Trina R. Shanks, a Center for Social Development faculty director and a Brown School alumna, was installed September 30 as the Howard R. Johnson Collegiate Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.
Shanks is the director of the School’s Community Engagement Program, and of the newly launched Center for Equitable Family & Community Well-Being, which connects the university with community leaders in Detroit and in Washtenaw County. She is also one of the national network co-leads for the Social Work Grand Challenge: Reversing Extreme Economic Inequality.
The endowed professorship honors the School’s former dean and supports a scholar whose teaching and research address the advancement of race relations, diversity and inclusion.
At the virtual installation ceremony, Dean Lynn Videka praised Shanks “for your commitment to social justice, influential and important research on reversing economic inequality structures that have disadvantaged families over generations, and for your compassion and humanity, that manifest itself in so many ways in everything that you do.”
Shanks said she was pleased to formally launch her new center. “It represents the work that I am doing and that I hope to do,” she said. “The center’s work will amplify ideas to empower families.”
Shanks received her undergraduate degree in business at Washington University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University before earning her MSW (2000) and PhD (2003) at the Brown School. Michael Sherraden, director of the CSD, was her co-chair in the PhD program.
“My training at the Brown School was great preparation for me…my first formal exposure to Social Work was at the Brown School. The main reason I chose to attend was the opportunity to work with Drs. Larry Davis and Michael Sherraden (who both co-chaired my dissertation and continue to be mentors and colleagues),” she said.
She has been involved in CSD’s asset-building research for many years. “I remain an associate with the Center for Social Development because it keeps me connected to national and international scholars with similar interests,” said Shanks.
She was instrumental in the MI-SEED Program that created child savings accounts in Michigan. She consults with several other child savings account initiatives as well.
Sherraden said one of her most significant pieces of work was a study estimating the numbers and percentage of living Americans whose families benefitted from the Homestead Act, and how those numbers differed by race. (The paper was published in Inclusion in Asset Building, a collection Sherraden edited.) “This paper matters because it provides an empirical link to historical racism and modern property holding,” he said. It is available as a CSD working paper.
Since 2018, Shanks has overseen the Michigan School of Social Work’s strategic goal of community engagement, leading the evolving ENGAGE team that promotes, coordinates and facilitates greater impact in community and social justice. She also serves as faculty advisor to the New Leaders in African-Centered Social Work Program.
As a faculty member affiliated with the Technical Assistance Center funded by the Skillman Foundation, over a ten-year period Trina Shanks was actively engaged in six Detroit communities as part of the Good Neighborhoods program. She also has conducted multiple evaluations of Detroit’s Summer Youth Employment Program—Grow Detroit’s Young Talent. From 2010 to 2012, Shanks was appointed by the governor of Michigan to serve on the State Commission on Community Action and Economic Opportunity.