University Park, IL,
14:26 PM

Social work professor researches effects of student arts participation


Imagine a society in which every person is enabled to succeed at their highest level. Some might say Governors State University  (GSU) Social Work Professor Giesela Grumbach is working on that very ideal.

Though this utopian notion is more likely manifested in movies than in real life, Dr. Grumbach’s academic research focuses on helping institutions and individuals make strides in that direction. She has undertaken the study of the positive effect that immersion in the arts has on college students and the college community. Her aim is to identify and remove barriers that impede success for people in underrepresented and underprivileged social groups.

“Part of my research interest lies in the ways we educate people according to their identity, and what we can do to promote a sense of belonging that will benefit students’ success throughout their college experience,” Grumbach said.

She is now serving on a research team studying the effects of arts participation on college students. In partnership with Northeastern Illinois University, the research is funded by a $68,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Recently tenured in GSU’s Department of Social Work, Grumbach teaches primarily at the graduate level, including practice classes. She has been a professor at GSU since 2000, working full time since 2011 with the College of Health and Human Services.

Among her recent accomplishments, is the release of a textbook she co-authored, School Social Work: Skills Based Competency Approach, which she called “a labor of love.”

Here are some of Dr. Grumbach’s thoughts on the research team, her passion for social work, students, and more:

GSU Newsroom: What is the team researching with the NEA grant?

Dr. Grumbach: We’re looking at the way students participate in the arts on campus. How does art — consuming it, creating it, learning about it — help increase the sense of belonging among students? The university already does a lot to engage students in arts participation. We’ve got the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park and the Center for Performing Arts, both things students can experience and get involved with. From the study, we’ll see what the research bears out to create recommendations for things we realize can be done, either individually as professors or across the university, to enhance what GSU is doing for students now.

GSU Newsroom: Why did you decide to join this research team?

Dr. Grumbach:  Being involved in the arts makes a well-rounded professional. Fine arts increases one’s aesthetic sensibility and may even aid in developing cultural awareness.  I suppose I joined the research team because I like collaborating across disciplines to do my work. I think it enhances the work a great deal. Plus, I love the positive energy that results from collaborating with colleagues.

GSU Newsroom: What information and inspiration do you share with students about social work?

Dr. Grumbach: I love telling students about social work. It’s something I’ve always been drawn to. When you go into social work, which is a helping profession, you can work in a number of different settings which can be quite exciting for those learning about the many ways to help people. The goal, as a social work professional, is to bolster people’s ability to function in society. 

GSU Newsroom: Why do you call School Social Work: Skills Based Competency Approach, a “much-needed resource” for school social workers?

Dr. Grumbach: This textbook is informed by a social justice lens, incorporates the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) competencies, uses case scenarios, and practitioner highlights to illustrate current day practice and the responsibilities of school social workers. More importantly, this textbook acknowledges structural racism, past and present, in the school system and encourages emerging school social workers to practice with a commitment to full diversity and inclusion as they work with schools, students, families, and communities.   The textbook was a labor of love written with students in mind as my co-author and I reflected on empirical knowledge, practice and  teaching experience, and the practical wisdom of current day school practitioners.

Why do you think GSU is a good fit for you as a professor?

Well, first of all, I love my colleagues. I also really love the students. I think we have a good variety of students, from the non-traditional student who's coming back to school after working for years and they already have life experience and expertise, to the more traditional student who just recently completed their secondary education.

We help the non-traditional student by giving them the theoretical and conceptual  knowledge they need,  while recognizing they come with an exciting set of skills. Then there are the younger students who bring such enthusiasm to the learning environment. That mixture of perspectives is a nice thing to navigate.