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Domestic violence researcher is new ASU School of Social Work director

Michelle Mohr Carney is the new director of the School of Social Work
July 28, 2014

Michelle Mohr Carney is the new director of the School of Social Work, part of the College of Public Programs, located on the downtown Phoenix campus. She comes from the University of Georgia, where she was a professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Institute for Nonprofit Organizations.

“It’s a big opportunity for me,” says Carney. “I feel honored to be here.”

Carney takes over the largest social work school in the Southwest, with 1,338 students. The school boasts the third-largest graduate program at ASU, handing out 293 master's degrees last year.

“In Arizona, if you have a master’s degree in social work, it’s likely from here,” Carney says. “So we have a really powerful role in what social work looks like in the state of Arizona at the graduate level.”

The School of Social Work recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. It’s had a presence in Tucson since the mid-1960s and maintains a campus near downtown Tucson, where it’s been offering classes since 2001. The school expanded to Flagstaff last fall. It is also home to the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center and several specialty offices, including the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research.

“There is so much energy, productivity and high levels of research,” Carney says, “and research in specialized niches that are just so cool, and centers that do such great things.”

Carney replaces Steven Anderson as director. Anderson accepted a position as professor and director of the School of Social Work at Michigan State University.

“Michelle brings substantial expertise to the school in working with non-profit agencies and systems dealing with justice-involved clients,” says social work professor José Ashford, who led the faculty search committee. “She is well-known for her work in treating domestic violence offenders, and in teaching and researching administrative practices.”

Carney calls herself a problem solver. It dates back to her time as an undergraduate at the Ohio State University in the late 1980s. She was paired with a law student to handle domestic violence mediation. The law student got to sit behind a desk. A social work student, Carney was placed between the perpetrator and the victim.

“I saw that interpersonal violence was very complex,” Carney recalls. “And I started feeling like I was sort of banging my head against the wall working with the women because – although the women needed lots and lots of help – I kept feeling like ‘we’re not addressing the problem here.’”

The problem was dealing with the offenders, which most of the time were men. Carney says she was originally drawn into direct research of male domestic violence perpetrators, but started seeing an increasing number of women sentenced as offenders.

“Men are far more dangerously violent” says Carney. “But women can be violent too. And we need to make sure that they get the services that they need.”

Carney says her goal is to better understand the phenomena of interpersonal violence by taking a multi-layered, multi-thinking approach to who is violent and why. Just as important, is making sure the appropriate type of help is available and being utilized properly.

“My intent is to try to get the right treatment to the right people,” says Carney.

That’s one reason Carney focuses on developing effective program evaluations. In Columbia, South Carolina, she helped create a predictive model for a domestic violence offender program. It would flag people with particular characteristics that were in danger of dropping out. She also helped the center put a pre-test/post-test model into place to measure whether offenders were less coercive, less passive aggressive and less controlling.

“Her research addresses the need to empower communities through social work by reducing domestic violence, improving interventions with juvenile delinquent youth, sex offenders, and male and female batterers,” says Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Programs.

Koppell calls Carney a perfect fit for the School of Social Work and the college, which includes the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the School of Public Affairs and the School of Community Resources and Development. The latter offers an undergraduate degree in nonprofit leadership and management, and a graduate degree in nonprofit studies. Besides her research background, Carney brings experience in the nonprofit sector as a project manager in charge of evaluating outcomes of a juvenile delinquency diversion program, and as a development director in charge of fundraising for multiple nonprofits.

“I think that being a good fundraiser helps you raise money, but you also get really good at articulating your passion,” says Carney.

It was her desire to become a better development director that led her to a career in academia. Her job required writing applications for federal grants.

“I realized I didn’t have the research skills I needed to be really good at the federal grant level," Carney says. “So then that’s why I went back and got my PhD, and fell in love with teaching.”

She didn’t just fall in love with teaching. She became good at it. So much so that at the University of South Carolina, Carney received the Educator of the Year award from the College of Social Work four of out five years.  She won similar awards from the Master of Arts program in Nonprofit Management and School of Social Work doctoral program at the University of Georgia.

“If I have to spend 100 hours with one student and five minutes with the other, then that’s what I do,” says Carney. “I can go home and sleep, and know that every person who left my grant writing class can write a grant. Or every person who left my program evaluation class can do program evaluation. I think students understand I’m invested in them, so they get more invested in the class.”

Carney will focus on administrative duties her first semester at ASU, but expects to teach grant writing and program evaluation once she is settled in. She plans to continue her research on interpersonal violence and is excited about the interdisciplinary research opportunities the College of Public Programs is known for.

“My research has always been interdisciplinary, so that really fits well with this college,” Carney says.

A native of Savannah, Georgia, Carney looks forward to living an active lifestyle in Arizona. She already hiked most of the nearby mountains with her sister on previous trips to Phoenix, and plans to revisit them with her husband.

“My family is super important to me,” she says. “I have five stepsons and two daughters. We’re really looking forward to getting out. We’re not homebodies.”