As a child, Valire Carr Copeland, PhD, MPH, never dreamed she would one day be Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh. After high school, she entered a two-year technical program near her home in Salisbury, NC. Having always been a good student, she was dismayed that, one year in, she was not excelling or progressing as she had anticipated. A counselor at her college suggested she transfer to Livingstone College, a nearby four-year Historically Black College, which she did, intending to major in business. However, she soon realized that there was a better track out there for her. A conversation with William Pollard, PhD, then the head of the social work program at Livingstone, and now President of Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York, soon led her to major in social work and pursue an MSW degree at Pitt.
During her training, she recognized that African American welfare recipients believed that employees of the public welfare system, who were mostly Caucasian, did not understand them or their lives. This realization helped her crystallize her mission: to train white women to work with African American families. A practicum in a university counseling center clarified for her that working in a university setting was ideal for pursuing this cause. After six years in college counseling centers, Dr. Copeland returned to Pitt to earn her PhD in social work and an MPH. By earning these two degrees simultaneously, she was able to tie together her focus on children and youth, health care policy, and maternal and child health. She saw a critical need to bridge the gap between social work with children and their health, believing that social workers needed a more holistic view of children, that their psychosocial development could not be isolated from their health status, which is significantly affected by parental health status. Over time, this evolved into an interest in mood disorders among African American women and children and barriers to services. More recently, she has extended her work into end-of-life care and implications for African American women, who traditionally have fulfilled a matriarchal role. She is currently working with Margaret Rosenzweig, PhD, CRNP-C, AOCN in the School of Nursing, on studies to understand the extent to which community resources are available to African American women for health and mental health concerns as they approach the end of life.
Having served as director of the doctoral program within the School of Social Work for seven years, Dr. Copeland was appointed as the Associate Dean in 2013. Through her administrative work and service to the school, she noticed that there was a significant need to get junior faculty involved in mentoring doctoral students. However, she was aware that nobody trained faculty to mentor, and junior faculty, in particular, needed some socialization into their roles and their expectations regarding mentoring. Therefore, she decided to apply to the ICRE's Training Early Academic Mentors (TEAM) program, to learn about mentoring strategies and think about how she could pass these on to junior faculty in the School of Social Work.
Dr. Copeland attributes her career achievements to the fact that she has constantly and consistently received excellent mentoring and continues to do so, today, from Charlotte J. Dunmore, PhD, her dissertation chair. Her postdoctoral mentor, Kristine Siefert PhD, MPH, said that the best way Dr. Copeland could thank her for her mentoring during her postdoctoral study was to go out and mentor more women, which she has done ever since. Despite her long mentoring experience, however, she says the TEAM program has taught her a lot. Specifically, she has learned more about herself personally and as a mentor, how to improve her mentoring, and how to bring more structure to the mentoring process. She reflects that ideally, everyone would learn the principles of effective mentoring before actually becoming a mentor, but recognizes that mentoring can also be something people grow into. Even once mentors learn effective mentoring techniques, working in mentoring teamsóand the power differentials that can presentódelivers a new set of challenges, which she continues to learn about from her colleagues in the TEAM program.
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