April 20, 2021
(HOUSTON, TX) - Clinical Assistant Professor Virginia "Ginger" Lucas has been named a recipient of the UH Office of the Provost's Teaching Excellence Award in the Instructor/Clinical category.
Recognition in the Instructor/Clinical Category aims to acknowledge "excellence in teaching demonstrated by faculty who do not have tenure or tenure-track positions, including Instructional Faculty, Clinical Faculty, Research Faculty, Artist Affiliates, and Lecturers" and comes with an $8,000 award.
We asked Ginger to give us insight into why comprehensive online education is essential to increase access and the importance of recognizing excellence in all teaching roles.
Name: Virginia "Ginger" Lucas
Current Role: Clinical Assistant Professor
How did you begin your career in social work?
My parents are both in the helping professions, and they encouraged me to explore social work. While I was an undergrad, I worked in a hospital as a unit clerk. I saw firsthand the impact social workers could have on improving systems- in addition to helping individuals and families. As a student, I completed my final clinical practicum at The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. I was able to gain practice in clinical social work, but I had the opportunity to engage in community education and explore macro practice. I even got invited to represent BARCC on a local talk show. Early in my career, I realized how important it is to engage in macro practice alongside clinical practice. Real change can occur when we engage in both.
What was it that led you to turn your career towards social work curriculum development?
Eighteen years ago, I was an adjunct faculty member teaching an in-person Introduction to Social Work class, and many of my students were in the military. These students would have to miss class due to military training or deployment. Our department's chair approached me and asked if I would be interested in developing the course for online delivery. I was up for the challenge, even though I was skeptical that online education could be as effective as the traditional classroom setting. I began teaching online and received an email from one of my students who was in Afghanistan. He expressed how thankful he was to continue his degree while deployed, stating it was a distraction from the stress and gave him something to look forward to in the future. At that point, I knew online education was a social justice imperative. I wanted to find a way to deliver more online courses to make social work education more accessible. While developing an online curriculum, I took advantage of the opportunity to improve and enhance face-to-face courses. Eighteen years ago, we were limited in our technology, but today, there are many technology tools and resources, and I enjoy exploring new ways to engage and teach students.
Based on your expertise, when everyone suddenly shifted to online/hybrid courses due to the pandemic, what has been the most challenging aspect of this sudden shift in demand
At the GCSW, we were well-positioned to be successful in a sudden shift to virtual learning because we had an established online program. We had the technology tools, online curriculum, equipment, and expertise. More important than the practical considerations was the need to build a sense of community and connection, especially during the pandemic's trying times. Engaging people in the virtual environment was a top priority. Because the sudden shift to virtual impacted everyone simultaneously, it was challenging to support all students and faculty with the functional areas while assuring we were connecting with students, supporting students, and engaging in meaningful ways.
Why do you believe it is essential that university social work programs offer online/hybrid courses to their students?
As a social worker, I think one of our significant responsibilities is to help people access necessary resources, including education. Today's climate makes obtaining an advanced degree in a traditional way a challenge because of work hours, expenses, or location. Online/hybrid options are a necessity for many students. Many of our students are currently employed doing great work to move social justice forward, and we want students out there doing the work, which means we need to be flexible about when and how classes are delivered.
There have been many news reports about how historically disenfranchised populations have had difficulty adjusting to/accessing online courses in school districts and university campuses across the nation. How can social workers assist in helping to address issues of equitable access to online resources for all students?
Social workers can raise awareness of the disparities and then apply knowledge of systems and use advocacy, organization, and collaboration skills to address the inequities. You can find social workers in schools, universities, hospitals, communities, and the political arena, which means that together, social workers address inequity and injustice in various ways, which has a more significant impact. Beyond the issues of access, many people are struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation. School districts and campuses have implemented virtual support programs, some facilitated by social workers who have long advocated for increased mental health services. The pandemic forced us to progress in many ways. For example, many providers began to offer virtual services, including mental health practitioners. While this isn't the best modality for everyone, it is a positive change leading to greater access to mental health services.
Congratulations on being awarded the 2020-2021 Teaching Excellence Award-Instructor/Clinical from the Office of the Provost! This category recognizes those in non-tenured teaching positions such as lecturers, clinical/instructional faculty, and research faculty. Why is it important to acknowledge those in these positions, and what does this award mean to you?
The University of Houston supports excellence in education, and having faculty with diverse experiences helps achieve that excellence. All faculty have a vital role in maintaining the standards of excellence, and non-tenured faculty play an essential role in providing diverse perspectives and various teaching approaches. My role at the GCSW challenges me to be innovative and creative in developing and delivering curriculum to hybrid and online students while providing students with the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge to become effective social work practitioners. To provide this level of excellence, I focus on creating collaborative environments and know that "to teach is to learn," and I am constantly learning from my students and colleagues. I am honored to be recognized by the Office of the Provost for doing a job that I love!