Message from the Dean

As dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), I am happy to welcome you to our website. While you can learn quite a bit about our dynamic School through this site, I must admit that visiting us online isn’t nearly the same thing as stopping by to see us in the Caster building on the University’s beautiful campus in West Philadelphia. Not even close!

SP2 provides a space for five degree programs to vigorously commit themselves to the same fundamental goals of “innovation, impact, and inclusion” that guide Penn’s overall approach to education. SP2 students are able to enroll in elective courses at Schools across Penn’s campus, courses designed to help them think as deeply and creatively as possible about how to tackle complex social issues that (i) impact our local communities, (ii) pose challenges for those drafting or implementing national policies, and (iii) prove impossible to understand fully without a sense of the larger global forces that influence the tiniest crevices of our daily lives.

Prospective SP2 students can apply to one (or more) of our five degree programs. These include one of the first Master of Social Work (MSW) programs founded in the United States, a distinctive Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP) program that includes the option of joining a brand new data-analytics concentration, a cutting-edge Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership (NPL) program for those who want to transform that sector from within, a PhD in Social Welfare program with graduates who either work in the academy or conduct research beyond the ivory tower, and an online (with on-campus residency periods) Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) program for social workers who want to substantially enhance their skills in the field.

Although we have these five extremely exciting degree programs at SP2, we are one school with a singular mission of preparing our students for the emergent social challenges of our time, which means that our five programs aren’t walled-off from one another. A major benefit of attending SP2 is the unique opportunity to study with students interested in similar social issues (mass incarceration, racial discrimination, child welfare, poverty, and so much more) from varied perspectives, sharing classrooms and extracurricular experiences with students from different scholarly traditions and using diverse methodological approaches. Part of what defines SP2’s difference from many of our peers is the synergy that comes from embracing all that our exceptionally interdisciplinary school has to offer those who engage one another across its interconnected programs.

SP2’s unflinching commitment to social justice, more important now than ever, requires that our programs find even more ways to engage students in critical conversation with one another across professional and scholarly boundaries: social workers cultivating collaborative leadership skills in themselves and their clients; social policy specialists actively theorizing complicated ties between the individual/familial and the macrostructural contexts of their work; nonprofit leaders who recognize leadership itself as a form of social service; and social science researchers who know that knowledge for knowledge’s sake alone isn’t truly knowledge enough.

Our five distinctive programs benefit every incoming student willing to take advantage of the sparks that fly from active participation in all that SP2 provides. For example, during new student orientation in 2016, students were asked to discuss and collaborate on topics central to our SP2 Penn Top Ten Project, a multi-modal initiative that seeks to provide citizens with evidence-based research from SP2’s faculty on some of the most intractable social justice and policy issues of our day. Our masters degree programs offer dual degree options for students who also want to earn relevant degrees from Penn’s Schools of Medicine, Law, Education, Arts & Sciences, and Business while completing their degrees at SP2. At the same time, we have more and more SP2 students taking joint MSW and MSSP degrees or joint MSW and NPL degrees within the School, depending on their interests and professional aspirations.

You should also know that SP2’s renowned faculty don’t only teach, they “do.” Their important research and activism stretches across the social sciences and the humanities in ways that link nuanced investigative methods to practical, real-world problem-solving: lowering rates of homelessness, especially among America’s war veterans; improving health care options for the mentally challenged; preventing child abuse and other forms of familial violence; battling racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination; assisting incarcerated citizens as they re-enter their communities; and much more. In January 2017, SP2 launched our first massive open online course to share research and foster discussion around several important, national topics. The many research centers hosted by SP2 support, contribute to, and expand on faculty members’ individual research.

Our students join us from many states, several countries, and multiple continents, representing a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. Starting with field placements, internships, and practicums, focused primarily between New York City and Washington, DC, and continuing with impactful full-time jobs throughout the region, across the country, and all around the world, students translate their desire to be powerful forces for good into professional successes. Interested students can also accompany faculty on research trips to places like Cuba, India, and Israel to collaborate with students and practitioners abroad on topics such as gender discrimination, HIV education/activism, and worker exploitation.

SP2 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 in the United States and overseas. My first full year as dean in 2015, I traveled throughout the United States and to China, meeting with enthusiastic graduates who are doing amazing things around the world.

For more than 100 years, our 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 a top-tier research university that continues to privilege Franklin’s model of learning. Currently, all twelve of the University’s Schools are working together to accomplish the laudable goals set out in President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020, a further extension of that Franklin’s approach to education.

So, you can learn quite a lot about SP2 by taking a look at this website, which I enthusiastically encourage you to do, but there is so much more about what makes this an exciting and special place to study that I’d want you to experience in person, opportunities like those emerging out of our new Penn Futures partnership with Penn Nursing and Penn’s Graduate School of Education, aimed at getting more students and faculty from all three of our Schools into courses together and conducting cutting-edge research collaboratively. These emerging inter-professional learning opportunities will benefit SP2 students and the School’s work enormously. We are developing a new “Arts and Social Justice” initiative and expanding the number of research opportunities for interested masters students in all of our programs. We have also begun to offer a few post-graduation fellowships for recent graduates interests in working in health-care or criminal justice contexts.

Please do take a careful look at our website to gain a sense of what our school has to offer. After you do that, however, consider visiting our School in person or speaking with faculty, students, or staff members to learn more about what makes this a special place. SP2 doesn’t boast Penn’s glossiest buildings or most famous graduates, but our students—smart, committed, and loving—transform this place for the better as they squeeze everything they can out of a rigorous education at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

An ancient historian once proclaimed that “the secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.” SP2’s inspiring students have the courage to think, learn, research, and strive together in a concerted attempt to help make the world a more just, free, joyful, love-filled, and humane place for everyone on it. What more important work could there be?

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

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