School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

Viola Vaughan-Eden, Ph.D., has been earning national acclaim for more than a decade as a social work educator at the Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University and as a researcher and advocate. 

She’s twice appeared on Capitol Hill as a panelist for congressional briefings. And in March, Vaughan-Eden (Ph.D.’03/SW), a VCU School of Social Work doctoral alum, was back in Washington, D.C., to be honored at the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy’s Social Work Day on the Hill.

Vaughan-Eden was named the Outstanding Individual in Academia for 2023 by CRISP, which advocates for the social work profession with federal policymakers. 

VCU social work alum Viola Vaughan-Eden holds a glass award from the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy; standing next to her are CRISP officials Justin Hodge, academic director, and Charles Lewis, director.
VCU social work alum Viola Vaughan-Eden (Ph.D.’03/SW) holds her award for Outstanding Individual in Academia from the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. At left is Justin Hodge, M.S.W., LCSW, CRISP academic director; and at right is Charles Lewis, Ph.D., CRISP director.

“I am humbled by this award and eternally grateful for the work the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy does for the profession,” says Vaughan-Eden, who is professor and Ph.D. program director at Norfolk State

The VCU School of Social Work’s Denise Burnette, Ph.D., knows Vaughan-Eden through Burnette’s role as president of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work (GADE).

“It is difficult to imagine a more deserving recipient for the institute’s Outstanding Individual in Academia award,” says Burnette, who is the director of the VCU doctoral program and also serves as the Wurtzel Endowed Chair in Social Work. “Of course, Viola’s extensive teaching, mentoring, research and administrative activities represent major academic contributions to the field. 

“But her dedication and influence are also noteworthy for their meaningful extension to communities, practitioners and policymakers in child welfare. We are deeply grateful for the depth and reach of Viola’s contributions, and we are incredibly proud to count her among our distinguished doctoral alums.”

Vaughan-Eden is also president and CEO of UP For Champions, a nonprofit in partnership with The UP Institute, a think tank for upstream child abuse solutions. As a clinical and forensic social worker, she serves as a consultant and expert witness in child maltreatment cases – principally sexual abuse. 

“As clinical social workers, we often see research and policy outside our scope,” she says. “But, as someone who has been fortunate to study and work in practice, research and policy, it is clear we must integrate all three. As a licensed clinical social worker, forensic social worker and professor of social work, I have had the opportunity to lecture around the world. However, I also realized that if I was going to make a greater impact on society, I needed to move upstream. So, when I was asked to lead a local child abuse non-profit, I could not pass up the opportunity.” 

Vaughan-Eden’s career path began as an M.S.W. student at Norfolk State, earning a master’s degree in social work and working in mental health at a psychiatric hospital. “I felt blessed to receive my M.S.W.,” she says. “It opened the door for some amazing opportunities as a clinical social worker.”    

A fellowship allowed her to continue her academic career, pursuing her Ph.D. at VCU.

We are deeply grateful for the depth and reach of Viola’s contributions, and we are incredibly proud to count her among our distinguished doctoral alums.

Denise Burnette, Ph.D., VCU School of Social Work Doctoral Program director and GADE president

Working in the area of child maltreatment, she became connected with the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) and the National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence (NPEIV), and now serves as president emerita of both organizations; and with the National Organization of Forensic Social Work (NOFSW), where she is past president.

She received APSAC’s Outstanding Service Award in 2019 and has lifetime achievement awards eight years apart, from the National Association of Social Workers – Virginia Chapter (2012) and from NOFSW (2020). The National Children’s Advocacy Center presented her with the Outstanding Service Award in Mental Health in 2011, and she has also served as a Council on Social Work Education Leadership Scholar in 2019. 

“Dr. Vaughan-Eden was instrumental in helping me and so many others access the field of forensic social work through her leadership and mentorship as the former president of NOFSW and through the Journal of Forensic Social Work,” says VCU social work alum Susan McCarter (M.S.’93/H&S; Ph.D.’97/SW), the Bonnie E. Cone Professor of Civic Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“I am so grateful for Viola’s fierce child advocacy, expert testimonies, thoughtful policymaking, dedicated scholarship and dear friendship.”

Vaughan-Eden serves on the editorial board of several peer-reviewed journals; is one of the editors-in-chief of the six-volume 2022 NPEIV Handbook on Interpersonal Violence; and is a child welfare advisor to the George Washington University National Family Violence Law Center.  

“I never realized how many more adventures were in store for my career,” she says in reflecting on her time at VCU in the doctoral program.

“As a social work professor who teaches social policy,” Vaughan-Eden says, “I often remind my students that real change can only come from understanding the lived experiences of stakeholders, otherwise we risk harmful unintended consequences. As president of one and president emerita of two national nonprofit organizations, I continue to work toward ending racism and implicit bias in the field of child maltreatment. If we are to make lasting progress in society, we must move upstream and partner with colleagues such as Dr. Charles Lewis, director at CRISP, to give a voice to the most vulnerable.”

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