PhD Committee

Chair/Co-chairs: Tova Walsh 

Fall 2021 Committee Members: Committee or Group: Lonnie Berger, Paja Charles, Kiley McLean & Emmy Roper 

2021-22 (December) Report Out 

3 Goal Areas 

#1 Increase the diversity of our students, staff, faculty, and other governing bodies is a priority for our committee.  

Objective(s): Expand access to information about the PhD program among potential applicants from underrepresented and marginalized groups. 

Current & Future Action Steps/Timeframes: 

  • Aim to recruit and support a diverse community of students in the PhD program, including students who are Black, Indigenous, or other people of color, LGBTQ students, students who are parents, students with disabilities, students struggling with finances, students who are first-generation college or first-generation graduate students 
  • Increase applications from students from underrepresented and marginalized groups, admissions, and acceptances of our offer of admission by expanding targeted outreach efforts. 
  • Widely advertise and hold a virtual information session on October 26, 2021. 
  • Disseminate program information broadly within Wisconsin (e.g., to MSW students at UW-Milwaukee) and nationally, with an emphasis on organizations and professional associations serving students and social workers from underrepresented and marginalized groups 
  • Outreach will occur throughout the year, with fall outreach reflected in applications received prior to our PhD program admissions deadline of 12/1and later outreach reflected in next year’s admissions cycle. 

#2 Improve a sense of inclusion for students, faculty, and staff. 

Objective(s): Connect students with more faculty around their skill-building, mentoring and networking needs. 

Current & Future Action Steps/Timeframes: 

  • Continue to develop our collective mentoring initiative by completing a collective mentoring booklet for faculty (about students and their mentoring, skill-building, and networking needs) as well as one for students (about the faculty and their mentoring, skill-building, and networking resources), disseminating the booklets, and encouraging their use. 
  • Over the summer and into the fall, the PhD program worked with faculty and PhD students to gather information for the booklets. 
  • PhD Program Coordinator assembled two booklets and made them available to faculty and PhD students via Box, where they can be “living documents” and get updated over time as student needs and faculty resources evolve. 
  • Over the course of the 2021-22 academic year, we will regularly remind students and faculty to consult the booklets when students are seeking a specific skill-building / mentoring / networking opportunity or when faculty have an opportunity or resource to offer to students. 
  • Issue reminders at the PhD Program Faculty meetings and to PhD students in SW 946 and 947 and remind faculty and students at the start of each semester, and others on an individual basis as opportunities arise. 
  • It is our intention for these booklets to be utilized by faculty and students to identify opportunities to create new connections and expand a sense of inclusion among PhD students as students connect with more faculty around their skill-building, mentoring and networking needs. 

#3 Equip our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and social work community partners to be social justice leaders who can address diversity, equity, and inclusion in their lives and careers. 

Objective(s): Center a DE&I lens in all professional development offerings to increase student preparation to be social justice leaders who can address DE&I in their lives and careers. 

Current & Future Action Steps/Timeframes: 

  • Support student participation in a wide range of professional development activities centered on DE&I as well as invite workshop presenters who bring a DE&I lens to their work. 
  • Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, the PhD program will support student participation in professional development activities including the SWCARES series on Dismantling Racism in Social Work, the Critical Race Scholars in Social Work Annual Convening, and the #SWEduActs monthly drop in-group for social work educators working to address racism and intersecting oppressions in social work education. 
  • Invite professional development workshops for PhD students from presenters including Dr. Torsheika Maddox, Director of the Office of Strategic Diversity Planning and Research in Spring 2022 on Building Confidence for Networking. 

Committee Name: PhD Committee

Committee Members:  Kristi Slack, Pajarita Charles, Tova Walsh, Emmy Roper, Seungmi Cho, Luke Muenter

Strategic Plan Goal: Improve a sense of inclusion for our students, faculty & staff.



1) Review/begin to address equity in opportunities for training /research experiences.

2) Connect students with more faculty around their skill-building, mentoring, and networking needs.


Progress on goal since February 2021

Objective 1:

Have been able to place 3 students in hourly research positions to create more equity in research opportunities

Update: inequities in compensation remain in place, however, given that L&S HR forces a choice between a student hourly pay cap of $15/hr. or requires partial tuition remission if we set up a PA-ship to complement an existing PA/RA/TA-ship.  Tuition remission for these additional research experiences is beyond our budget capacity. As a result, these additional opportunities either cannot be offered at all or create situations where some PhD students getting paid less than their counterparts.

Were able to facilitate students who hit their financial aid caps getting to keep their merit award money, but it was on a case-by-case basis.

Update: It is federal (Dept. of Education) policy that drives the problem of students whose financial aid caps have been maximized being unable to receive merit awards outright. Instead, federal policy requires such awards to be applied toward paying down student loans, resulting in students without as much financial need being able to keep their merit awards, and students with more financial need not being allowed to do so.  Advocacy is needed at the federal level to change this policy.

Update: some students described the process of increasing their financial aid caps as “intrusive” and “humiliating”, given the nature of the questions and the requirements for proof of need. PhD Program Chair met with the Director of the Office of Financial Aid to make her aware of this problem, and to request that anything that can be done to make this process less problematic for students would be greatly appreciated.

We are holding two discussion sessions with students on creating an anti-racist and anti-oppressive PhD program and curriculum.

Update: We held two of these sessions, and notes will be compiled and distributed to students and faculty before the start of AY21-22.

Objective 2:

Collective mentoring initiative (to connect more of our faculty with more of our PhD students) is being further implemented this year, and we are in the process of collecting information to complete a collective mentoring booklet for faculty (about students and their mentoring, skill-building, and networking needs) and one for the students (about the faculty and their mentoring, skill-building, and networking resources). 

Update: We are still waiting on a few faculty to complete the survey they were sent and we decided to hold off on administering the student survey until after the semester is over, due to students feeling survey fatigued.

Our peer-mentoring initiative continued this year, but we initiated the peer mentoring over the summer prior to the arrival of the incoming cohort, and this helped to build community between the new and current students before the semester began.

Update: We are off to an even earlier start with the incoming cohort of students this Fall.  Peer mentors have all been assigned.

We have invited two national speakers to talk about leadership development from a DE&I lens.

Update: We ended up hosting only one national speaker in the Fall to discuss leadership, given the excessive time demands on students and reports of Zoom fatigue. These invited talks will resume next year and may be held virtually in some cases, given that classes will be back in-person and students will not be spending so much time on Zoom.

Both Objectives 1 & 2

We have created a more efficient system for circulating information on events, trainings, and other resources and opportunities to students in the PhD program using Teams channels to centralize such information. We have ramped up including items related to DE&I and leadership skills.

Update: Our move to Microsoft Teams as a central platform for sharing information has worked really well and greatly reduced the burden on students of receiving too many emails. A review of the opportunities we have shared throughout the year shows that topics addressing diversity, equity and inclusion were prevalent.

When students in our program have expertise to share through workshops or lunch and learns, we are able to compensate them with up to $150 in academic books.

Update: We did this initially, but then were informed that we cannot purchase books for students. We are now giving students $150 scholarships instead.

What is your committee’s message to all stakeholders (including students) on the progress of meeting those goals?

We are making steady progress on our goals but have hit some roadblocks that are situated in other campus units (HR, Financial Aid, Business Services).  Students are highly engaged in efforts to improve the program, as are our faculty. Challenges going forward are to keep advocating for campus changes that allow us to fully implement our goals, to achieve meaningful buy-in from all of our PhD faculty on the collective mentoring model, and to articulate and operationalize a vision for an anti-racist PhD Program.