Domestic violence researcher is new ASU School of Social Work director

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.” Michelle Mohr Carney is the new director of the School of Social Work Download Full Image

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.”

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


New study abroad program draws ASU undergrads to Panama

July 29, 2014

Through study abroad programs, students experience new cultures, languages and people as they complete their coursework. But during Arizona State University’s new faculty-led Tropical Field Biology class, students also encounter three-toed sloths, poison dart frogs, monkeys, lizards and giant insects.

Eighteen School of Life Sciences undergraduate students traveled to Panama this summer to study biology, and to become fully immersed in a challenging field environment. Students stayed at a schoolhouse in Gamboa operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute – a facility that is part of an innovative education and science partnership between ASU and the Smithsonian Institute aimed at sustaining biodiversity on Earth. students find a frog while on a nighttime excursion Download Full Image

“We started this summer program with two main goals,” said Nico Franz, associate professor with the School of Life Sciences. “First, we wanted the students to experience the incredible biodiversity and wealth of biological interactions that occur in a tropical rainforest habitat. Second, the students took their first steps toward becoming researchers. They posed scientific questions, developed hypotheses and conducted studies to investigate their hypotheses. Their final report was presented in the style of an authentic scientific publication.”

Classwork was anything but typical. Students explored the rainforest, discovering tropical plants, vertebrate animals and insects during daily hikes. The group had many encounters with a variety of animals, including stingless bees, tree frogs, leaf-cutter ants, venomous snakes, toucans, iguanas, tarantulas and three-toed sloths, to name a few.

Along with Franz, Dale DeNardo, a reptile expert and associate professor with the school, and life sciences teaching assistants Meghan Duell and Salvatore Anzaldo also led the students on nighttime excursions along riverbeds.

“In the evenings, we set up a mercury vapor lamp and UV lights to attract and see insects,” said DeNardo. “Particularly along the riverbanks, we had many opportunities to see a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles. Since we overlapped with the peak of the rainy season, animal species were out in great numbers. I’m sure this experience will be a highlight of our students’ undergraduate careers.”

Callie Hartson, an animal physiology and behavior major entering her junior year at ASU, said she was thrilled to be part of the study program.

“I've always wanted to explore a rainforest. When I found the course, I couldn't resist! It was the ultimate hands-on experience,” said Hartson, a Peoria, Arizona, native. “The knowledge was the most rewarding part of the whole experience. Even after living in Panama for three weeks, I still feel like I barely scratched the surface. There was so much to learn!”

Course topics varied from ecology, biodiversity, evolution and behavior to conservation, adaptation and human interactions with wildlife. Some of the highlights included climbing a 95-foot canopy tower to get a different perspective on the forest, an excursion to the Cerro Azul mountain region northeast of Panama City and a two-day trip to Barro Colorado Island – one of the most influential sites for New World tropical research worldwide.

The School of Life Sciences Tropical Field Biology class will be offered again in 2015.

The School of Life Sciences is an academic unit of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise