James Madison University

Social Work Educator of the Year Named

By: Brett Seekford '17
Posted: November 11, 2015

PHOTO: Nancy Poe

The first day of October brought a major surprise for Dr. Nancy Poe, a professor in JMU’s Department of Social Work. As she sat among 300 faculty and student attendees from colleges around the state at the Rally in the Valley event, her name was called as the winner of the Virginia Social Work Education Consortium’s (VSWEC) 2015 Educator of the Year award. A shocked Poe accepted the award as students from JMU clapped and cheered for their beloved teacher.

The annual Rally in the Valley event was hosted by the VSWEC at the Massanetta Springs Conference Center. Faculty members and students from schools around the state – such as George Mason University, Ferrum College, and Mary Baldwin University – were invited to attend. This gathering offered participants the opportunity to network, attend workshops, discuss scholarship, and hear from a keynote speaker.

Poe has had a storied career leading up to this award. Her first college major was actually business but later changed to sociology after she tested several other potential fields of interest. “My mother is a social worker so I grew up knowing what it was, but it was never my intention to follow in my mother’s footsteps,” she explained. As she prepared for her senior year, however, she had an eye-opening experience that led her to take a serious look at social work. “I did a short internship for a residential program for at-risk youth, and I really found it impactful. I was encouraged by people at the facility to think about doing social work,” she said.

After graduation, she worked in a social work agency for a few years before deciding to pursue her graduate degree. She worked with several non-profits after graduate school, specializing in special needs foster care and residential care with adolescents. At one agency, she was mentored by a psychologist who conducted clinical supervision. Meeting him inspired her career trajectory. “I remember loving what he did and his insights so I talked with him about his education,” Poe said. “He was on faculty at Virginia Tech where I went to get my Ph.D. My discussion with him changed my career.”

Since obtaining her Ph.D., Poe has worked at JMU for fourteen years and has cultivated a reputation as a devoted teacher and scholar. “I think scholarship influences my teaching. It’s a recursive process,” she said. “I love sharing and passing on my knowledge to students. I consider teaching to be a relationship-based profession so those relationships are very important to me. I think I see my job bringing up the next generation of social work practitioners. I see my teaching as a huge responsibility.”

Her time as a social worker has both influenced her teaching and presented challenges. “I’ve been able to glean experiences from my clients that can bring concepts to life for students,” Poe said. “I do worry that some of my stories or references become stale. It’s very important to remain current because the profession is changing all the time. I try to remain aware of new scholarship.”

Poe’s dedicated teaching and devotion to academia has been recognized. Receiving the Educator of the Year award served as a testament to her teaching abilities. “I knew I had been nominated for the award, but I didn’t find out I won until the actual day of the event,” she said. “I’m a weepy person by nature. Watching the JMU students cheering for me was so moving. I’ll never forget it.”

Poe plans to continue working to improve her skillset as a teacher and scholar. “I still want to contribute to the knowledge base of my field. I’ve been working with military families to see their challenges and the services provided for their support. I want to spend time developing my findings,” she said. Poe added, “Scholarship influences my teaching. It prepares students for contemporary social work. We can always keep improving.”