UW Division of Social Work Names New Director

head shot of woman

Eleanor Downey

An associate professor emerita from Colorado State University and licensed master social worker has been named director of the University of Wyoming College of Health Sciences’ Division of Social Work.

Eleanor Pepi Downey recently served as a professor of social work at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, and was director of the program for five years. She began her duties at UW in July.

Mary Burman, who served as division director since 2016, moved into a faculty position in the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing Aug. 1.

Downey received a bachelor’s degree at Queens College in Charlotte, N.C.; a Master of Social Work (MSW) at Rutgers University School of Social Work; and a Ph.D. in social work at the University of Denver. She has held academic positions relating to social work since 1992, while teaching both bachelor’s- and master’s-level courses.

“We are extremely pleased that Dr. Downey has joined us in the College of Health Sciences,” says Dean David Jones. “She brings a wealth of experience in leadership, and her vision and enthusiasm will guide the Division of Social Work to a new level of excellence.”

Downey’s interest in the position of director for the UW Division of Social Work was inspired by her interactions with administrative members from the division while preparing for a reaccreditation review.

“My interactions with the social work division administrative team — Mary Burman, director; Valerie Thompson-Ebanks, Bachelor of Social Work Program director; Diane Kempson, MSW Program director; and Billie Chapman, field education director — was a major factor in my decision to apply for the position,” she says. “I was not only struck by their professionalism and strong commitment to the program, but also the high level of collegiality and mutual respect they have for one another.” 

The UW Division of Social Work places emphasis on preparing students for practice in frontier and rural social work, as might be experienced in a rural state such as Wyoming. Noting lengthy research experience in a rural location, Downey points out that many rural areas have similar needs.

“For the last 12 years, I was in a similar geographical setting in northern Idaho, an area that also is designated as frontier by the U.S. Bureau of the Census,” she says. “While each area is unique, rural and frontier areas face similar challenges when it comes to the delivery of effective human service programs.”

“My experience has provided me with understanding and insight into the education of social workers for frontier and rural social work practice, and the importance of preparing them for generalist and advanced generalist practice,” Downey says.

The UW Division of Social Work has two campuses — one in Laramie and the other located at UW-Casper. This provides students and faculty with increased diversity and exposure to practicum experiences in more locations around Wyoming.

“Similar to the University of Wyoming, the Lewis-Clark Social Work Program was delivered on two campuses 125 miles apart,” Downey says. “As the director, I worked to maintain consistency between the two programs and created a sense of belonging on the part of both students and faculty on both campuses.”

The social work division’s website explains to prospective students that social work is a profession for those who want to make a difference in communities on local, state, national and international levels.

Downey has been active in social work education at the national level, serving on the board of directors of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors, on the journal’s editorial board and the organization’s conference planning committee.

“Most recently, I participated in the development of the 2018 Curricular Guide for Licensing and Regulations published by the Council on Social Work Education. I also served on the Idaho Board of Social Work Examiners and conducted an extensive research project on the consistency in disciplinary action by the board,” Downey says.

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