Matt Ignacio, assistant professor, School of Social Work, Arizona State University

New professor to focus research on Native peoples' health issues


Mark J. Scarp

An assistant professor whose research focuses on American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian health is a new faculty member at the Arizona State University School of Social Work (SSW).

Matt Ignacio, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona, has spent more than 20 years delivering HIV/AIDS-related health and mental services to underserved individuals, focusing on the needs of tribal and urban Native communities.

Ignacio received his PhD from the University of Washington in spring 2020. He holds a Master of Science degree in Social Work from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Among his awards is a Doctoral Minority Fellowship Program Award from the Council on Social Work Education.

Ignacio’s research interests also include life courses of Indigenous peoples. His teaching interests include social work practice with marginalized populations, historical trauma and healing, harm reduction theory and practice and community-engaged social work research methods.

This semester he is teaching a graduate-level class in diversity and oppression in the context of social work.

He said his work in delivering HIV/AIDS-related services was primarily done as a national HIV trainer.

“My work aimed to increase awareness, reduce stigma, increase testing and increase  access to care,” Ignacio said. “Given my direct experience helping service providers in communities with limited resources, it was an organic evolution to focus on research that promotes the health and wellness of communities that need it most.”

Ignacio said that he is excited to be an assistant professor at the School of Social Work, as the school itself sits upon O’odham land.

“I look forward to building connections and partnerships with ASU students, faculty and administration. One of my goals is to support students of color who are interested in obtaining a social work degree at the bachelor’s, master’s and/or doctoral level,” Ignacio said. “I hope to initiate health-related research projects to meets the needs of marginalized and underserved communities, specifically tribal and urban Native communities located in Arizona and across the country.”

Ignacio said to be part of ASU represents a homecoming of sorts for him.

“I was born in southern California but all of my family lives in southern Arizona,” he said. “For over two decades, I’ve lived in far-off cities for school and accepted jobs in other parts of the country to build my career, which at times was very isolating. Now, I have the luxury of living and working with family all around me, which is truly a blessing.”

James Herbert Williams, SSW director, said it was a pleasure to welcome Ignacio back to Arizona.

“Dr. Ignacio is a tribal member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. His research on improving the health and wellness of American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian people and communities using community-based participatory research approaches is a perfect fit for the School of Social Work,” Williams said. “Dr. Ignacio’s teaching and scholarship will be of great benefit to our communities.”

Ignacio said that from a professional perspective, ASU has a “vibrant and innovative academic atmosphere,” which he said is “inspiring and critically needed.”

He said one thing that most people do not know about him is that he is an early riser.

“For me, one of life’s greatest pleasures is waking up while the world is still asleep, indulging in my morning coffee and giving thanks for another day!” Ignacio said.

Mark J. Scarp is media relations officer for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo courtesy of Matt Ignacio.