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CalSWEC Mental Health Program Director Gwen Foster to Retire

Who: Gwen Foster, M.S.W., UCLA; B.A., Mills College (Psychology)

Milestone: Ms. Foster has served as the first director of CalSWEC's Mental Health Program since 2009 and will retire from that position on February 28. 

More about Gwen Foster: Ms. Foster's career has included social work, philanthropy, and academia.

At Alameda County Mental Health Services (now Behavioral Health Care Services), where she started as a psychiatric social worker, Ms. Foster later served as director of the Child and Family Mental Health Center as well as Children's coordinator, then as director of the Office of Children's Services. 

At Berkeley Social Welfare, Ms. Foster was a field work consultant and lecturer. Prior to directing CalSWEC's Mental Health Program, she held program officer positions at The California EndowmentThe David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and Zellerbach Family Foundation

CalSWEC News: Tell us about your proudest accomplishment and your greatest challenge.

Gwen Foster: There is no single accomplishment. My career as a social worker has bridged three fields: mental health as a clinician and administrator, philanthropy as a grant maker, and social work education in academic and staff roles.

I felt inspired partnering with parents as a clinical social worker to support children with emotional problems and seeing families move beyond surviving to thriving. I felt elated when grants that I recommended strengthened nonprofit organizations to better serve disenfranchised populations (e.g., people with mental illness or substance use issues, detainees in juvenile justice systems, abused and neglected children, ex-gang members) and communities (e.g., East Palo Alto, Salinas, South Los Angeles). I am always proud when I encounter former MSW and doctoral students that I taught, hired as GSRs, and/or mentored who are making a difference as social work practitioners, policy makers, or agency leaders.

Perhaps my greatest challenge has been the extreme level of bureaucracy at UC Berkeley, which far surpasses any other place I have ever worked. UCB’s risk-averse practices, in everything from contracting to purchasing to curriculum development, work against the best intentions of the university to grow as a world-class international center of teaching and research.

CN: What will you miss most about working at Berkeley and at CalSWEC?

Gwen Foster: I will miss my friends and colleagues at CalSWEC and at the School of Social Welfare. Their commitment and creativity in developing and implementing courses and programs to educate a talented cadre of social workers for public sector systems is unparalleled and inspired me to try to do my best.

I will miss walking to/from the Ashby BART station some days each week through the lovely, uniquely “Berkeley-esque” neighborhoods bordering Ashby Avenue.   

CN: What won’t you miss most about working at Berkeley and at CalSWEC?

Gwen Foster: I won’t miss trying to maneuver through the aforementioned bureaucracy. I won’t miss traffic jams between East Oakland Hills and Berkeley; nor will I miss standing up on BART on the way to/from work.

CN: What are your retirement plans?

Gwen Foster: The point of retiring is to have no plans! Seriously, I look forward to spending time with my family and already-retired friends; traveling for fun to places near and far; reading articles and books that have nothing to do with mental health or social work; going to movies and discount-ticket plays on weekday afternoons; and puttering in my garden.