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James Herbert Williams is the new director of the School of Social Work in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University in downtown Phoenix. He brings more than 17 years experience as a social worker and more than 20 years experience as a professor and dean. Williams has the distinction of being a fellow in the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and a Fellow in the Society for Social Work and Research.
Williams joins ASU from the University of Denver where he is the Distinguished Emil M. Sunley Endowed Chair Dean Emeritus and professor in the Graduate School of Social Work. Under his leadership as dean from 2007 to 2016, the school went from the No. 38 graduate program as ranked by U.S. News & World Report to No. 17. The school added 20 faculty members and saw steady growth in the number of graduate students from 383 to 525.
He credits the professors and staff at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work for their collective work.
"Each person contributes to a piece of the bigger puzzle," Williams said. "They're all important because if they don't contribute, we don't have a full picture of what we're trying to accomplish.
"And that's my philosophy of how I look at the bigger picture. I try to lead with that aspect in mind — by listening, being collaborative and trying to help us develop a mission as an organization that everyone can see how they contribute to that mission."
The ASU School of Social Work has earned a reputation as one of the best programs in the Southwest with more than 1,800 students enrolled last year (800 undergraduate and more than 1,000 in the graduate and doctoral programs). The school's faculty are recognized experts in many areas including health, behavioral health, child welfare, children, youth and families, planning administration and community practice. The school has several award-winning research centers and offices whose work informs policy makers and social service professionals locally, nationally and internationally.
Williams knows first hand. While on sabbatical from the University of Denver, he served as interim director of the acclaimed Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, which focuses on teen alcohol and drug abuse prevention and minority health disparities. Williams also served as a Foundation Professor in the ASU School of Social Work for one year, in 2006, before becoming dean at the University of Denver.
"It's an exciting opportunity," Williams said. "I look forward to working with these wonderful researchers, faculty and scholars that are nationally and internationally known. And because ASU plays an important role in Phoenix and throughout Arizona, I want to engage the local community and leverage our research to the benefit of the community."
Williams has a track record of leveraging research to benefit communities and students. Since 2008, he has worked in Kenya, helping communities deal with issues resulting from violence and conflict. His research there provides valuable internship opportunities to students and led to the creation of a new concentration in sustainable development and global practice for University of Denver graduate students.
"I was able to take my research and position the school for opportunities that make it more attractive for students to want to come and pursue an MSW degree with the school," Williams said.
Williams' has been awarded more than $5 million in research grants. He has written two books, 17 book chapters, and authored or coauthored more than 90 refereed journal articles. He has also presented at 50 national and international conferences.
Williams worked as a social worker for 17 years, primarily in medical facilities, before returning to school to earn his doctorate from the University of Washington School of Social Work. He has an MPA from the University of Colorado, an MSW from Smith College and a BA in sociology from Grambling State University.