David B. Thorud Leadership Award
Margaret Spearmon

Margaret Spearmon

Chief Officer of Community Engagement and Diversity, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Work

Nominated by Edwina Uehara, Dean, School of Social Work

Awarded 2019

When I think of the body of work that Dr. Margaret Spearmon has accomplished in her long tenure at the University of Washington, one word characterizes her efforts: transformational:

  • transformational in the manner with which she conceives and leads major projects that affect School climate and student access,
  • transformational in how she weaves social justice into every day problem solving
  • transformational in how she treats all community members – with a professional and uplifting demeanor,
  • transformational in what I have personally learned from her mentorship as both an employee and a leader at the School of Social Work.

Margaret recognizes the best in everyone and meets people where they are to engage everyone in achieving the best outcomes. That is what a true leader is and I am honored to call Margaret a colleague.
—Vicki Anderson-Ellis, Assistant Dean for Finance & Administration

As current and former deans and associate deans at the School of Social Work, we are deeply honored to nominate Dr. Margaret Spearmon for the University of Washington’s 2019 David B. Thorud Leadership Award. Dr. Spearmon is Senior Lecturer and Chief Officer for Community Engagement and Diversity at the School of Social Work. Throughout the two and a half decades in which she has so brilliantly served the School, University and wider community, Dr. Spearmon has held nearly every School of Social Work leadership position except dean. In addition to her current position, these include Associate Director of Field Education (1997-1999), Director of the Baccalaureate Social Work Program (1995-1998), Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (1998-1999 and 2003-2005) and Associate Dean for Professional Development and Community Engagement (2006-2011).

Dr. Spearmon’s lengthy history of leadership—unprecedented in the School’s history—speaks to the enduring high regard in which she is held by staff, students, faculty, and deans, past and present. This legacy also makes her the perfect candidate for the Thorud Award. In the brief space available, we provide just a few examples of the many ways in which Dr. Spearmon has consistently embodied the core selection criteria for this leadership award.

IGD Curriculum Project: In the mid 1990s, when she directed our undergraduate program, Dr. Spearmon spearheaded the integration of Intergroup Dialogs (IGD) into the School’s Bachelor of Social Work (BASW) curriculum. At the time one of the few tested and evidence-informed alternatives to didactic methods of diversity education, IGDs use structured, facilitated interaction between students from different identity groups to enhance intergroup understanding, engagement and collaboration. The method is both rewarding and challenging for instructors, facilitators and students alike. Ours was one of the first BASW programs in the nation to introduce an IGD component, a factor that deeply enriched diversity education and enhanced the quality and reputation of our undergraduate curriculum. Dr. Spearmon’s ability to work so skillfully with faculty and students was key to the success of this challenging innovation. As Nancy Hooyman notes:

… Integrating IGDs involved working with a diverse teaching team and with students who were often initially uncomfortable with the course goals and requirements. She helped to create conditions such that by the end of the course students most often referred to it as the most transformative learning experience of their undergraduate careers. Margaret enabled success by her skillful leadership in building inclusive learning environments that thoroughly engaged faculty and students. Her enthusiastic and approachable leadership style served to break down barriers and encourage risk-taking. She had an unparalleled, profound capacity to connect with people from a wide range of backgrounds, no matter where they were in terms of addressing their own biases about race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation or gender. She did so by exquisite listening skills, a warm welcoming style, humor and laughter, and compassionate appreciation for wherever individuals are in term of their own journey related to intergroup engagement, social justice and the work of confronting oppression.
—Nancy Hooyman, Dean Emeritus

Partnership for Integrated Community-Based Learning (PICL): In the late 1990s, as the School’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Dr. Spearmon was pivotal to implementing a curricular innovation that transformed the School’s MSW program and our relationship with community partners. Listening closely to the needs expressed by students, faculty and field-based educators, Dr. Spearmon worked closely with leadership of our MSW community practice concentration to develop an innovative learning partnership that recentered learning from the classroom to the community. The Partnership for Integrated Community-Based Learning (PICL) established eight new learning sites at small, grass-roots social organizations in Seattle, implemented a highly flexible community-based MSW curriculum; established participatory action research projects based in the community and designed by agencies, students, and faculty; and greatly extended community access to social work education and training opportunities. In 1998, PICL was awarded a $170,000 Tools for Transformation grant by UW, in recognition of its high potential for educational transformation.

