USC School of Social Work receives $60 million gift

The USC School of Social Work has been named the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work following a $60 million donation by social work pioneer and two-time USC alum Suzanne Dworak-Peck, the University announced Wednesday.

“Suzanne Dworak-Peck is a visionary who has shown extraordinary leadership in her field, almost single-handedly changing how we perceive social workers,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias in a press release. “In the trenches from the very start of her career, she has shown that her compassion and selflessness have no bounds. This gift ensures that the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work will continue to stand as an innovator by which all others are measured.”

According to the press release, the school has grown since its founding in 1920 to become the largest of its kind in the world, granting degrees to one out of every 20 Master’s level social workers in the United States. Vice Dean Carmen Frierson said that Dworak-Peck’s donation furthers the school’s large reach, which extends to an alumni network of 15,000.

“I hope the community at large [benefits most from this endowment] in the sense that it furthers our hand,” Frierson said to the Daily Trojan. “The School of Social Work, individually, is not planning to make great change. We’re hoping to create people in the world to bring great change and to take some of the experiments and research that we’ve learned over the course of our history into the agencies that we touch.”

According to Frierson, the speeches delivered by both the Dworak-Peck and the Dean Marilyn L. Flynn on Wednesday during the announcement celebration concentrated on bringing innovation into the field.

“[We will be] putting social workers out there, creating social workers, going to places where social workers haven’t gone, [and collaborating] with other disciplines: engineering, data science, education, policy and planning,” Frierson said. “[We are] bringing together a team to do a great good.”

Frierson added that the school will earn anywhere between 4 and 5 percent interest on the $60 million gift, which will go to fund future programs. One such beneficiary is the school’s military social work program, which helps veterans, servicemembers and their families transition from active duty into civilian life. The first of its kind at a civilian university, the program was established in 2008 and uses virtual patients to train graduate students in this specialized field.

According to the press release, Dworak-Peck served as president of both the National Association of Social Workers and the International Federation of Social Workers, founded NASW Communications Network and sat on the board of the California Social Welfare Archives. She received numerous awards for her accomplishments, including an Alumni Merit Award granted in 2016 for her dedication to USC and her accomplishments in social work.

“Knowing that what we’ve done has been recognized by someone who has been within the circles is very exciting; no one really knew that she had the capacity to do that,” Frierson said. “It’s like you find a jewel that you didn’t know you had.”

Dworak-Peck received both a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in social work from USC. Because of her personal connection to the University, many members of the School of Social Work faculty see the endowment as not just a financial gift, but also a symbolic gesture.

“I think to have someone to have that faith in us — that’s incredible, especially someone who has been so dedicated to the profession herself,” said Rosemary Alamo, a clinical associate professor at the School of Social Work. “She could’ve donated to pretty much anywhere.”

Many students at the School of Social Work feel that the new name and funding gives the school more campus-wide recognition, especially compared to other programs.

“I have a surge of more USC pride, because now I feel like we’re more recognized and more official,” said Michelle Kim, a master’s in social work candidate at USC. “I’m excited for the future generation.”