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Hank Liese, new dean at U’s College of Social Work has big plans for the future.

By Melinda Rogers

Hank Liese, dean at the College of Social Work, has a long history at the U. He’s a champion of promoting research and volunteerism among his students and faculty and is taking the leadership helm at the college following the retirement of longtime dean Jannah Mather this summer.

Liese spoke to @TheU about his plans and about some hidden gems in the college that many in the university community might not know about.


Q: You’ve had many different roles at the U over the years. Can you tell us what drew you to the U initially, and the different capacities that you’ve served since your arrival?

A: In 1993, when I came out from California to interview for a faculty position, I was certainly taken by the beauty of the campus and surrounding environs. But what sealed the deal for me were the people – staff, faculty and students. Everyone was so open and welcoming and made me feel right at home. And I’ve felt that way for going on 23 years now.

Over those years, I have served the college as the director of development and alumni relations, director of doctoral studies, associate dean for academic affairs, interim dean and now dean. I have also chaired or co-chaired the Senate Faculty Review Standards Committee for the past eight years and co-chair the U’s Career-line and Adjunct Faculty Task Force. For the past several years, I have had the pleasure of working closely with associate vice president Amy Wildermuth as a special assistant in the Office for Faculty.


Q: Since accepting this leadership role in January, you’ve developed a new endeavor within the college the Initiative for Transformative Social Work. What’s the goal of this new project?

A: This initiative grew out of a faculty discussion about how best to support our students. Like most students on campus, they are frequently referred to a variety of campus entities that provide valuable advice, counsel and resources. Our students can and will continue to use these resources, but we thought if we could offer these same resources under our own roof, students might be more amenable to seeking help.

The initiative will be student-led and student-driven, offering writing, tutoring and mentoring support services. It will include a broad-based social justice component designed to help students develop their community-based advocacy skills through organizing at the college and within the wider university. For example, the initiative is looking to sponsor a campus-wide fall symposium to engage participants in a dialogue around race and racism in light of troubling events over the past year, from Ferguson to Charleston.


Q: The college has evolved over the years, and continues to evolve. One example is the new Certificate in Social Justice Advocacy that undergraduates can earn starting this fall. Can you talk about this new program and what it offers prospective students?

A: This certificate was developed prior to the Initiative for Transformative Social Work but complements it nicely. The certificate is open to all U students and grew out of the observation that once students complete their required diversity course, they often wonder what they can do with their newfound consciousness and knowledge. The certificate’s curriculum will provide an advocacy toolkit, allowing students, regardless of the profession they ultimately choose, to effect meaningful change in organizations and communities.

While the capstone course, Social Justice Advocacy Skills and Techniques, will be taught out of the College of Social Work, the certificate is interdisciplinary in nature, with students able to choose courses across a number of colleges and departments. I see the certificate as part of a growing trend across the U to bring social justice issues front and center. For example, in the past six years, 12 students out of 31 in the University Studies Program have put together majors that focus on social justice.


Q: As a researcher yourself, you know the importance of what a strong research program adds to an individual college and a university as a whole. The College of Social Work’s research agenda has grown dramatically, with an emphasis on securing more federal grants. Can you talk about this? What does this mean in your eyes? What does this bring to the U’s academic community —and the community at large?

A: I believe our research efforts and productivity are impressive for a college of our size. Our faculty carry out federally funded, translational social research, supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Justice, the National Science Foundation, the Veterans Administration, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and other federal and state agencies.

We do have an emphasis on securing more federal grants, which I’m hoping will move us up in the rankings of schools of social work and reflect well on the university. But for me, the bottom line for any research we do as social workers is advancing evidence-based practices that will better serve the vulnerable populations at the center of our profession.


Q: Many may not realize the College of Social Work is home to unique institutes including the Utah Criminal Justice Center and the Social Research Institute. For those unfamiliar with the work of these places, can you describe what they do? Also, what is next for their respective futures?

A: Our Social Research Institute is a nationally recognized provider of child welfare evaluation services across multiple states in the Intermountain West. Over the years, SRI has established solid and fruitful partnerships with many state agencies, including the Division of Child and Family Services and the Department of Workforce Services. Our Utah Criminal Justice Center has similar relationships with agencies in the state’s criminal justice system and has conducted over 60 studies, providing data that have led to important changes in statewide policies and services.

Looking to the future, SRI may engage with University Neighborhood Partners in designing a research infrastructure that will allow UNP to evaluate its many successful community-based projects. SRI is considering doing the same with the College’s projects in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. UCJC was involved in the development and passage of Utah House Bill 348, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and will likely be involved in evaluating the community-based substance abuse and mental health treatment programs that will result from that initiative. UCJC is also working closely with the School of Business’ Policy Innovation Lab and will be evaluating Pay for Success projects in Utah, Idaho, Montana and Colorado focused on homelessness, recidivism reduction and other criminal justice issues.


Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at