Campus News

Smyth to step down as dean of School of Social Work


Published October 21, 2020

headshot of Nancy Smyth.
“I am ‘all in’ as part of the UB School of Social Work to work on a range of initiatives in the school: racial justice, social work futures and innovation, and technology for social good. ”
Nancy Smyth, dean
School of Social Work

Nancy J. Smyth is stepping down as dean of the School of Social Work at the end of the spring 2021 semester, Provost A. Scott Weber announced today in a memo to the university community.

Smyth will return to her faculty role as a professor of social work.

“An excellent dean and university leader, Nancy has significantly advanced each of UB’s educational, research and engagement missions, leaving the school well-positioned to build on this success for years to come,” Weber said.

Since being appointed dean in 2004, Smyth has transformed the School of Social Work and improved its national profile, rising in the U.S. News and World Report ranking to 25 from 46, placing it among the top 10% of the country’s best schools of social work. 

Under her 16 years of leadership, the school has integrated a trauma-informed and human rights perspective throughout its curriculum, expanded international education, established the Buffalo Center for Social Research to support faculty research, and launched several new online degree and micro-credential programs, including an online doctorate in social welfare in 2019 and an online master of social work in 2013.

“Nancy has led the school in using technology to enhance student learning and access while innovating the social work profession,” Weber said. “She increased the use of digital media to expand the school’s reach and impact, raising the school’s social media presence and introducing a nationally renowned podcast.”

The school also has integrated more flexibility into its master of social work program and collaborated with other UB schools and community partners to offer students enhanced learning and engagement opportunities in areas that include aging, child welfare, disaster response, mental health, substance abuse, and veterans and military families.

“I have loved serving as dean,” Smyth said. “We have a remarkable group of faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors. It’s been my honor to serve all of them, and the university, these past 16 years.”

Recognizing that social workers must be prepared to work in an increasingly global world, she has been committed to internationalizing the School of Social Work.

Smyth led the school’s initiative that established its first international research partnership with Amrita University in India, creating the UB/Amrita Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Institute. The school also started offering international field placements for students, increased study abroad opportunities, and introduced a global focus into the curriculum.

“Nancy is committed to building partnerships with other UB schools and encouraging social work faculty to participate in cross-disciplinary and university-wide initiatives to enhance innovation and impact, and provide students with unique educational opportunities,” Weber said. “Examples of this can be seen in faculty participation in the Global Health Community of Excellence, Artificial Intelligence Institute, Joining Forces E Fund Initiative and SUNY Learning Through Development Project in Haiti.”

UB’s social work students also participate in the university’s interprofessional education program with health sciences students to prepare them to be collaborative-practice ready when they enter the workforce. To prepare students to collaborate with and contribute to community nonprofits, the School of Social Work and the School of Management partnered to create a unique Social Impact Fellows program that places interdisciplinary teams of students in internships in local, mission-driven organizations.

A UB faculty member since 1991, Distinguished Fellow of the National Academies of Practice in Social Work and board-certified expert in the area of traumatic stress, Smyth has over 35 years of experience as an academic and licensed social worker, primarily in the areas of trauma and addictions.

She is a board member of the National Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work, former president of the St. Louis Group (the national organization of social work deans at research universities) and a founder of the National Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

As for what’s next, Smyth said she’s eager to return to her faculty role and advance the school’s work on a range of topics and initiatives.

“I am ‘all in’ as part of the UB School of Social Work to work on a range of initiatives in the school: racial justice, social work futures and innovation, and technology for social good,” she said. “I simply want to do it from a different role. I am looking forward to returning to the faculty, launching a new path for my own work and supporting a new dean.”

A search for Smyth’s successor will begin later this semester, with plans for new leadership to be in place by the end of spring 2021, according to Weber.