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SWs Marks Faces New Challenges With Gusto

October 11, 2001

Nick Marinello
Phone: 865-5714

Timing is everything. For Ron Marks, he could not be stepping into his new role as interim dean of the School of Social Work at a more exciting, challenging time. "It has been incredibly energizing," says Marks, a soft-spoken 17-year veteran of the school. "It has enabled me to see the opportunities for a school like ours and act on them."

Marks was appointed interim dean by Lester Lefton, senior vice president for academic affairs, this summer, after dean Suzanne England announced her departure for New York University School of Social Work. Marks, who received his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, had been the school's associate dean for the last four years and was a key player in developing the school's new curriculum, which is being rolled out this semester.

Overseeing the implementation of the new curriculum is a priority for Marks. "We recognize that we will be conducting a simultaneous evaluation of the curriculum, fine tuning it as we go. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive," says Marks. "A month into the new program and we have heard unequivocal applause for this new curriculum. There has been absolute excitement and fascination by the students; they are telling us we are right on target."

The new relationship-centered practice curriculum is structured within a modular, flexible framework with clusters of courses organized around integral themes such as professional development, theory, tools and methods. (See Feb. 1, 2001, issue of Inside Tulane for more on the curriculum.)

Another priority for Marks is preparation for the reaccredidation process with the Council of Social Work Education, the national accrediting body for social work schools. The procedure, which reoccurs every seven years, must be completed by 2004, and will begin with a self-study launched this year.

"I think that working tirelessly for two years on creating the new curriculum has made us all prepared for reaccredidation," says Marks. This semester also will see the appearance of the school's updated Web site. Before years end, Marks expects the new, interactive site to be fully in place.

Through the site, the school will be able to articulate new programs and projects. One of the innovations of the new curriculum is an expanded part-time graduate program, says Marks. With the enhanced agility of the new curriculum, he expects the school to explore entering new geographic markets. With a more modularized curriculum, the modules can be transported more easily to different areas, he says. Marks also hopes to investigate the schools possible expansion of its international education.

"I have recently taken students to Honduras and Cuba and have worked on a program that may enable us to join with a community in northern India to support work addressing the needs of Tibetan refugees," he says. While he acknowledges that current events may affect any international planning, he believes that the immersion into other cultures allows students to see first-hand the debilitating consequences of persistent social and economic difficulties.

"To recognize and fully understand social work, one must directly face the social and health realities of a culture," he says. An international component allows students to confront the fact that, worldwide, the impoverished and indigent are the primary clientele of social workers.

Closer to home, says Marks, 80 percent of mental-health services in the United States are provided by masters-level trained social workers.

"We recognize the need for well-trained social workers to provide mental-health services and we intend to continue to train social workers who are prepared to enter this type of work in a variety of community agencies." Marks says he looks forward to expanding the school's relationships with other Tulane schools.

"This is critical," he says, pointing out that the School of Social Work currently offers a joint MSW-MPH program with the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. The school also offers a joint MSW-JD, with Tulane Law School. Marks will have a substantial amount of time to work through these projects; his appointment as interim dean is for two years. "Provost Lefton wants to carefully understand the direction of the school," he says. "Once that is more fully understood, we will have an official search."

In the meantime, Marks remains happily awed at the support he has received. "The school, faculty and staff have been enormously supportive of me stepping into this role. I have received a wonderful welcome."

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