Rebecca Gomez, Ph.D., LCSW, to serve as interim social work dean
Rebecca Gomez, Ph.D., LCSW, comes by her passion for the transformative power of higher education naturally – it’s in her genes.
Gomez assumes leadership as interim dean of the VCU School of Social Work on May 16, 2022, after serving for nearly two years as associate dean of academic and student affairs. Dr. Gomez succeeds former dean Beth Angell, Ph.D., who is leaving to become dean of social work at the University of Michigan.
“This is an important bridging position,” says Dr. Gomez, who will serve until a permanent dean is appointed. “I have had the opportunity to work with the leadership, faculty, staff and students of the school for the past two years, and I feel grounded in the work we are committed to. The past two years have given me the opportunity to fall in love with our community, and I look forward to continuing our mission.”
Dr. Gomez completed her Ph.D. at the University of Texas as Austin, and following a postdoctoral research fellowship went on to serve in several administrative positions at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, including as director of the Worden School of Social Service. Her roots and belief in education are grounded in the Lone Star State but also Eastern Europe.
Her paternal grandmother, Helen Kwet, was an immigrant from Lithuania – “a force to be reckoned with,” Dr. Gomez says – who in her 60s drove an hour each way from her West Texas farming community to Texas Tech University to earn the distinction of being the first in her family to earn an undergraduate degree. Her maternal grandfather grew up in extreme poverty, dreaming of a college education.
His daughter – Dr. Gomez’s mother, Lynda Martin, Ph.D. – fulfilled his dream as a first-generation college student who earned an undergraduate degree and eventually completed her master’s and Ph.D. while raising her two children as a single mother while working in the food service industry.
“Higher education lifted my family out of poverty, and changed our definition of what was possible,” Dr. Gomez says. “I was completing high school when my mother entered graduate school, and she completed a Ph.D. just two years before I earned my undergraduate degree. Witnessing her journey shaped what I believed to be possible.
“My perspective on the work I do comes very much from who I am. I have witnessed firsthand how education can transform generations. Higher education is a powerful tool for good in the world.”
Dr. Gomez is eager to continue the school’s focus and positive momentum forged during Dr. Angell’s four-year tenure. Key achievements have included consistent rankings among the nation’s best graduate schools of social work; innovative and transformational pedagogy; and the use of technology to increase access through a fully online M.S.W. format, the addition of online B.S.W. courses and a plan for future hybrid options. The school was recently ranked No. 28 by U.S. News and World Report, among the top 16 public schools of social work and the top-rated social work school in Virginia.
“I want to thank Beth Angell for her commitment to access, equity and excellence,” Dr. Gomez says. “I’m excited to continue expanding student access while also building upon our long tradition of high-impact community engaged research. We will continue to expand and highlight faculty research. This year we welcomed a new associate dean for research, and the school is excited about leading the way in research that enriches the human experience, helps achieve a just and equitable society, and optimizes health,
“We also anticipate that our impact will continue to grow as we train social work practitioners who are equipped to be change agents in our world. We anticipate continued increase in enrollment because students value the ability to engage with leading social work researchers and teachers in our field. We also anticipate continued increase in geographic diversity as innovative teaching approaches continue to eliminate barriers to education. I look forward to shepherding us through this time as we continue pedagogical innovation so that we can remove barriers and meet students where they are. In short, this interim period means continued excellence in research, teaching and community engagement.”
Dr. Gomez is known for her student-centered philosophy and has held a weekly student community hour to listen and learn with students. “I love talking to students. They are passionate, creative and committed to change,” she says.
VCU is one of the most diverse state colleges, and will lean into its mission to serve all in a deeper way as it embraces the federal designation of Minority Serving Institution on July 1. This is a mission that resonates with Dr. Gomez, who held several administrative positions at Our Lady of the Lake, a Hispanic-serving institution. During her tenure, Dr. Gomez oversaw enrollment growth of 68% through innovative programming such as interdisciplinary community collaborations, a community-based campus in South Texas and online/hybrid academic programs. She also spearheaded the creation of a social work Ph.D. program that was specifically focused on providing access to underrepresented students and equipping graduates to teach and conduct research within Minority Serving Institutions.
“I believe access to high-quality education is a social justice issue, and I am committed to eliminating barriers to student success,” she says. “Academic leadership is a place in which you can do great good in service to your community. The role of leader is to love others through service. A leader has the opportunity to remove barriers and obstacles so that great work can be done.”
She sees the same “powerful ingredients for change” at VCU.
“At VCU School of Social Work, our research faculty are leaders in the field, our professors in teaching are expert community-engaged practitioners, and our staff are experts in their field who are committed to serving our social work community. Community-engaged research and community-informed teaching are what we do.
“VCU is exceptionally well positioned to effect change. The university is committed to a diverse, inclusive and equitable university and world, and was recently awarded the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. Combining this commitment with cutting-edge research and education means student opportunity is limitless.”