PICL’s impact was manifold, including generating permanent changes in our larger MSW curriculum, expanding community-based participatory action research, and expanding school-field education relationships and learning sites. While it was Dr. Spearmon’s vision to “turn the classroom-to-field relationship on its head” that inspired PICL, her way of working with PICL faculty, students and community partners empowered them to replace inherited practices about learning professional skills with high-impact innovations.
—Edwina Uehara, Ballmer Endowed Dean in Social Work

Communities in Action (CinA): In her role as Chief Officer for Diversity and Community Engagement, Dr. Spearmon kick-started Communities in Action (CinA), a collective impact project in Southeast and Central Seattle. Actively supported by dozens of state, county, and city public and nonprofit agencies, public schools, and foundations, CinA is based on the science- grounded, community-based prevention system developed by faculty at the School of Social Work. The system provides communities with tools to address their adolescent health and development issues, a structure for engaging community stakeholders, a process for establishing a shared community vision, and tools for assessing and prioritizing and measuring the achievement of community goals. Dr. Spearmon designed the partnership to include meaningful experiential learning opportunities for advanced MSW students. According to students, these have comprised some of the most intensive and impactful experiences of their professional education. Under Dr. Spearmon’s leadership, CinA represents one of the School’s most ambitious efforts at community partnership, drawing on some of our greatest scientific and programmatic strengths.

Dr. Margaret Spearmon is a marvelous candidate for this award. Her record leadership exemplifies public scholarship and the aspirations of this visionary public university, at their very best. In the face of pressing social issues, she insists on doing work that is relevant, engaged, inclusive, and accessible, using her many, diverse, partnerships within the university as a platform from which to leverage wider social change. Particularly noteworthy is her leadership in creating and sustaining partnerships that effectively and creatively place rigorous social research in service of community aspirations and priorities. Undergirding these activities, and vital to their success, is Margaret’s deeply authentic way of encountering the world. In all aspects of her life and work, she fully embodies Gandhi’s encouragement to “be the change you wish to see.” Her thorough-going integrity, determination, and passion are the glue around which all the various facets of her leadership and contributions cohere – a steady moral compass that is both an anchor, and an inspiration. For all these reasons, and many more, I support Margaret’s nomination with great enthusiasm, and much collegial pride.
—Susan Kemp, Cressey Endowed Professor, former Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

School of Social Work Diversity and Equity Planning

Dr. Margaret Spearmon’s commitment to making the School of Social Work and the University of Washington an inclusive and accountable force in our state, our nation and the world is – hands down – unparalleled.
—Dorothy Van Soest, Professor Emeritus and former dean, School of Social Work

Throughout the past two decades, Dr. Spearmon has been central to the School’s efforts to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equity-guided school community and professional education. Often a step ahead of her peers, Dr. Spearmon helped to develop the School’s first diversity plan and standing diversity committee and—equally importantly—to reflect our diversity commitments in core policies and procedures (for example, those guiding recruitment, hiring, promotion, and curricula and course content) that are a model for others. Long before it was the norm, she created a Student Advisory Committee with a formal role in the School’s shared governance structure. Currently, she leads the School’s new Diversity & Equity Plan, which represents our most ambitious effort to date to live our commitment to equity and social justice.

Dr. Spearmon’s leadership and legacy is an inextricable part of the School’s reputation for excellence and impact. Not surprisingly, she has been recognized by the University in several ways. For example, she has twice been selected for the UW Health Sciences’ Martin Luther King Jr. Award, and received the University’s Multicultural Alumni Partnership’s Distinguished Alumna Award for 2015–2016. We hope the selection committee agrees that Dr. Spearmon’s cumulative record of leadership and accomplishment embody the very spirit of the David Thorud Leadership Award.

Edwina S. Uehara, Professor and Ballmer Endowed Dean in Social Work
Nancy Hooyman, Director, Doctoral Program in Social Welfare, Hooyman Professor of Gerontology, Dean Emeritus
Dorothy Van Soest, Professor Emeritus and Former Dean
Tessa Evans-Campbell, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Karina Walters, Professor and Associate Dean for Research, Katherine Hall Chambers Scholar

View All Past Recipients