‘True pioneer’: Schneider’s influence lives on in macro, gerontology
Robert “Bob” Schneider, Ph.D., was a big-picture guy, but one who never overlooked the details.
Schneider, a former professor and assistant dean at the VCU School of Social Work for 34 years, passed away Sept. 4, 2020, at age 78.
For much of his professional life, the big picture was macro social work. Colleagues remember Schneider, who retired in 2008, for his role in the school’s social work administration, planning and policy practice concentration and the subsequent SWAPPP Scholarship. At a national level, he founded Influencing State Policy – now Influencing Social Policy – in 1997 as an organization devoted to connecting social work students and faculty to legislative policy and advocacy.
“Social work education was emerging from a stance where we needed to understand policy because it affects our practice and our clients,” says alum and former faculty member Bev Koerin, Ph.D. (B.S. ’69/SW; M.S.W. ’74/SW), whose 28-year tenure overlapped with Schneider’s. “We were moving toward an understanding that social workers should and could influence these policies and not just accept them as context or limits.”
Lori Messinger, Ph.D., dean of the University of Tennessee College of Social Work, was one of those at the national level whom Schneider influenced. She got to know him when she was a fellow at VCU.
“His story of coming to engage with policy practice and creating ISP was the epitome of how to reinvent yourself in your professional career,” she tweeted. “I was proud to recommend students apply to VCU for the policy practice curriculum. His contributions live on in organizations he created and students he helped mentor. Blessings to his family and friends. Rest In Peace.”
A national influencer
F. Ellen Netting, Ph.D., a former professor and endowed chair who served the school from 1993-2011, said Schneider’s work with ISP made him instantly recognizable across the field of social work education.
“He worked passionately and tirelessly to increase the social work profession’s effectiveness in affecting state policy and legislation,” Netting says. “He reached out to colleagues around the country through his research, scholarship, teaching, curriculum development and leadership. There is no school of social work in the country that will not automatically recognize his name and associate it with the service Bob provided in equipping faculty and students to have accessible information in the form of videotapes, websites and newsletters.”
Netting remembers how Schneider could also sweat the small stuff. She recalls his request for contributions to a Council on Social Work Education auction to raise funds for ISP. She volunteered to make 20 pairs of custom earrings.
“I could tell Bob was skeptical about the earrings,” she says. “But when they sold well, he got really excited about me making earrings and asked me each year to make them for the auction. And being Bob, he later readily admitted that he was a bit taken aback when I originally offered to make earrings, of all things.”
Schneider was the kind of friend who would bring over a yard sign during an election cycle, vegetables when his garden was in season or soup for a sick colleague.
“Even in the last six months, when he was ill again, he and (wife) Anita created a gift-bag drive to thank staff members at (senior care facility) Beth Sholom for their service during COVID,” Koerin says. “Bob was always a solid supporter of the school – someone you could count on to be there to celebrate when another colleague was recognized for an honor or for a retirement or fundraising event.”
Mentoring, advocating, ‘going with your gut’
Alum Jeanine Harper Maruca (B.S.W. ’86/SW; M.S.W. ’93/SW) credits Schneider’s mentoring when she began as an adjunct professor at the school and for nominating her for VCU’s Alumni Stars Award, which she won in 2019.
“He did so much work to make that happen,” she says. “I was so glad he and his wife could be there to celebrate.”
Alum Suzanne Gore (M.S.W.’04/SW) says, as a student, her unfamiliarity with social work and its opportunities came into a clear focus on social policy under Schneider’s tutelage.
“I loved how he created community within the classroom and facilitated great classroom discussions,” she says. “He challenged us to read more and think more. He gave us a lot of room to explore the issues in which we were most interested and provided concrete frameworks to use to evaluate them. I loved how we would discuss big, daunting issues, but then he would have a tool or method for us to break them down and analyze them.”
Gore also recalls a bit of unexpected advice from Schneider.
“I remember stopping by his office after class one day and asking him for advice on something,” she says. “I still vividly remember his answer. He said, ‘Go with your gut, listen to what it is telling you to do.’ I think that I was surprised by this advice, seeing that Bob Schneider seemed to have a logical framework for everything. But to this day, that has been outstanding advice.”
Ryan Mathews (M.S.W.’07/SW) remembers Schneider’s famous “But Why?” buttons, which he handed out to students to provoke deeper thought.
“That really resonated with me,” Mathews says. “I was definitely drawn to him because I was a curiosity-based learner. Bob brought that out in me. There was something about him that made me want to do my very best. He had this aura or this confidence about him.
“Bob was just important to me. He changed what I thought about what social work was. He opened my eyes to social work as more than just being a clinician or working on the individual level. I was 23, naive, and the lightbulb for me was turned on but wasn’t super bright. He helped really brighten that for me.”
Schneider was proud of his role, along with the late Bob Peay, in establishing the SWAPPP Scholarship and fundraising efforts like Macro Brew. Alum Allison Gilbreath (B.S.’11/GPA; M.S.W.’16/SW) was a 2015 recipient of the scholarship.
“Bob believed in students, not just in his words but in his financial investments to the university,” she says. “I am one of many of his investments. I am now in the privileged position to live out my dreams as a macro policy-orientated social worker because of his life. He was a life well lived and will be remembered and missed dearly.”
Through the years, an aging advocate
Alum Gail Moskowitz kept crossing paths with Schneider, literally, over the years. Moskowtiz (M.S.W. ’79/SW; Ph.D. ’16/E), an adjunct professor with the school, first met Schneider as a 21-year-old president of a student organization that he advised. She later crocheted a blanket for his pregnant wife.
“It was absolutely the most horrible, ugly blanket, but he was just such an honorable person, lovely, and he took the blanket,” she says.
“What’s interesting about my relationship with Bob is that we wound up in so many other connections with each other our entire lives.”
They both lived in The Fan, and she would see him when she was running. After she married, both families moved to the West End and continued to intersect. They wound up at the same synagogue.
“One of the last times I saw Bob was at an event there,” Moskowtiz says. “There was a young man there who had just graduated from social work. I asked him if he knew Bob and introduced them. I moved away, talking to other people, and the two of them seemed to have so much in common. I thought it was funny at the time, there Bob was with another generation.”
Schneider was multi-generational. In addition to policy and advocacy, he focused on gerontology, co-founding the Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work in 1981 and serving in numerous state and national roles related to gerontology.
“Bob is one of the true pioneers in social work and gerontology,” Netting says. “Now that there are major funded initiatives in social work and aging, it must never be forgotten that there were committed colleagues in our midst who seized the opportunity to spread the word three decades ago. It was Bob who initiated dialogue with the VCU Department of Gerontology over 30 years ago and established one of the first aging opportunities in the country for social workers to receive an M.S.W. with a Certificate in Aging Studies.”
Netting reflected on the loss of both Schneider and Peay just under six months apart.
“Bob and Bob were passionate about macro practice and their fundraising efforts for the macro scholarship made them a fantastic team,” she says. “I often think of the years in which our group of SWAPPP faculty were team teaching together and negotiating where to place students in macro internships. Those were glory days in which we expressed strong opinions and often disagreed, but in which we were committed to doing our best to prepare the next generation of macro practitioners to make a difference.”
As the years went by, she says, she and Schneider also discussed how they were shifting into the demographic they had studied for so long.
“I will miss those conversations when we talked and laughed about what it meant to be part of the older generation and how all that we had taught and learned about aging was different now that we were the retirees,” she says.
To learn more about how you can support Bob Schneider’s legacy through the Social Work Administration, Planning, and Policy Practice Scholarship, contact Mary Riddick, social work director of development, at email@example.com or (804) 828-7166.