New Concentration to Provide Brown School Grads with Leadership, Entrepreneurial Skills | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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New Concentration to Provide Brown School Grads with Leadership, Entrepreneurial Skills

Social Work; Students; Faculty

An increase in student interest in entrepreneurship and leadership jobs upon graduation has prompted the Brown School to offer a new concentration: Social Impact Leadership.

Beginning in the fall of 2020, the concentration will offer MSW students a choice of two tracks: Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship, led by Heather Cameron, the Michael B. Kaufman Professor of Practice in Social Entrepreneurship; or Organizational Leadership & Management, led by Barry Rosenberg, professor of practice. The Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship track will teach students to design, test and launch new programs and ventures that address social and human needs. The track of Organizational Leadership & Management will prepare students for leadership roles throughout existing organizations or in organizational capacity building.

“The Social Impact Leadership concentration is unique in its integration of leadership, management, innovation and entrepreneurial training,” Cameron said. “No other school is doing anything quite like this.”

Rosenberg said while social work students have traditionally been ambivalent or even negative toward leadership, equating it with authority and power, that view is now changing. An increasing number of students are assuming leadership roles in organizations within a short time after graduation and need training for the challenges they encounter. Others see the impact that poor management can have, or seek to start their own organizations.

“Leadership is influencing change and setting direction; management is making it happen,” Rosenberg said. “You need both skills, and I’ve seen a significant increase in students’ desire to pursue leadership and management positions.”

One of those students was Edwin Zuluaga, MSW ’18, who suggested the new concentration after crafting his own version during his time at the Brown School. His individualized concentration was healthcare, with a specialization in Management, which he supplemented with courses at the business and engineering schools. He believes the new formalized concentration will allow more time for leadership training.

“It’s extremely important to have a concentration like this, so students can learn how to implement change,” said Zuluaga, who is now the project manager for performance improvement at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Rosenberg said another driver of the interest in the new concentration is a desire for career mobility and financial advancement that management roles can bring. In addition, the job market has a tremendous desire for leadership, especially in St. Louis, he said. Some organizations have relied on business-trained leaders with little knowledge of human services.

“They don’t understand the field the way someone does who is trained as a social worker. These organizations are best led by people who are social workers, if they have leadership training.”

Zuluaga agreed. He found that the leadership skills he acquired at Brown were in demand by businesses that didn’t know social workers had those skills. “I hope the new classes will offer more tools for nontraditional social workers that can be used in business and nontraditional settings,” he said. “You’ll see a whole bunch of social workers making change in corporations and nonprofits.”

The Brown School has a history of fostering leadership and management skills in its graduates. It first offered a Management specialization in 1984. In 2011, the school introduced the Social Entrepreneurship specialization, in coordination with Olin Business School—it was one of the first of its kind at a school of social work.

Leadership has also been the focus of the Bettie Schroth Johnson Scholarship, established in 1987, which supports students interested in management or entrepreneurship. The “Betties” – as they are known – are a self-managed group of MSW students tasked with supporting management learning and organizing monthly informal programs.

The new Social Impact Leadership concentration is aimed at students who want a leadership role upon graduation.

The concentration is offered in a two-year, 60 credit sequence as well as an Advanced Standing, 39 credit sequence that can be completed in 12 months. In addition to other MSW requirements, concentration students take six leadership-focused classes as well as five credits of practicum. Courses such as Financial Management and Revenue Development are required on either track, while others classes are track specific. Students will also have nine elective credits that may be used to earn a specialization or broaden expertise. The concentration’s practicum will include a robust mentoring system, in which students can connect directly with leading non-profit leaders and entrepreneurs.

“At the Brown School we are often told to think outside the box around what social work is and the work we can do,” said Nikki Doughty, MSW ’14. “This new concentration demonstrates the importance of that goal and provides the tools and research-based methods to achieve it.”

Doughty is the Head of School at the City Academy, a private 250-student elementary school that provides scholarship assistance for all students. She was director of alumni support and external partnerships when she enrolled at the Brown School and kept the full-time job through graduation. She was later promoted to her current post, in which her responsibilities include building a healthy organizational culture, personnel development, operations management and finance.

She said her experience at the Brown School developed both human and organizational management skills that enabled her rapid promotion at the school. “Understanding systems, people and operations and how they connect has been life-changing for me,” she said.

Zuluaga’s role at Children’s Hospital is coaching and advising administrative leaders on performance improvement and change management initiatives, a position he received upon graduating. He said his training at the Brown School enabled him to interact immediately with senior leaders with much more experience. Especially useful was a course in Social, Economic and Political Environment taught by Anna Shabsin, teaching professor; and Brown Consulting, taught by Rosenberg.

“The key to success for a young leader is you really need to have those soft skills in place and be able to quickly learn the culture of an organization and build rapport with leaders to gain trust and commitment,” he said. “You need to be able to influence without authority. You have to understand what other people’s motives might be, what their interests are, and be able to make ‘humble inquiry’ of others.”

“I use the tools I was taught at the Brown School every day. They really work.”