Phi Alpha Induction: Social Work Leadership in Agencies Encouraged

On September 16, the NYU Silver School’s Pi Pi Chapter of the Phi Alpha Honors Society hosted its fall induction ceremony. Phi Alpha President, Jessica Lief, and the executive board welcomed new inductees and their guests to celebrate their accomplishments.

The keynote speaker of the event, Professor Philip Coltoff (Katherine W. and Howard Aibel Visiting Professor and Executive-in-Residence), spoke about the future of social work and the need for students to become leaders in their professional lives. Coltoff began the lecture with a description of his childhood in the South Bronx. He jokes, “I always thought it was the East Bronx, but later realized it was the South Bronx—not an easy neighborhood to grow up in either way.” He explains that
 as teenagers, he and his friends would frequently go to their community’s settlement house to attend social events. It was there that he met social workers, with whom
he talked about life, politics, sex, college applications, and various other topics that teenagers might not typically have had the chance to explore and process with a nonjudgmental adult. Coltoff believes that these relationships with the social workers were so formative that seven out of his eleven friends at the settlement house, pursued careers in social work as a result.

Although Coltoff wholeheartedly values the therapeutic work that is done by clinical social workers, he also spoke of the need for social workers to become leaders in their own agencies. He says, “Years ago, when I started as a social worker, about 80% of the executive directors at social service agencies were social workers. That number is down to about 20% now.” He explains that lawyers, doctors, and business-people
may have the best intentions, but that social work as a profession can bring something fundamentally different to non-profit leadership. “Social workers have always been on the side of the underdogs, the poor, the abused... what used to be called the halt and the lame,” said Coltoff. He explains that through the profession’s commitment to assisting and empowering the marginalized and oppressed individuals in society, that social workers have developed the skills and passion required to lead agencies into the future. Coltoff urges that it is now time for social work students to begin seeing themselves as leaders.

Lief believes that Coltoff’s message will be especially salient to new members of Phi Alpha, as it overlaps in many ways with the mission of the honors society. Students in Phi Alpha make a pledge upon induction to further their knowledge and serve the needs of their community. In order to remain in good standing with Phi Alpha, members must maintain a superior academic grade point average and commit to participating in professional development and community service events throughout the semester.