"As a professor, I hope to challenge students to question more than they want to, and to accomplish more than they think they can."
Susan Schmidt brings a significant amount of work experience, research, teaching experience, and formal education to her current position at Luther.
“I am interested in considering how we as a society treat the most vulnerable among us. In 2013, I served as a senior research consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Office in Washington, D.C.,” she says. “In that position, I interviewed more than 200 unaccompanied children from Central America and Mexico detained in federal shelters and Border Patrol facilities and co-authored the resulting report, Children on the Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection.” Since then, she has been analyzing several subsets of these immigrant children’s interviews for her doctorate in social work, to be completed in May 2017.
Schmidt previously served as research coordinator and co-author of the U.S. report for the “Seeking Asylum Alone” project, a collaboration of Harvard University and the University of Sydney, examining the treatment of child asylum seekers in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia. She has also consulted on immigrant child welfare matters for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago.
“Prior to that, I was the director for children’s services at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Maryland,” she says. “I coordinated a national network of culturally sensitive foster care programs for unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children in the U.S.”
In addition to her work experience, Schmidt has also taught social work courses for the online master's program in social work at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, and for the bachelor's in social work programs at St. Catherine University/University of St. Thomas, and for the College of St. Scholastica-Twin Cities, located in Minnesota. She has also written numerous publications and technical assistance resources on migration and child welfare.
When Schmidt started teaching, she found she enjoyed being a part of her students' development as thinkers and professionals. She also learned that she wanted to help students achieve their dreams. “As a professor, I hope to challenge students to question more than they want to, and to accomplish more than they think they can,” she says. “In social work, we talk about applying a strengths perspective to our work with clients. We should recognize the inherent skills and abilities that our clients have in dealing with life's challenges. I think this is true in working with students as well.”
Schmidt became interested in general immigration issues and specifically unaccompanied children during a volunteer program after college. “I participated in Mennonite Voluntary Service (similar to the Lutheran and Jesuit Volunteer Corps programs),” she says. “During part of that time, I worked in South Texas with unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America who were in the custody of the former-Immigration and Naturalization Service. That work led me to graduate school to study both theology and social work.”
Schmidt realizes that more than 25 years later, our country is still wrestling with how we respond to unaccompanied immigrant children at our nation's borders, and more broadly how we respond to refugees and immigrants generally. She believes that studying immigration issues helps us to learn about the world and about ourselves.
“Social workers focus on examining the theories, values, and policies that drive our responses to social welfare issues, along with the applied knowledge and skills that allow us to help individuals, families, groups, and communities in very practical ways,” she says. “It's a profession that cares about both large-scale change and grassroots impact on the lives of real people.”
In addition to being a professor, Schmidt serves as social work field director, which means she coordinates social work students' internship experiences. “These include a January Term ‘job shadowing’ experience as an introduction to social work, and a full-time internship experience the semester before graduation,” she says. “These field experiences are considered the ‘signature pedagogy’ of social work, meaning that they are a required and defining method of instruction for our profession. They prepare students well for being competent and ethical professionals after they graduate.”