SIU-C celebrates the 50th anniversary of the School of Social Work


Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIU-C) celebrated the 50th birthday of its School of Social Work with a workshop and guest speakers on Oct. 15.

The event began with a two hour seminar from Sharon Dornberg-Lee, a clinical social worker from Chicago with 25 years of experience. The seminar was titled, “The Pandemic within a Pandemic: Social Isolation Post-Covid-19.”

Dornberg-Lee’s presentation detailed the negative health effects of social isolation on people 65 and older and how to communicate in an empathetic way with those experiencing it . The presentation included resources for workers who interact with socially isolated populations.


She said social isolation is an objective lack of social connection with nearly all others.

“About one quarter of older adults are socially isolated,” Dornberg-Lee said. “Social isolation increases risk of early death from all causes, similar to smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.”

After the seminar was a pre-recorded welcome message from Governor J.B. Pritzker congratulating the school on its longevity. This was followed by welcome messages from members of the administration of the school, including Provost Meera Komarraju, Professor Hussein Soliman, Director Juliane Wallace, and Dean Robert Morgan.

Morgan, a former professor of Forensic Sciences at Texas Tech University, was placed as the first dean of the College of Health and Human Services, which launched in July as a part of the reorganization of SIU-C which began in 2019.

“Social work is primarily a human service-oriented endeavor,” Morgan said. “The mission and goal of social work is to serve, to help people that are in need, and to make their lives better.”

Morgan began his work at Texas Tech in 2000 and, during his tenure, he held the positions of associate department chair and director of the Institute of Forensic Sciences. He received the John G. Skeleton Regents endowment from the school’s Department of Psychological Sciences in 2011, a position created with the intention of bridging the gap between academia and real world application, according to the school’s website.

“Our goal is to produce graduates that are going to get out, help people and make an impact,” Morgan said. “They do that through the services they provide. They learn by connecting with community partners to provide services and learn by experience.”


After the welcome statements, alumni from the school were provided with the opportunity to speak on their experiences with the school and their work following their time at SIU-C.

Travis Nottmeier is an alumnus of the School of Social Work, having received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the school. Since graduating, he has been employed by Chester Mental Health Center.

“I was raised with similar values,” Nottmeier said. “Although I didn’t know I was going to be a social worker when I was young, the values and ethics of the education I was provided are very in line with social work.”

Chester Mental Health Center is a medium/maximum security mental health facility which takes in patients from law enforcement or correctional facilities who require a higher level of structure or security than other facilities in the state.

Nottmeier said his facility employs a large number of social workers to work with detainees. He said the facility works to restore forensic patients to mental fitness to enable them to move through the justice system and hopefully get out to become productive citizens.

“It’s given me a very good foundation,” Nottmeier said. “I went on to get my clinical license and worked as a social worker for the state of Illinois, and now I’m an administrator at a mental health facility. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifelong commitment to people.”

Nottmeier said underserved communities like those he serves are particularly affected by a lack of staff equipped to deal with the varied mental issues that may arise during care. He said this is made worse by the general lack of concern for the issues that affect these populations.

“We have to understand that everyone’s background is much different than our own in many cases,” Nottmeier said. “It’s about understanding, and once a client feels that empathy from you, it really helps the relationship.”

Following the statements from alumni, was a break where those in attendance were able to sample catering from 17th Street BBQ. Students were able to mingle with alumni and faculty while a DJ played hits from the past 50 years. 

Anna Hughes,the program coordinator for the Carbondale Women’s Center, was one of the Master’s program students in attendance.  

“Learning all the different perspectives, learning about the importance of diversity and cultural competence, and how all that applies to all people of all backgrounds has really stuck with me,” Hughes said.

Hughes said empathy is at the root of our society and serves as a foundation to be used in any social field. She said social work in particular can use it to positively impact the communities in which one lives.

“I think the education that I’ll get through this program will be a wonderful asset,” Hughes said. “I would like to continue to become a licensed clinical social worker so I can provide better supervision for staff at the Women’s Center and ultimately better services for survivors in our area.”

Dean Morgan encouraged people to join the School of Social Work to help alleviate the issues that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are suffering with mental and physical health concerns and they need help,” Morgan said. “That’s the dynamic of the social work field. They can intervene and provide services at a myriad of intersections with mental and behavioral health.”

Morgan said with social workers in high demand and with an aging population, the field is expected to grow.

“People are living longer, and with that come more late in life problems that need social workers,” Morgan said. “There’s a market for social workers and it’s a career field that’s ripe for opportunities.”

Staff reporter William Box can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @William17455137. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.