Message from the Dean

Welcome to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice. Well, almost.

I say ‘almost’ because although there is a great deal that you can learn about our ambitious scholarly programs by carefully examining this website, there are so many aspects of our social and intellectual community that I would want you to experience more directly.

This site will give you a sense of how we approach rigorous social analysis and measurable social change here at SP2. The School’s five degree programs leverage their eminent and interdisciplinary faculty, their successful and committed alumni, and their perch at one of the most lauded universities in the world to offer distinctive curricular and extra-curricular opportunities (including a plethora of diverse clinical offerings for our MSW students) in one of America’s most historic, diverse, and metropolitan cities, Philadelphia.

Our students can take courses in Schools and Departments all across campus, courses aimed at helping them to think about how best to tackle complex issues that impact local neighborhoods, bedevil national policy makers, and implicate a variety of global processes. They enroll in any of our specific programs (one of the first and most storied MSW programs in the country; a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership; a Master of Science in Social Policy; a PhD in Social Welfare; and a Doctorate in Clinical Social Work, the first offered in this country), but I don’t want you to think of these as overly discrete or mutually exclusive academic units. Part of what defines Penn’s difference is the synergy that comes from embracing everything that the School has to offer as part of your own distinctive scholarly trajectory.

SP2’s commitment to social justice and societal transformation requires that our programs find more and more ways to put students in critical conversation with one another across disciplinary boundaries: social workers consciously cultivating holistic and collaborative leadership skills in themselves and their clients; social policy specialists actively theorizing complicated ties between the individual/familial and the macrostructual contexts of their efforts; nonprofit leaders who recognize leadership itself as a form of social service; and social science researchers who know that knowledge only for knowledge’s sake isn’t fully knowledge at all. Our five distinctive and purposeful programs benefit every single incoming student willing to take advantage of the sparks that fly from active participation in all that the school provides. We also offer dual degree programs for interested master’s-level students. For example, there are 11 dual degree programs for MSW students that allow them to earn degrees from Penn’s Schools of Medicine, Law, Graduate Education, Arts & Sciences, and Business while completing their MSWs. MSSP and NPL also provide dual degree options.

Although we are an Ivy League institution, our faculty members are not stuck in anyone’s proverbial ivory tower. Their important research and activism stretches across the social sciences and the humanities in ways that link nuanced methodological inquiries and important research questions to attempts at practical/real-world problem-solving: lowering rates of homelessness, especially among America’s war veterans; improving health care options for the mentally disabled; preventing child abuse and other forms of violence; battling racism and other kinds of discrimination; assisting prisoners’ re-entering society; and more.

Our students, who arrive on campus from several continents and many countries, represent a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, expectations and interests, which they translate into professional success in different parts of the nation and the world, starting with field placements and internships anywhere from New York City to Washington DC. Interested students can even accompany faculty on extended research trips to places like Cuba and India in order to collaborate with citizens there on topics such as discrimination, HIV education/activism, worker exploitation, and more.

Our alumni, some of Penn’s most active and accomplished graduates, continue to bring the gifts they nurtured here to industries and entities in all sectors of society, connecting dots between issues that are both intimate and institutional, challenging but worth the challenge.

For more than 100 years, this School has been carrying on a tradition first championed by the University’s founder, Benjamin Franklin, in the middle of the 18th century: placing scholarly interests in service to the public good. SP2 is perfectly situated within an entire campus that continues to privilege Franklin’s model. Currently, all twelve of the University’s Schools are working together to accomplish the goals set out in President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020, a further extension of that Franklinian project.

You can learn a lot about our School by taking a look at this website, which I enthusiastically encourage, but there is so much more about what makes this a special place to study that you can only really glimpse by visiting our school or speaking via phone or Skype with our faculty, students, or staff members. They can truly demonstrate just how much we all gain and grow from being here, and so I hope that one of us will get a chance to properly welcome you at some point in the very near future.

John L. Jackson, Jr., PhD
Richard Perry University Professor