Ssewamala installed as Gordon Distinguished Professor

Fred Ssewamala (center) poses with Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Mary McKay, Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School, following his installation as the William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor of Social Work. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Fred M. Ssewamala has been installed as the William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor of Social Work in the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. A ceremony was held Feb. 8 in Brown Hall to mark the occasion, followed by a reception in Goldfarb Hall.

Ssewamala’s scholarly expertise is focused on advancing and broadening knowledge about social protection, innovative asset development and economic strengthening interventions. This includes children’s savings/development accounts that aim to improve the developmental outcomes and life chances for marginalized and vulnerable children and youth, including those affected by HIV/AIDS.

The endowed professorship is named in honor of William Gordon, a professor in the Brown School from 1951-1978 who was recruited to the school to establish one of the nation’s first doctoral programs in social work.

“I am so pleased to have a high-caliber scholar like Fred Ssewamala continuing William Gordon’s legacy of excellence in social work education by holding the professorship in his name,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “It is fitting that the Gordon Distinguished Professorship should be bestowed upon an academic whose work serves both scientific and humanitarian purposes and aims to improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable populations.”

“Fred Ssewamala is outstanding in his field,” said Mary M. McKay, the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School. “This endowed professorship is fitting recognition of his many scholarly accomplishments, as well as his commitment to harnessing the power of social work to improve the human condition.”

Ssewamala is the founding director of the Brown School’s International Center for Child Health and Development, which he established at Columbia University, where he was on faculty from 2003-2017. The center, which contributes to the reduction of poverty and improvement of health outcomes for children, adolescent youth and families in low-resource communities, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, moved to the Brown School when Ssewamala joined the faculty in July 2017.

In the past 15 years, Ssewamala has been the principal investigator on multiple research grants funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and several foundation-funded research grants. His academic work has been published in high-impact journals including The Lancet, American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Social Science and Medicine, Journal of Adolescent Health, Prevention Science, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and Social Service Review.

Ssewamala is an alumnus of the Brown School, from which he earned both his master’s of social work and his doctor of philosophy in social work with a focus on social and economic development policy. He earned his bachelor’s degree in social work and social administration with honors in 1995 from Makerere University in his native Uganda. He is currently in discussions with the Ugandan government on ways of incorporating children’s savings accounts into the government’s overall child welfare and social protection framework.

About William E. Gordon

One of the nation’s foremost figures in social work research, Gordon attended the University of Minnesota, earning a bachelor’s degree in plant ecology and a doctorate in quantitative ecology. He served for a year as an instructor at the University of Minnesota before being appointed chief of Minnesota’s Bureau of Research and Statistics in the Division of Social Welfare. He later worked as a regional research consultant for the Social Security Administration in Minneapolis before returning to higher education as professor of research at Vanderbilt University’s Nashville School of Social Work.

Gordon joined the Washington University faculty in 1951 and established the Brown School’s doctoral program in social work research, one of the first such programs in the country. In 1977, he received a Distinguished Faculty Award from the university. That same year he received the first Richard Lodge Prize from the Adelphi University School of Social Work for his contributions to the development of social work theory and for the enhancement of professional practice.

When Gordon retired from teaching in 1978, he was named professor emeritus, and the National Association of Social Workers honored him with its Resolution of Appreciation. In 1983, the Brown School established the William E. Gordon Research Fellowship for doctoral students in his honor.

A fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gordon was active with the Council on Social Work Education and the National Association of Social Workers.

Edward F. Lawlor, who served as dean of the Brown School from 2004 to 2016, is the William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor Emeritus.

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