Danielle Wozniak has served as dean of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work since 2016. Wozniak, who has a PhD in anthropology, a sixth-year degree in education administration and supervision and an MSW, has more than 20 years’ expertise in the field of higher education. She was dean of arts and sciences at the College of New Rochelle and director of the school of social work at University of New England (Portland, Maine), where she was responsible for significant growth in online and campus programs. She was also director of the bachelor of social work program and co-director of the sexual assault prevention program at the University of Montana.

Wozniak also has extensive teaching experience, having held positions at the University of Montana and Western Michigan University. Her courses have covered domestic violence, Native American issues, gender and sexuality, kinship relations, foster parenting and STEM programming. She also co-founded an online mental health experience company, Powerful Me!, that combines mental health interventions and techniques with cutting-edge game technology to assist women in making difficult life changes or heal from painful life experiences including recovery from domestic violence.

She has authored the book, They’re All My Children: Foster Mothering in America, and co-authored Surviving Domestic Violence: A Guide to Healing Your Soul and Building Your Future and Consuming Motherhood. Wozniak has also contributed to numerous scholarly publications, including Journal of Progressive Human Services, Journal of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, Current Anthropology and Women’s History Review. She is also a prolific presenter on such topics as domestic violence intervention, teaching social policy, distance education, cultural sensitivity for anthropologists, ethnographic field research, and foster mothering.


1. What profession did you think you would hold when you were an undergrad?

Part of my youth was spent on our family farm where I was drawn to caring for sick or orphaned animals. I regularly had a box of baby birds, who had fallen from their nest, under my bed or a lame chick in my pocket. Based on my interest in healing, my family assumed I would go into medicine. The only problem was that I was extremely poor in math and loved literature and poetry considerably more than I did the hard sciences.  In college, I majored in English literature. I loved dissecting literary themes and I loved semiotic and structural analysis of cultural myths. I next assumed I would be a writer or a journalist.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned about social work and began to marry my passion for literary analysis with patterned human behavior. For example, when you work with a couple or a family—you are essentially looking at their identity stories and working to understand how those stories cause pain and how you can help bring about positive change. After being in social work direct practice for 10 years I went back to school for a PhD in Anthropology and there began to look at the ways in which whole communities, or culture groups, understand themselves. When we think about the pain communities experience we often look at state, local and federal policy and work for change through advocacy. Even though I didn’t go into medicine, helping people heal has been a central theme of all my work.


2. What aspect of your job with YU do you most enjoy?

Every morning I say a prayer of thanksgiving for my work at YU. I am so fortunate to have wonderful colleagues, a mission I believe in, and the opportunity to repair a fractured world just by going to the office. I feel it is a privilege and honor. I also love the fact that no two days are alike. Every day brings me into contact with new people, new challenges, new opportunities, new ways of looking at things.

I enjoy working with dedicated professionals who know the value of “yes” and “let’s try” when those phrases are uttered in service of helping students reach their life goals. I also love my interactions with students and take my relationship with them very seriously. If they have a question—I want to make sure they get an answer. If a student, a faculty member or an alumnus feel something should change, I want to hear about it.  I am grateful when I am given the opportunity to improve our program. I take, צדק צדק תרדוף very seriously and feel that everything I do as an administrator must be in service of a more just and humane world.


3. What are some of your goals for the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and what progress have you made?

We have a fabulous university and an innovative school of social work that provides a high-touch experience for all our students. Our graduates—all 7,000 of them, do amazing work in this world.  I am so proud of them. We have highly dedicated, well trained and experienced faculty who care deeply about our students and our students’ ability to impact the world. They nurture them, push them, support them through their education. I think everyone should know this. And if social work is your passion—join us. I am saving a seat for you!  One of my biggest goals is to increase our enrollments. This is not just about the fiscal responsibility of running a school—but because we offer such world-class training, that I think everyone should have an opportunity to have it.

