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Marilyn Flynn, PhD, MSW

2011 International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award

Marilyn L. Flynn has been at the forefront of innovation in social work for more than 35 years, expanding the reach of the profession to new constituencies, disciplines, applications, and domains of practice. She received her PhD and MSW from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and subsequently served on the faculties of the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State University – where she was also Director of Social Work and Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.  She became Dean and Professor of Social Work at the University of Southern California in 1997, and was recently reappointed for a 4th five year term. 

She established the first nationally available MSW specialization in military social work, initially supported through the first direct Congressional appropriation to a school of social work for this purpose.  Hers was the first school to offer an interactive web-based MSW degree, now accessible almost everywhere in the United States and Canada.  With an enrollment of over 2,000 MSW students in both virtual and campus environments, Dean Flynn has greatly expanded educational opportunities for all students interested in a social work career, including special populations such as military personnel,  persons living in remote areas, persons with disabilities, and others requiring a flexible learning environment.

Dean Flynn is widely regarded as a distinguished leader in graduate social work education, noted especially for her advancement of intervention research.  She helped found the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and was the first President of the St. Louis Group, representing most US schools of social work in major research institutions.  At USC, she greatly enlarged the Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services and established the nationally respected Flynn Prize for Social Work Research.

She has established a ground-breaking program for placement and employment of social workers in non-traditional settings.  Graduate social work interns have been introduced in finance, banking, insurance, and managed care companies, with subsequent employment.  She has in addition created a new TeleHealth Clinic at USC, using licensed clinical social workers to provide internet-based counseling services for clients drawn from a wide variety of settings and geographic locations.

As President of the Board of Directors for the national Network for Social Work Management over the past five years, she organized, funded, and implemented the 2008 Institute on Management Training and expanded regional membership of the organization to include new chapters in San Diego, Los Angeles, and New Jersey, with other groups now forming in Boston, Washington and Tennessee.  She is also President of the Board for the Los Angeles Center for Nonprofit Management and Past President of the Board for the Fisher Art Museum.

Dean Flynn’s academic interests include applications of virtual reality for education and clinical treatment, cross-cultural perspectives on service delivery and research advancement for the professions in higher education.  She is regarded as an expert in resource development and academic leadership.  She pioneered in the field of computer-assisted learning and was the first in her field to publish in this area.


Dean Flynn has throughout her career been active in comparative international research and training, including work in Russia, Hungary, the European Community, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, China, and Israel.  She introduced the school’s International Social Welfare Award for outstanding work in human rights.  The first award was given to Mme. Kim Dae Jung, then-first lady of Korea, and subsequently to Aung Sung Soo Chi.  She established and supported the Asia Pacific Leadership Center at USC, now in its 8th year, with an annual Fellows program now held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC.  She has built enduring research relationships with premiere Korean universities, organized a visiting scholar program at the School which draws faculty from across the Asia Pacific Rim, organized an Office of Global and Community Initiatives in the School, and introduced cultural immersion experiences for graduate students now conducted in India, the Philippines, China, Israel, and Europe.

In addition to her academic career, she has acted as consultant to numerous national and local organizations on strategic planning, organizational design, and applications of technology to learning and service delivery.  She has been particularly noted for her initiation of new social programs, including the first cooperative program between unions and state government to assist unemployed union workers; the first call-in center for elderly persons in crisis in Illinois; the first national demonstration of computer-based employment assistance for unemployed older workers; and initiation of the largest public-private sector collaboration on behalf vulnerable children in Michigan.





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