Graduate Programs

Doctoral Program in Social Work Overview

PhD Program Mission & Highlights

2018 social work phd students

The mission for the PhD program at CSU is to advance the art and science of Social Work through education, research, and the pursuit of social justice.

Program highlights:

  • State-of-the-art approaches to professional education for addressing critical social issues and transforming professional practice and social policy
  • Interdisciplinary training and collaboration opportunities to enhance health and well-being across local and global community systems
  • Flexible full-time and part-time programs of study

PhD Program Goals

As a research and teaching degree program, the School aims to prepare successful scholars, educators, and leaders to tackle the most persistent issues facing vulnerable populations around the globe. Our students advance social, environmental, and economic justice through training in professional education, community-engaged scholarship, and transformative leadership.

social work phd students

Read more about our 2017 School of Social Work doctoral graduates.


PhD Program Design

Each student works closely with their advisor and graduate committee to develop their own learning agenda and dissertation proposal. The student’s background, experience, personal schedule, and learning goals are considered when developing the program of study. CSU's program is part of the WICHE/Western Regional Graduate Program exchange.


PhD Program Interdisciplinary Research Centers

Students have the opportunity to work with interdisciplinary research centers, including:

  • Social Work Research Center—impacting children, youth, and families through data-driven decision-making, cross-system collaboration, and inclusive research.
  • Prevention Research Center—promoting health and well-being throughout the lifespan.
  • Center for Healthy Aging—promoting research, education, and community engagement around cutting-edge issues involved in healthy and successful aging.
  • Center for the Study of Crime and Justice—focusing on criminological and criminal justice education, and engagement and research at the international, national, state, and local levels.
  • Regional Economic Development Institute—aiming to understand, analyze, and inform economic development strategies in struggling rural and urban areas through engaged research.
  • Institute for Research in the Social Sciences—aiming to connect and support social scientists with other researchers, as well as university, community, and industry partners.

Featured Faculty Research

Anne Williford

PhD Program Director Dr. Anne Williford’s research focuses on identifying effective strategies to prevent bullying, violence, and peer victimization, and promote positive behavioral health outcomes among children and adolescents. Her recent research has investigated the impact of universal and targeted prevention strategies for youth violence in school, juvenile justice, and community settings.

Jennifer Portz

Dr. Jennifer Portz ’s research on public health, gerontology, and the use of technology interventions with older adults is funded through a Palliative Care and Aging Research Fellowship from the National Institute on Aging. She focuses on the development of patient-centered health information technologies (HIT) that can be used by older adults, their caregivers, and providers to effectively improve health decision-making, self-management, and health outcomes.

Becky Orsi

Dr. Rebecca Orsi’s research interests include outcomes for child welfare populations, including adopted children and children with special health needs. She also studies child maltreatment risk and protective factors at the community level from an ecological perspective. Through a partnership development grant, she is currently working to provide better trauma-informed training for parents of adopted and fostered children.

Shannon Hughes

Dr. Shannon Hughes studies critical perspectives in mental health and advances social work leadership in psychopharmacology. Through a Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care grant, she is piloting an innovative program to build social connections among young adults experiencing depression and anxiety. She is also collaborating on the development, delivery, and evaluation of a curriculum for child welfare workers on psychotropic medications with youth in foster care.


PhD Program Credentials

As full members of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE), the School of Social Work believes the purpose of the PhD in social work is to prepare students to be scholars who function as “stewards of the discipline.” The Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate articulated that a steward of the discipline is one who generates and critically evaluates new knowledge, conserves the most important ideas and findings that are the legacy of the discipline, understands how knowledge is transforming the discipline and the larger world, and communicates their knowledge responsibly to others (Walker et al., 2008).