James Madison University

Department of Social Work Welcomes New Head

By: Daniel Vieth
Posted: October 14, 2013

PHOTO: Lisa McGuire

This fall, James Madison University welcomed Dr. Lisa McGuire as the new Department Head of Social Work after the retirement of R. Ann Myers. Myers was a former social work student of JMU who joined the faculty in 1973 and became the head in 1987.

McGuire joins us after leading the Undergraduate Social Work Program at the Indiana University School of Social Work. Before that, she served as a social worker with community-based agencies in Indianapolis and Chicago, such as the Marillac Social Center, the Children’s Bureau of Indianapolis, and the Big Sisters of Central Indiana. She has also received many different awards and recognitions, such at the Thomas Ehrlich Award for Service Learning at Indiana University in 2009, and the Directors Award from the Christamore House Board of Directors in 2004 and 2006. She earned her doctorate at Case Western University.

As one of the newest members of the James Madison community, McGuire has said that she loves it here. “Everyone is very welcoming,” she said, describing how at home she felt when she first arrived. She further explained that it was the strength of the program that made her want to be a part of the James Madison Department of Social Work. “The faculty that are here right now are wonderful. They’ve been here awhile, they know what they’re doing, they’re strong teachers, they’re involved in the community, and they focus a lot on service learning. Those are the things that a social work administrator really wants to see.”

When asked why she initially wanted to pursue social work, McGuire explained her first encounter with a social worker. “My undergraduate degree was in psychology [from Butler University], and when I graduated from school I went to work at a girl’s group home as a houseparent. It was there that I first met a social worker, and pretty quickly I said that’s what I want to do.”

Regarding why social work has become so popular recently, McGuire explained “I think there are a lot of needs in our society, [and] people are realizing that social workers are uniquely prepared.” The perspective utilized by social workers is heavily contextual, looking not just at patients and their behaviors but the relationship between these people and their environment. “People are really realizing how helpful that perspective is.”

Just a few weeks ago, McGuire was asked to join a talk at the White House about health and mental health care. “It was very cool,” she laughed. “Social workers provide lots of clinical and community mental health and management services for those who need persistent mental health services.” As she put it, social workers are everywhere. “They are in hospitals, in community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, and in the legislature.”

Despite this growing popularity, many people do not necessarily understand what social work is all about. “There are some people that think that social work is only about child protection,” McGuire commented, “the people that snatch children out of their home when they see something wrong. Those people don’t realize the breadth of what social work is.”

To help combat this misconception of social workers, McGuire has worked to open introductory courses to non-majors. As she explained, these courses would be especially helpful for those students who will work directly with social workers in their careers, such as nurses. “I think a lot of people would benefit from learning a little bit about the major.” According to McGuire, people are already more familiar with what social workers do. “We’re getting more people coming into JMU saying ‘I want to be in social work’. They know they want to help people, but may not know how. Social work gives them a lot of choices.”

Looking toward the future, McGuire explained that “JMU has been growing, and social work has especially been growing.” One of her first challenges will be identifying additional faculty for the spring semester, as well as finding volunteer faculty from the community. The department is also preparing itself for re-accreditation next August by the Council on Social Work Education. “This academic year and the next we will be preparing, doing a self-study, [and] that will take up a lot of time and energy to make sure we are putting our best foot forward.”

When considering what her long-term vision for the program would be, McGuire stated that her main goal is the maintenance of the integrity of the department during a period of significant growth. “Larger classes, different teachers, those kind of things present new challenges. Those are the things I’ll have to pay attention to.”

McGuire has no doubt that the department will accomplish these goals, however. “It is such a strong program. It is far ahead of the curve.” The program is certainly in good hands during this time of transition and growth, with McGuire demonstrating her passion both for the school and for the major. With her expertise in social work and administration, there is no doubt that the James Madison University Department of Social Work will continue to be a successful program. As she put it, “this is a wonderful program and I am very proud to be a part of it!”