From Wall Street to social worker, Professor Bronwyn Cross-Denny has the ability to teach social work research to students in an innovative way.
This skill led to her winning the SAGE Publications and Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) Award for Innovative Teaching in Social Work Education last fall.
Cross-Denny, assistant professor and program director of social work at SHU, applied for the award with low expectations. “I didn’t think there was any way I was going to win,” said Cross-Denny, who started at SHU in 2009 as an adjunct professor and became full-time the following year.
In September, to Cross-Denny’s astonishment, she learned she was one of the winners. (Two recipients or teams win the award each year.)
At the CSWE’s annual conference in October, Cross-Denny accepted her award and also taught a workshop based on her innovative teachings titled, “Making Research Accessible: Reducing Research Anxiety While Developing Competence.”
According to the CSWE website, the SAGE/CSWE Award for Innovative Teaching in Social Work Education was established in February, 2012. Its purpose is to promote progressive teaching in social work by highlighting such methods as they emerge, and to recognize the individuals who played significant roles in bringing these methods to the classroom. Award recipients are selected based on the effectiveness, transferability and significance of their teaching methods.
Before Cross-Denny found social work, the Michigan native applied her knowledge to computer science. “I was really good in math, so I was taking a lot of math classes,” Cross-Denny said about her undergraduate career at Western Michigan University. “I started taking computer science and I got my bachelor’s in that.”
After graduation, Cross-Denny moved to New York and got a job on Wall Street providing end-user support. “I hated it,” Cross-Denny said. “What I liked about it was helping the people solve their computer problems. I liked working with people.”
While she was at JP Morgan, the company was involved in a mentorship program. Youth from the Bronx were bused in and assigned a mentor. That helped Cross-Denny realize what she wanted to do. She quit her job and, through networking, became a caseworker with Talbot Perkins Children’s Services in New York City.
Cross-Denny moved up the career ladder and took on leadership roles at various agencies, counseling and helping families and children in a number of ways. She even worked on a recovery initiative at the Family and Children’s Agency in Norwalk, which was responsible for helping those affected by 9/11.
Eventually Cross-Denny received her master’s degree and doctorate in social work from Fordham University, where she found her knack for teaching. She was an adjunct professor at Fordham for several years. “I never thought I would love teaching so much,” Cross-Denny said.
When SHU was in need of a professor to teach research, Cross-Denny was up for the challenge.
She said she remembers sitting in her master’s research class, and all the students around her were “freaking out. I thought, ‘this really isn’t that hard,’” Cross-Denny said. “I thought they were letting their anxiety get the best of them.”
Once she was teaching, Cross-Denny didn’t want her students to “freak out.” She believes women, especially, have an anxiety about math and research, and her goal is to teach students to embrace those subjects, but to handle their anxieties first .
The semester-long research course is rigorous, Cross-Denny said, but it helps students become better social workers. In the course, students have to understand the research process. Cross-Denny developed a step-by-step process that takes students through developing research proposals. “It really seems to help them,” she noted.
Cross-Denny provides feedback and lets the students know they always should be thinking “outside of the box.” She also asks students what they are anxious about; are they anxious about the research or the content? Whatever the anxiety, they deal with it head on. “Often it’s anxiety about the program,” she said. “So we have them debrief and address it. Anxiety gets in the way of learning.”
These are the teaching methods that earned Cross-Denny the SAGE/CSWE award.
“Dr. Bronwyn Cross-Denny was selected because of her innovative, step-by-step methods for breaking down the research process for students,” said a SAGE spokesperson. “Her methods have helped students reduce anxiety associated with research and develop confidence and competence for future success in social work.”