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From the Director: Social Work is a Political Profession

The Humphreys Institute urges all social workers to re-examine their attitudes toward politics, their role in empowering their clients and communities to be politically active and their personal commitment to integrate political action into their practice.

Social workers are called to defend the human rights and the values that define our profession. In addition to exerting pressure on lawmakers to do the right thing, we should all be working to get the right people elected in the first place. As does every vote, elections at all levels of government matter. In addition to training social workers to run for office, the Humphreys Institute is training social workers to engage their clients and communities to vote by integrating nonpartisan voter engagement into social service delivery and organizational culture.

We know that elected officials pay attention to voters and research shows that communities and individuals that vote are significantly better off in important indicators of health and well-being. Many in the communities we serve have never been asked or encouraged to vote. When social workers and organizations make the decision not to be “political” we fail to support the power of their voices.

We cannot take democracy for granted.


Tanya Rhodes Smith

Tanya Rhodes Smith, Director

Tanya Rhodes Smith is the Director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work and a faculty member in the Policy Practice concentration at the UConn School of Social Work. As Director, she has overseen the expansion of the Institute's Campaign School for Social Workers to schools across the country, led the development of nonpartisan voter engagement training models for schools of social work and social service agencies and supports the idea that political empowerment and voting are central to all social work practice and impact. 

Tanya began her career in the private sector in corporate consulting at Hewitt Associates before earning her MSW at the University of Connecticut. Tanya has experience in policy development, nonprofit administration, fundraising, community organizing, legislative advocacy, research and evaluation. Her previous employers include the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, DHA Associates, Person to Person and the Center for Family Justice, where she directed a multi-year, federally funded demonstration grant to improve the continuum of care for children exposed to violence. She also served as a facilitator and coach for the Leadership Development Roundtable working to develop and support emerging nonprofit leaders in Connecticut. She currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Connecticut Association of Human Services (CAHS) and Social Venture Partners Connecticut’s Policy Committee.

Jenna Powers

Jenna Powers, Researcher-in-Residence

Jenna Powers is the Graduate Assistant for the Humphreys Institute, as well as a student in the School of Social Work's PhD program. During her time in the University of New England's (UNE) MSW program, Jenna focused on community organizing and program development with an emphasis on educating and empowering individuals to participate in the political arena. Upon graduating from UNE, Jenna co-founded the Maine Chapter of New Leaders Council (a non-partisan training program for emerging progressive leaders) and coordinated the Northern New England Campaign School, a replication of the UConn Campaign School for Social Workers. Jenna is thrilled to now be playing a new, broadened role within the Institute. She believes that its work with Voter Engagement and the Campaign School are imperative to the social work profession and the people that we work with; so she is enthusiastic about researching the Institute's impact and helping to expand its efforts. When Jenna isn't working with the Institute or doing homework, she is teaching Social Policy & Programs for an online MSW program or spending time with her wife and two pups.

Danielle Hubley

Danielle Hubley (right)

Danielle Hubley is an advanced standing MSW student with a concentration in Policy Practice and a focus in International Social Work at the UConn School of Social Work. She graduated with a BSW in Generalist Practice Social Work from Eastern Connecticut State University, and is looking to continue the development and implementation of voter engagement and political efficacy on a local and national level in her time interning with the Institute.

Cristin Sauter

Cristin Sauter

Cristin Sauter is a second year MSW Candidate from Adelphi University with a focus on community practice, policy, and research. Placed at the Institute for the purpose of furthering her understanding of the field of Political Social Work and to participate in it, she ultimately plans to promote political action in communities in need of policy reform.


LaShawn Dunn

LaShawn Dunn

LaShawn Dunn is a freshman currently attending the UConn Hartford campus who plans to pursue a Master’s Degree in Business with a concentration in Digital Marketing and Analytics. He currently works at the Institute for the purpose of grasping a better understanding of how to reach out to specific audiences, and is looking forward to the future of the Institute and his time here.

Nancy A. Humphreys, DSW, Professor

Dr. Nancy A. Humphreys, Founding Director

Dr. Nancy A. Humphreys founded the Institute for Political Social Work at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work in 1995 to investigate ways that social workers can facilitate the political empowerment of clients as well as increase the number of social workers who are directly involved with electoral politics.

A past president of the National Association of Social Workers — and, at the time, only the second female president of the organization— Dr. Humphreys has a long and accomplished professional history. Her academic work has left an indelible mark, both here in the United States and abroad. She served as dean of two schools of social work, Michigan State University and University of Connecticut, where she also had teaching responsibilities in policy, community organization, social welfare, family and children, political social work and women’s issues. Beginning in 1991, Dr. Humphreys worked with what is now the Republic of Armenia to establish social work education in that country. The result of her efforts is a BSW and MSW program at Yerevan State University.

As a leader during the feminist movement, Dr. Humphreys was appointed by President Carter to serve on his National Advisory Committee on Women's Issues. She co-authored the Human Services chapter of the Committee's final report Voices for Women. Active in many women's organizations, Dr. Humphreys has presented content and written about a number of social service issues from a feminist perspective. She has also been a member of a variety of organizations, including the American Public Welfare Association Council, National Conference of Social Welfare; has served on numerous boards of directors; and was vice president of the Council on Social Work Education.