Diane Grodney, PhD '90

Diane Grodney

Clinical Associate Professor
PhD ’90

“Students are the Heart of Our School”


My career began in 1977 after I graduated from Columbia University School of Social Work. My first job was in a mental health clinic in East New York. I began working in the field of substance abuse, specifically a methadone maintenance treatment program, and went quickly from a direct line practitioner to a supervisor.

One of things I enjoyed best about the work in the substance abuse program was supervising students who were from both Columbia and New York University. I particularly enjoyed working with students who had had difficulty in other field placements. When a colleague told me about an opening as the assistant director of field work at NYU’s School of Social Work, I just knew it would be a good fit for me. I had already deepened my connection with NYU Social Work, in particular, as I was enrolled in the PhD program and had completed all of the coursework.

Responding to the World Around Us

In the ‘80s and ‘90s NYU School of Social Work was really quite different. We were housed within 2 and 3 Washington Square North, and most of our classes took place outside of our own buildings. During this time, the School was really developing its strength as a school for clinical learning but, in my view, we didn’t sufficiently attend to the broader social issues. In recent years, I’m proud to say, I believe the School’s focus has both broadened and deepened.

I think we’re much clearer now about our mission now—that is, to ensure that all of our teaching is inclusive of and directed by concerns for social justice coupled with a focus on clinical practice. Furthermore, our school has become increasingly responsive to what is happening in the world around us.

In the 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic exploded, the field work faculty in our school worked collaboratively with all of the schools of social work around the major metropolitan area as we sought to educate ourselves and our students about the epidemic and its devastating impact on our city. Many of our faculty members volunteered in a variety of organizations. For example, I led the Bereavement Group at the height of the AIDS epidemic when it was a very tragic and deadly illness for many, many young men and women. It was, I have to say, one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had as a social work professional.

The same thing happened during 9/11. NYU’s School of Social Work was right in the midst of all of it. Our faculty and students went across the city responding to those affected by the disaster. I think 9/11 changed us as a school, in terms of our responsiveness to major world crises. Our focus outward and, today, as I watch students fundraise for Haiti, advocate for health care reform, and respond to the many traumas that are affecting the individuals and families in our city, I am deeply moved. The School, our students, field agencies, and faculty provide tremendous support to our city.

As we look to the future, I see the School moving toward an even stronger integration of research and practice that emphasizes a full appreciation of the interplay of micro, mezzo, and macro systems. I see us strengthening our resolve to undo racism and to address oppression of all forms as well as to advancing our knowledge of best practices in both teaching and in the delivery of services.

Our Students and Faculty

Teaching first-year students how to begin this work is inspiring. Our students are diverse in terms of age, race, cultural background, socioeconomic status, and previous employment. They are bright and dedicated to this work. Often I worry about their ability to stay in the program financially, which is why I am thrilled that 100 percent of the proceeds from the 50th Anniversary appeal are going to fund scholarships.

I believe that NYU’s faculty and students are some of the strongest in the country. Our clinical focus is unparalleled and as we continue to enhance our professional knowledge in the areas of research, policy, advocacy, and human development, our ability to change our world will increase. I’m looking forward to helping empower our students through knowledge and compassion to continue to give as much as they can to change our world for the better.