School of Social Service Administration recognizes professors for outstanding teaching

The School of Social Service Administration has recognized the outstanding work of two faculty members for their teaching and mentoring.

Asst. Prof. Alida Bouris received the William Pollack Award for Excellence in Teaching, and Assoc. Prof. Julia Henly received the school’s first Award for Excellence in Doctoral Student Mentoring.

Bouris said that establishing an environment in which everyone in the classroom holds each other in high esteem is a fundamental aspect of her teaching style.

Alida Bouris

Alida Bouris

“I respect my students and try to make the classroom an open environment where different opinions can emerge,” she explained. “The students can challenge each other, voice different opinions and voice their struggles, and I can do the same.”

She said she finds it useful in her teaching to be open to feedback, making changes and trying new ways of teaching.

“Lawrence Levine, a history professor from UC Berkeley, has always been an inspiration. I had the great fortune to take a class with him while I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley. He had a great passion for teaching, he set high standards and he held his students in high esteem,” she said.

At SSA, she said Assoc. Prof. Gina Samuels also has been a great inspiration. “I'm always impressed by how seriously my colleagues approach their teaching.”

Critical thinking is an important part of the task of learning theory and practice in social work. “'Learning and doing’ social work is much more challenging than students anticipate, and I want them to appreciate the complexities of what they are learning, how they are learning it, and how they are applying it,” she said.

She also helps student cultivate their identities as social workers and learn to distinguish social work from other helping professions.

“I want my students to leave my class with a strong identity as a social worker—not as a therapist or clinician, but as a social worker,” she said. By encouraging engagement with research, students can learn that their practice decisions can be guided by the wealth of knowledge on how social workers can better support their clients to meet their goals.

Henly finds herself guiding students toward their PhDs, both in and out of the classroom as they go through the dissertation process.

Julia Henly

Julia Henly

One of the courses Henly teaches is titled Informal Helping Systems in Low Income Communities. She said the course "covers a subject matter that I study, so it’s something that I care passionately about and can easily keep up to date." Henly also researches the economic and caregiving strategies of low-income workers and policy and social network responses to family poverty.

She finds herself mentoring a range of students—those whose interests greatly overlap her own as well as students whose work is further afield. But whether it is collaborating with students on shared research projects or assisting others with research in less familiar areas, some of the requirements of mentoring remain the same, she said.

“When working with students on their dissertations, I try to help them figure out what their passion is, and assist them in carving out a particular topic to pursue that is both feasible and interesting,” she explained.

Students working towards a social work degree have a wide range of topics to choose from, and many of them draw from diverse academic disciplines. Being able to decide what kinds of data are appropriate to answer particular questions and knowing how to narrow questions to a manageable level, Henly said, are key parts of keeping the dissertation process going smoothly.

“I really don’t tell students what to do, but I try to help them see what is possible,” she said. One of her students, for instance, is conducting a fascinating dissertation about the informal survival strategies of homeless youth in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Despite the challenges involved in collecting data on this population, Henly encouraged him to pursue this thesis because of his passion for the topic, the theoretically grounded questions he chose to pursue, and the unusual access he had to gathering a remarkable amount of information on a population which few people have bothered to understand and which few services support.

“He had already started studying this population before returning to graduate school. He went back to Bangladesh and continued doing his research. It will be a valuable piece of work when he is done,” she explained.