SHU Welcomes First Cohort for PhD in Social Work

FAIRFIELD, Conn.—Georgianna Dolan-Reilly of Setauket, NY, was looking for a progressive school where she could delve into her environmental social work research.

Francis Furmanek of Manchester earned his master’s degree at Sacred Heart University and appreciated the school’s quality standards and spirit of inclusivity.

The duo is part of SHU’s first-ever cohort for the Ph.D. in social work, a part-time, online program geared to professionals in the field who are preparing to advance their careers in academia, research, community-based leadership, grant-writing and program evaluation.

“The Ph.D. students represent exactly what we hoped to create in this program,” said Jennifer Wilson, clinical associate professor and program director.

Steeped in the School of Social Work’s commitment to social and racial justice, the new program offers working professionals a way to develop their pedagogical approach and immerse themselves in meaningful, impactful research in a flexible, part-time setting.

“There really isn’t something comparable available,” Wilson said, “so we’re creating it.”

The program includes about two years of online coursework with live sessions, followed by a dissertation, which can take anywhere from one to five years. It also requires the initial on campus orientation, which the group enjoyed in August, and an annual, week-long, on-campus, summer residency.

Those who spent time that week getting to know one another, and the program’s parameters said they appreciated its emphasis on social and racial justice and integrated practice. The possibility of graduate teaching assistantship opportunities and conducting research across disciplines—possibly at one of SHU’s international campuses—also were cited as highlights of the Ph.D. program.

“I really felt it was welcoming for social workers of all types of backgrounds,” said Caroline Schiff of Milford, who has been in the field for about seven years. “And we get to shape (the program). We can affect change within the community here.”

Jen Melanson of Townsend, MA, is familiar with the online format: that’s how she completed her master’s program after moving from the health-care setting to social work. She welcomes the chance to take an interdisciplinary approach to social work and attend to more than just the physical aspects of her patients, she said.

Brandon Rothschild of Windsor believes a higher power was involved in his acceptance to the program. An adjunct professor looking for a program that would offer him a range of intriguing outcomes, he said he asked God to give him a sign that SHU was the right place for him. After seeing two billboards for the school, as well as a commercial for SHU during the Super Bowl, he got the message.

Quianna Daniels’ reasons for choosing SHU were a bit more down-to-earth. The busy Philadelphia social worker divides her time among her private practice, two children and her husband. She said she was looking for a challenging program that was also affordable, and Wilson’s commitment and infectious energy were appealing.

Melanson agreed. “Professor Wilson models her own passion,” she said. 

Wilson was impressed with the group’s research interests, which range from maternal health to disparities in education and to environmental racism. As working professionals, they have access to fertile places for research and inquiry, she said.

The School of Social Work’s global framework and anti-racist lens is embedded in the program and will shape the important doctoral work of this cohort and those who follow, said Wilson.

“I think it’s very exciting,” she said. “It makes our program unique.”

For more information, visit the Ph.D. in social work webpage.


About Sacred Heart University

As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 386 Colleges–2021 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best Business Schools–2021 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theater. www.sacredheart.edu


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