-abled.

Ed Saunders and Tom Walz  Former Director, Ed Saunders and Wild Bill's Founder Tom Walz celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the coffeeshop.