Dr. Nafees Alam is a social work professor specializing in nonprofit program evaluation and macro practice, where he has over seven years of experience. Before academia, he worked in Wall Street’s financial sector for more than seven years. He is currently an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, where he earned his Ph.D. in Social Work in 2019; his dissertation was titled “Nothing About Us Without Us: Exploring the Attitudes Toward Service User Inclusion in Social Work Education in the United States, a Factor Analysis.”
Dr. Alam’s research agenda is geared toward social work and sports/entertainment including clinical intervention, macro practice, program evaluation and policy development with a focus on student mentorship and quantitative research on diversity, inclusion, and empowerment of the underprivileged.
He has several publications and has presented at conferences across the world, including the Council on Social Work Education, the Social Work Distance Education Conference (Keynote Speaker, 2022), the Alliance of Social Workers in Sports, Sport & Society. He is also passionate about global education through technology, teaching, and designing online courses taught across the globe, in addition to his YouTube channel and Podcast geared toward an international audience.
Outside of academia, Dr. Alam is a fitness model, actor, and heavyweight boxer registered with USA Boxing. He is also a boxing and youth football coach, aligning with his experience as a semi-professional football player. He volunteers weekly with the City Light Shelter for Women and Children in downtown Boise, Idaho, designing and delivering courses related to finance, technology, fitness/nutrition, and life skills. He also enjoys OneWheeling and biking while taking every opportunity to travel internationally to experience different cultures.
He was recently invited to be the keynote speaker at the 8th Annual Social Work Distance Education Conference in April 2022, where the title of his speech will be Ideological Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education. In addition, he has had two oral presentations accepted for the conference: Designing Research Courses for Distance Education and Mental Health in Sports and Entertainment.
Congratulations on being selected as keynote speaker for the conference in April 2022. How did you come to be invited to deliver this address?
I’ve been quite vocal and public recently in the academic and political communities about the importance of ideological diversity and inclusion. I was invited to deliver the address following a recent presentation I had in front of legislators related to my Point-Counterpoint teaching philosophy.
“Diversity” and “inclusion” are clearly important values, but what do these terms means specifically in reference to higher education? In other words, what’s the problem?
The problem related to “diversity” and “inclusion,” specific to higher education, has to do with the diversity and inclusion of thought. There are some instances when classroom environments are such that a singular perspective is promoted as the only perspective of value and credence, thereby alienating any and all other perspectives. Education, in order not to be conflated with indoctrination, cannot be partisan in theory or in application. As educators, we are tasked not with teaching students what to think but how to think for themselves.
What are some of the things that you feel higher education can do to make itself more diverse and inclusive, given that its role in society is often to be a gatekeeper and credentialer?
The exploration of opposing viewpoints without ridicule or judgment would be a good starting point. The NASW ethical principles of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence are not inherently left or right.
In fact, the NASW ethical standards read explicitly about a) understanding social diversity on the basis of political belief, b) avoiding negative criticism on the basis of political belief, c) advocating against any form of discrimination on the basis of political belief, and d) preventing and eliminating domination and exploitation on the basis of political belief. The framework for the inclusion of ideological diversity already exists in the ethical principles and standards of social work.
How does the name of the conference—Social Work Distance Education—shape your analysis of higher education?
Although COVID has accelerated the pace of distance education, social work education had already begun embracing the concept of distance education prior to the pandemic. The profession of social work prioritizes accessibility; it makes sense, then, that the education of social workers would also prioritize accessibility. For me, the value of social work distance education is in the level of accessibility for social work students in remote locations to receive a quality education, thereafter being a resource for communities in remote locations after graduation and licensure as professional social workers.
You’re also giving two oral presentations: Designing Research Courses for Distance Education and Mental Health in Sports and Entertainment. What draws you to these topics?
I’ve designed and re-designed online MSW and BSW research courses with a number of universities in my career. I find that the connection to evidence-based practice is particularly important for distance education social work students as they quickly progress into the profession of social work practice.
Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Just want to say thank you to all of the wonderful faculty and staff at Wurzweiler helping me along the way toward my Ph.D. I would not be where I am today without Wurzweiler.