WCU names new head of social work department

John Q. Hodges, associate professor of social work at the University of Missouri, is the new head of Western Carolina University’s social work department, effective June 15.

John Hodges

John Hodges

Hodges (at right) brings to Western a strong interest in teaching and student success, and extensive experience with service-oriented research in areas of mental health services, homelessness and first-generation college students, said Marie Huff, who is leaving the social work department head position to become full-time associate dean of WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

“His teaching and scholarly work in the area of mental health treatment and policies, his energy and enthusiasm, and his strong interpersonal skills will be a welcome addition to both our new graduate and ongoing undergraduate programs,” said Huff.

Hodges initially planned to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology but shifted to social work after serving as a case manager for a program in Salt Lake City for homeless people who had severe mental illnesses.

“In many cases, it took a year or so of just chatting with someone over free coffee in our day room before they would begin to trust us enough to open up and let us connect them with services,” said Hodges.

He began to see social work as a type of effective and rewarding hands-on helping profession – working with extremely vulnerable clients in a way that directly and constantly took into account their environments.

Hodges earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1992 and his master’s degree in social work in 1996, both from the University of Utah, and his doctorate in social welfare from the University of California at Berkeley.

His research has explored the added value of consumer-run mental health services, such as support groups, and mental health courts that divert people who are mentally ill from prisons to treatment services or centers.

“It’s more humane and much cheaper than processing someone through the traditional court system and incarcerating them,” said Hodges. “Recidivism rates for offenders whose cases go through mental health courts are much lower than in similar cases routed through the traditional system.”

He also plans to continue his research related to first-generation college students, “an issue that is close to my heart,” said Hodges, who was in the first generation in his family to earn a college degree.

“While first-generation college students might need some additional socialization and help in acculturating to college life, they bring with them many strengths, including hard work, strong family support and an emphasis on the value of a college education,” said Hodges. “I look forward to working with other first-generation students at WCU.”

WCU’s social work department offers undergraduate and graduate degrees that prepare graduates to work in settings from group homes to social service management. For more information, call (828) 227-7112 or check out the Web site for the social work department.