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Meet Jeff Steen, PhD Candidate

March 28, 2016

"You’re going to be a social work professor one day, and I’m going to read your book." These words offered an encouraging prediction for Jeffrey Steen, Silver PhD Candidate, and they came from one of his mentors, Betty Sommer, his undergraduate social work professor. In fact, encouragement from mentors inspired Steen to pursue a future in academia. For instance, a colleague in Chicago, Loyola University’s Assistant Dean Stephanie Chapman, first inspired him to become an adjunct instructor a decade ago. Teaching assistantships with Silver Professors Lala Straussner and Jeane Anastas confirmed his passion for student instruction.

Steen didn’t always see what his mentors saw in him. Experiencing many challenges during this childhood, Steen was one of the first people in his family to attend college. This story of childhood adversity and resilience reflects the backgrounds of many of his former students from York College of The City University of New York. Steen believes "teaching is not only about exchanging information. It’s also about creating with students a genuine relationship that might support and inspire them through their studies and in their social work career." For instance, long after they’ve completed his courses he’s dedicated to guiding his students with help in resume writing, networking, and employment.

After a decade of practice as a social worker, Steen has instructed BSW and MSW courses in practice, human behavior, research, and policy. Through his policy courses, he recently helped students organize a campus-wide discussion about racism and violence, and also coordinated a forum facilitated by a colleague from the United Nations. Last year, Steen helped Silver students organize Next Step: College, a project aimed to make college more accessible for youth in foster care. Silver's student affairs office funded the project with the annual Social Justice and Diversity Grant.

CUNY BSW student Mariam Aragon reflects on Steen’s approach to discussing important topics on campus and in the classroom. Aragon explains, "Professor Steen's enthusiasm and creativity generate an inviting learning environment, which welcomes open discussions about difficult social issues."

"I am committed to inviting conversations about race, privilege, and class. Commitment to action needs to happen in our field in more radical ways,” Steen states. Reflecting on the values that inform his teaching, Dr. Selena Rodgers, Fulbright Scholar and a mentor of Steen’s, states, “His imprint – social justice, integrity, and activism – resonates with each student scholar he encounters."

CLAFH Director and professor Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, "Jeff is an outstanding PhD student and social work educator. Countless students will benefit from the opportunity to learn from this exceptional emerging social welfare scholar committed to social justice, excellence in the classroom, and rigorous research and scholarship."

Steen expresses excitement about Silver’s doctoral program and resulting opportunities. "Reflecting on mentorship and student support, Directors Dr. Ramos and Genielle Salazar, and former administrator Mike McCaw have provided me with invaluable guidance. During moments of academic success and personal struggle, their thoughtfulness and compassion have demonstrated a belief in my abilities that has made it possible for me to persevere through the difficulties of doctoral education."

As a doctoral candidate, Steen is involved in a mentoring relationship with Dr. Shulamith Lala Straussner. He served as her teaching assistant; and, for the last couple years, they worked closely together on a national study of licensed social workers’ wellness. The research explores Adverse Childhood Experiences, substance abuse, and the workplace experiences of social workers, among other issues. The web-based study garnered over 5,000 responses. Straussner, Steen, and the research team are analyzing data, preparing to publish articles, and present their findings at local and national conferences. His dissertation will be derived from a portion of the data collected from the study.

Steen is a pre-doctoral fellow in the Behavioral Sciences Training program, administered by the National Development & Research Institutes and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As he approaches graduation, he plans to explore academic positions and post-doctoral research opportunities.

Learn more about NYU Silver's PhD Program »

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