Faculty spotlight: Matt Bogenshutz, Ph.D.
Matt Bogenschutz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social Work, joined VCU’s faculty in 2013. As a dedicated advocate, Matt not only works to influence social policy but to inspire his students seek positive change. Take a moment and get to know this inspirational faculty member.
What were you doing before you came to VCU?
Previously, I was on faculty at a school in New York. I was more focused on the teaching component, which was great, but there was little time for me to focus on my research interests.
You’ve been with the school for a little over a year now, what brought you to VCU?
Well I had a faculty position at a previous university, but what I really wanted was to find a place that had a good balance between teaching and research. More importantly I wanted to find a place that had a good structure for doing disability research and here at VCU there is a lot happening with that. So, I knew that this would be a good fit for me. So far I’m only teaching the Social Welfare Legislation and Services course for undergraduates, which is social work 422. I love that course.
It really gives me an opportunity to help awaken undergraduates’ interest in macro-related topics and policy topics.
How did you Social Work Journey begin?
In many ways it actually chose me, as a child my parents directed a summer camp for children with disabilities and I grew up there. My parents were both special educators as well so it runs in the family. Working in the camp I learned a lot about the different needs and wants of individuals with disabilities, and this has grounded my work in many ways. When I went off to college I got my undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Illinois. After that I worked in the most challenging job that I have ever had which was de-institutionalizing the largest institution for people with intellectual disabilities in the state of Minnesota. I worked on a team to move 100 people out of that institution and I opened up and ran four group homes while I was working on my M.S.W. Once I completed my M.S.W. degree I moved to Alaska to a very small remote town out in a community where I did every social work thing imaginable. The biggest part of my job was being the clinician for a wilderness therapy program, which would take the kids that I worked with out on 45 day trips that included river canoeing, mountain hikes and working on the mental health or substance abuse issues that brought them to the program. My entire career path relates back to what I learned as a child, living and working at the camp.
Is the camp still open?
It’s not. It was a segregated camp so it was only for kids with disabilities and that isn’t something that is viewed in a very positive light in today’s society. The board of directors set up a foundation to provide scholarships for children with disabilities to go to integrated camps.
Since you are currently in Vietnam, could you talk about the work that you are doing there?
What brought me here actually was a contact that Peter Nguyen, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Social Work, has in an organization called Children of Vietnam and the biggest thing that they do is organize and carry out a case management system for children with disabilities.
Along with Hyojin Im, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social Work, I originally came over to learn about the program and help with data management and the activities they perform, but over time the work that I am doing has grown. I’m still helping with the evaluations but recently I was able to work on a qualitative research project that focuses on what it means to have a “good life” for a person with a disability from the perspective of individuals with disabilities, parents of people with disabilities, government officials, people who work in the organizations, doctors and educators. Last week we did about 25 interviews with various individuals to get a good idea about what it means for a person with a disability to have a good life in Vietnam. It’s a really interesting data set to see the opinions of the parents and the government officials.
I imagine it’s a bit harder to do this work in a different country where it might not be recognized for how great it really is?
Yeah, I’m always glad to come home, where people with disabilities get support and where I can work on the next type of research. This notion is so new in Vietnam so the idea that a person with a disability can have a good life is a new concept here in many ways. Often times when you ask someone here what it means for a person with a disability to have a good life, it is the first time that they are being asked this question. People with disabilities are often hidden away from society.
In the year that you have been at VCU, what would you say is your favorite memory?
It’s a bit of a small pool to choose from since I’m still new here, but the most impressive was watching the social work students at Student Lobby Day 2014. Alex Wagaman, Ph.D. and I organized Lobby Day with partners from around the state for students not only from VCU but from across the state to visit the state capital, learn about legislative advocacy and to actually engage in it. It was great to see the students actually engaging in advocacy on a macro-level.
It’s something that we definitely want to continue. Building on that success, we got approval to take some students up to Washington next year for more national advocacy.
What is the best advice that you give to your students?
Reach for the stars and believe in yourself. I want to make a point to remind them that the roots in our profession are actually in advocacy. Engage in your world on a deeper level, not just in what you see day-to-day. If you’re truly engaged with your world, it’s easy to do advocacy about the things you’re passionate about; and by doing so you honor the legacy of our godmothers in social work. It’s always great to hear students who never thought of policy work grow to appreciate its importance.
So on a lighter note, what are some things that you enjoy doing outside of the office?
When I have the chance, like during school breaks for example, I love to travel. I have been very fortunate to see about 40 different countries and to be able to engage in work overseas. Traveling is one of my favorite things because I am able to experience different cultures and the world. When I am grounded I like to cook, I like to eat and I like to woodwork. Back in the day when I had more time and the space to do it I actually built my own bedroom set. Now I like to go out and find old antique pieces and restore them.
What is something that you are really excited about right now?
I’m engaged in some really interesting research with partners around VCU and in the community, including a couple new projects that will be launching this semester. It’s always exciting to have a new research project to work on, strategizing on how to carry out the activities so the eventual results will be meaningful for people with disabilities, their families, and in influencing policy. Just like there’s excitement about starting a new academic year, I also think it’s so exciting to have new and important research work ahead of me!