Another goal is to make sure that we as a school can respond to a rapidly changing practice world. We need to be able to prepare practitioners who understand and practice the fundamentals of social work while also being able to respond to a complex globally connected world with multifaceted and constantly emerging problems. This requires a continual analysis of the curriculum ensuring that we provide exceptional foundational training while we integrate new skills that focus on emerging problems. We have done this through some of our new certificates that allow our practitioners to specialize, for example, the certificate in Creative Arts and Healing, Trauma Practice and Palliative Care.

Finally, I want to make sure that Wurzweiler appreciates, supports, welcomes and honors every person who comes through our door. In 1957 when we opened our doors, we were the only school of social work established under Jewish auspices. Our school was built on and through Jewish values, traditions, ethics, beliefs and knowledge and a long tradition of Jewish social work. This foundation is a part of our identity, mission and culture. We want to ensure that our Jewish students have an academic home and can learn in an environment that is supportive and familiar while it is challenging and new. We have a concurrent commitment to providing an academic home to the larger community.  We pride ourselves on a diverse student body.  We welcome students who are aligned with our core principles and values; for whom the commitment to tikkun olam and g’milut Chasadim are shared. Diverse communities are not easy to manage. The person sitting next to you at Wurzweiler may not look like you, think like you, dress like you. And yet there we are, sitting next to each other, breathing the same air, working in the same profession, solving the same problems, each of us trying to repair a broken world. We ask our students to learn from each other while they learn from our curriculum. We encourage students to stay in dialogue with each other when confronting difficult practice issues and when confronting diverse ideas. This kind of sharing and support is essential to best social work practice.


4. What role does Wurzweiler play in the community outside the walls of the classroom?

Every student who graduates from Wurzweiler completes 1,200 hours of field work. This means that each year, each of our students contributes 600 hours working at social services agencies seeing clients, running groups, leading community projects, developing new programs, reviewing policy. Wurzweiler turns 60 this year. This means that over the last 60 years our students have contributed about 4,800,000 hours of unpaid social service labor to agencies around the world. That is a significant contribution to the nonprofit world. Many agencies count on our students to help them fulfill their mission and meet client needs.

We also work very hard with our local politicians to meet the needs of the communities we serve. New York City Councilmen Eric Ulrich and Ydanis Rodriguez helped us fund the Care Café which we hold all over New York City. These are events in which inspirational speakers address a difficult issue offering insight, education and ultimately hope. We take on issues from infertility to addiction, post-traumatic stress to learning disabilities. Our students staff the café and offer attendees information on additional resources.  We hope to grow this into a very modern mental health clinic.

This fall we ran a Campaign School where we educated over 100 social workers and mental health advocates how to run for public office. We also sent a faculty and a student to Dilly Texas to work with Cardozo law students in a deportation center with women who were afraid to return to their countries of origin. Here is our blog with entries from Dr. Katherine Mitchell.

Dr. Mitchell is not alone in her service. All her colleagues contribute their labor and expertise to the community. For example, Dr. Gary Stein is the co-founder and vice chair of the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network, which is the leading palliative social work association in the US. He is also a leader in arranging this organization’s annual assembly in Boston this year. Dr. Jill Becker represents WSSW at the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation. We think these contributions are very important.


5. What would your colleagues be surprised to learn about you?

I am a pretty open book so I am not sure they would be surprised by much! Maybe they would be surprised to learn that I have a novel I have been wanting to write for years. I promised myself after I got tenure I would write it. But then I went into administration and the promise changed to, let me just get this program launched or this school back on track. I often work out the plot or character development on my commute to and from the office. The book is about a woman who learns that there may be more to this world than we can see and that there are benevolent forces at work on our behalf. So here are the first few sentences in my novel.

“Della knew there was something extraordinary about her baby when every morning she awoke to find the child covered in a fine layer of thyme. Or was it rosemary?”

You may have to wait for the next few lines. I just have to….


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