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Social Work Professor Monica Leisey Awarded New Leadership Academy Fellowship

Story by Tian Quinn

In the School of Social Work, Professor Monica Leisey has dedicated her scholarship to creating a sense of belonging in the Salem State community. The central focus of Dr. Leisey’s scholarly research involves the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), and for the past year, Dr. Leisey has been working as a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) faculty consultant to assist in discussions about centering student experiences from an equity and inclusion standpoint using the SoTL mindset. In May 2022, Dr. Leisey was appointed Faculty Fellow for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), a relatively new position implemented and overseen by Interim Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Keja Valens. 

While Dr. Leisey’s SoTL research is integral to her teaching practice in the social work classroom, she is also interested in seeking additional opportunities on applying the principles of equity and fairness throughout the SSU community. As DEI faculty fellow, Dr. Leisey seeks to learn how to implement actionable strategies and tactics that offer meaningful support and serve traditionally marginalized community members, as well as the SSU community as a whole.  

This past fall, Dr. Leisey was accepted into the New Leadership Academy (NLA 2023) Fellows Program sponsored by the University of Utah and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) — an opportunity that Dr. Leisey hopes will enrich the work she does as DEI faculty fellow throughout the next two years. Dr. Leisey’s involvement in the program, which endeavors to support and coach higher education leaders using a DEI lens, spans six months. Upon the program’s conclusion in June, all NLA fellows will travel to Salt Lake City, where the cohort will participate in a week-long professional development training and capstone experience. Dr. Leisey notes that her work in the program is an opportunity to represent Salem State’s ongoing commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion across campus

As a macro social worker, Dr. Leisey is interested in facilitating conversations in academic communities about social change and community leadership (an interest that applies to Leisey’s own classroom community as well). From 2016 to 2019, Dr. Leisey served as Salem State’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program coordinator. During her rotation out of the coordinator position, Dr. Leisey served as the interim dean for the School of Graduate Studies supporting graduate faculty in the transition to online learning during the first semester of the pandemic. At the same time, Dr. Leisey also faced the question of how to create and navigate virtual learning environments for graduate students.  

As Salem State and universities across the world pivoted to virtual learning, Dr. Leisey began to question what academic rigor looked like in a remote setting. This question of how expectations intersect with equity led Dr. Leisey to research DEI pedagogy, where she sought information about incorporating more equitable teaching and assessment practices into higher education while still maintaining the rigorous standards set upon graduate students entering the social work profession.  

Dr. Leisey’s research in DEI pedagogy has translated into substantive changes that she has applied to her remote teaching practice and continues to develop in her classroom today. From the ways she provides feedback to the types of assignments expected of students, Dr. Leisey says the way she approaches teaching looks markedly different than it did pre-pandemic. For example, Dr. Leisey is more mindful of the way students interact within her courses; to maintain relationships with her students, she dedicates time to frequent check-ins at the beginning of class as a way to build community. 

While Dr. Leisey has been able to continue creating community in the classroom, she is also looking forward to how her work as an NLA 2023 fellow will develop and contribute to the long-term success of her DEI-focused goals for the broader Salem State community. 

Congratulations on receiving this fellowship opportunity Dr. Leisey!  


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