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CalSWEC Pioneer Dr. Sherrill Clark Retires

Who: Sherrill J. Clark, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley; M.S.W., University of Michigan; LCSW; Program Evaluation Specialist, CalSWEC

Milestone: Dr. Clark’s 24-year association with CalSWEC and 25 years at UC Berkeley, including as a student and instructor, draws to a close on July 1, when she retires to focus on other aspects of her full life.

As a doctoral student, Dr. Clark beginning in 1989 was involved in the development of the project that eventually would become CalSWEC. In the organization’s early years, she was its curriculum specialist, and in subsequent years, she served as CalSWEC’s interim director as well as its Executive Director.

More about Dr. Clark: Dr. Clark was a hospital social worker for 22 years working in pediatrics, neonatal intensive care, and outpatient medical services, and with the elderly before she entered the doctoral program in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley. As an alumnus, she taught policy, practice, and research methods to first- and second-year M.S.W. students. Read more about Dr. Clark.

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

Dr. Sherrill Clark: My proudest accomplishment and greatest challenge are the same. I had immigrant grandparents on both sides of my family who did not speak English and who could not read or write. I am not the first person in my family to go to college, or even the first one to earn a doctorate, but I am most proud of and grateful for the education I have received and that I have participated in the effort to help others who may be the first in their families to go to college.

I was motivated to return to school to focus on teaching the next generation of social workers to work with disadvantaged families because I had been a medical social worker after graduate school, and I reached a point in my career where the interns I was seeing did not have the skills to work in an interdisciplinary setting.

So, in 1979, as the president of the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Hospital Social Work Directors, I and others met with the deans of the Bay Area schools of social work, including Dean [Harry] Specht, to try to convey what we thought were positive suggestions for what should be taught in the graduate school curriculum about medical social work. The deans listened politely to us, but they did not tell us how hard it would be to change the curriculum.  

I came back to school when the for-profit hospital I was working in closed in 1988, again thinking I could influence the curriculum.  Now, it looks like health care reform—which is definitely influencing practice—will change the field, including what is taught at the graduate level. But those changes cannot happen easily. Fortunately, California has a seasoned collaboration with which to work.

I am glad to have been a part of establishing the structure for bringing practitioners and academics together in a meaningful collaboration. I’m sorry I won’t be around to see the finished product—if it is ever finished.

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

Dr. Clark: I will miss the challenge of the work—the research and evaluation process of systematically defining and tackling research questions. I will miss mentoring others to be comfortable with ambiguity and to find out how we know what we know about social problems through systematic examination, especially the many masters students in my research courses and masters and doctoral student researchers who have worked at CalSWEC.  They were a great source of my learning.  I will miss mentoring others to take a chance and submit something for publication and to learn to take the criticism for what it is meant to be.

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

Dr. Clark: The commute.

CN: What is the best advice you’d like to give to those you’ll leave behind?

Dr. Clark: I don’t see that I am leaving anyone behind. You will chart your own course and you will be fine.

CN: What are your retirement plans?

Dr. Clark: To write, garden, watch birds, swim, and focus on my loving family.