I started my social work career as an outreach social worker in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, working with the physically and mentally handicapped. I had earned a B.A. in social work from Moorhead State University in Moorhead, Minnesota, and an M.S.W. in psychiatric social work from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. I worked as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home for four years to work my way through my undergraduate studies and became interested in gerontology.
I moved to Iowa City and worked on a research project with cancer patients at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and enrolled in a doctoral program in education. I had the opportunity to move back to Minnesota and teach at Moorhead State University in the social work program for one year while a faculty member was on sabbatical. From that experience I decided to pursue a doctorate in social work and was awarded a fellowship to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Three years later I was offered a position at the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor. However, the teaching assistants at Wisconsin went on strike, and I did not finish my degree and came to Minnesota as an instructor and defended my dissertation in the fall of 1980.
While at the University of Wisconsin, I became more interested in gerontology and completed my dissertation on social support systems for older women. Over the years my research has included work on serious and persistent mentally ill older adults, including founding two group homes for this population with other faculty at the School of Social Work.
In 1991, I was selected to be the director of the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota—a position I held until 2006. During my tenure, the school developed a weekend and a distance M.S.W. program, substantially increased its endowments for scholarships, and moved into a renovated building on the St. Paul campus. I was principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on research and training grants worth more than $30 million.
In 2005-2006 I co-chaired a University-wide task force that looked at the creation of a new college that would include the College of Education and Human Development and the College of Human Ecology (where the School of Social Work was housed). In November I agreed to accept the position of senior associate dean of the new College of Education and Human Development. On September 1, 2008, I assumed the position of interim dean of the college and was named permanent dean one year later. I accepted the position because I believe that there are many opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations in teaching, outreach, and research. I look forward to leading a strategic planning process that will guide the college into the future.
I have continued to conduct research broadly in the field of aging although my focus has shifted to issues of gay and lesbian aging. Most recently I was a consultant on a nation-wide study of gay and lesbian Baby Boomers supported by the American Society on Aging and MetLife Insurance Company. Several doctoral students and I are now looking at the nature of long term gay and lesbian relationships in older adults. Also, I have a scholarly interest in the use of technology in higher education.
Over the years, I have been active in a number of professional organizations including the state and national organizations of the National Association of Social Workers (President of Minnesota chapter, 1996-1998), the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work (President, 2002-2005), the Council on Social Work Education, and the American Society on Aging.