School of Social Work welcomes new dean

With winter term beginning, a new position starts for Dr. Laura Burney Nissen, who will take on the position of dean of the School of Social Work. Although she is familiar with Portland State—she has been a member of the faculty for 14 years—working as dean will be a different kind of role at the university.

Even though Nissen is not a Portland native—she received her Ph.D. and Master of Social Work at the University of Denver—she was excited to be a part of the Portland community. “I was very attracted to the mission of the university and the strength of the social work program,” Nissen said.

Nissen first arrived at PSU through her work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Reclaiming Futures initiative, housed at PSU, where she held the executive director position for 11 years. As stated on the Reclaiming Futures website, the program is “a national program that focuses on events that first led to juveniles’ problems while providing greater community interaction and leadership opportunities.”

For the past three years, Nissen has remained a full-time professor of social work while still keeping involvement in Reclaiming Futures as a senior adviser. Being involved and helping others has been a major part of Nissen’s work.

“I’m very dedicated to social work and social work education,” Nissen said.

This is why when the dean position first opened, Nissen was eager to compete, even if it was a competitive national search.

“I want to help [the social work program] flourish and guide them into a new era,” Nissen said.

With 2014 marking the 50th anniversary of the School of Social Work, Nissen will be busy helping plan the school’s celebratory events. Since the school is expanding, she also looks forward to adapting the school to the changing world and evolving the program into one that helps the PSU community.

“As we evolve our program, we work with community members to help us grow the program together,” Nissen said.

Nissen also has plans to expand and enhance the alumni network, along with international opportunity.

As Nissen’s new position as dean begins, she will be busy helping the School of Social Work expand and promoting the school to show its evolution over the past 50 years.

“I’m proud to be a part of Portland State and the community. I believe in our school and our university,” she said.