NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – When she was a new student at the Smith College School for Social Work, Deepa Ranganathan attended an event during which Dean Carolyn Jacobs offered her class some valuable advice.
“Focus and keep going and carefully select which battles we were going to fight,” Ranganathan recalled during a retirement reception for Jacobs in June.
In August, Ranganathan’s class will be the last to graduate under Jacobs, who will retire officially next spring after more than three decades of teaching and serving as a dean at Smith.
Jacobs, the Elizabeth Marting Treuhaft Professor, came to Smith from Boston after earning her doctorate from the Heller School of Brandeis University and her training as a spiritual director from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. She received her earlier degrees on the West Coast—from Sacramento State University and San Diego State University.
As an expert in religion and spirituality in social work clinical practice, Jacobs directs the Contemplative Clinical Practice Advanced Certificate Program at Smith.
In 2000, Jacobs was appointed acting dean and in 2003, dean of the school, in which master’s degree students are enrolled in three 10-week summer academic sessions, separated by two 34-week field internships. There are about 400 full-time social work students in master’s and doctoral programs each year at Smith.
Founded for the express purpose of preparing social workers to provide mental health services to traumatized soldiers from World War I, the Smith School for Social Work has provided graduate social work education to men and women.
Jacobs’ achievements while dean of the school are many. She introduced tenure for faculty, forged ties with institutions around the world and launched a scholarship for military personnel. That full-tuition scholarship is awarded annually to a member of the military or to a veteran who is making a commitment to work with the mental health issues of military personnel and their families upon graduation.
Under Jacobs’ leadership, the school also reinforced its commitment to becoming an anti-racism institution. Toward that end, faculty and senior administration have met monthly throughout the past decade to discuss anti-racism efforts, discussions that inform curricular and co-curricular decisions.
In addition to Ranganathan, a cadre of former and current colleagues spoke during the School for Social Work community reception held in June, including President Carol T. Christ, whose term as 10th president ended that month.
“Carolyn has been a transformational dean for the school,” noted Christ. “She has unfailing integrity and keeps the objectives always in mind.”
At the end of the ceremony, Jacobs offered her own remarks. “This has been an extraordinary, blessed journey for me,” she said.
Additional comments from friends and colleagues at the ceremony, and in ensuing days, included the following:
“I was on the faculty search committee that hired Carolyn and I have known her since then. I feel that the school has grown, continued to maintain its strong clinical focus and benefited enormously from her leadership.
Reserved, thoughtful, independent, sensitive, self-initiating, quietly reflective, committed to excellence and quality in clinical social work. These qualities all speak to the Carolyn I know and love.” – Dorcas Bowles, SSW alumna and former dean.
“I met Carolyn in 1973, when we became doctorate students at the Heller School, Brandeis University. We sat next to each other in several classes and became close friends and colleagues.
Over those 40 years Carolyn and I have taught courses together, presented papers at social work conferences and supported each other in our personal and professional lives.
Carolyn is highly intelligent, a true leader, competent, assertive and always respectful. She is a loyal and true friend.” – Julio Morales, former University of Connecticut faculty member.
“I first met Carolyn in a Lenten reading group at the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston. When I was applying to Smith’s master’s program in 1993, we became reacquainted. I decided to write my thesis on the spiritual issues of adults struggling with major mental illness and asked Carolyn if she would be my thesis advisor.
Despite her own very heavy workload, she generously agreed, uttering one condition. ‘You will come back to this campus next June with this thesis written.’ “ – Christopher O’Rourke, SSW alumnus and adjunct faculty member.
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