During a champagne lunch Wednesday, in a sumptuous dining hall at the University of Southern California, Marilyn Flynn, the dean of the School of Social Work, took the stage.
It had already been a heady day for Flynn, who has served as the school’s dean for two decades, leading it to become the single largest school of social work in the nation.
Just a half hour before, USC President Max Nikias, standing before what seemed like at least 1,000 guests including students, had announced a $60 million gift to the school. The donor, Suzanne Dworak-Peck, was a graduate of the school herself, and her hefty endowment is, fittingly, the biggest gift given to any school of social work ever, according to a high-level administrator at USC.
“This is the single most important thing a dean could do, a pinnacle to have a school named,” Flynn said over the din of 400 guests munching on steamed halibut with quinoa.
But, she added that it was far from the end of her journey at the helm of the newly minted Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Evoking a 150-mile hike she took on the John Muir trail that started in Yosemite Valley, Flynn said the moment was like staring at a far-off pass while walking a mountain trail. Until you reach the pass, you cannot see the “vast range of mountains beyond,” she said.
“With the power that a name has, we now have a vast range of possibilities,” Flynn said.
Dworak-Peck, who graduated from the school of social work in 1967, went on to become president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and the organization’s California chapter.
“Social work is not just a profession to me, but an integral part of my life,” she said during the luncheon. She added that she hoped her gift “would help change the lens in which social work is viewed.”
While at NASW, Dworak-Peck founded the NASW Communications Network, Inc., which helped media outlets better portray what social work is and who social workers are.
Kathy Icenhower, the CEO of SHIELDS for Families, a south Los Angeles service provider for children and families, said that the gift was important in how it changes the way social work is seen.
“The gift helps to recognize the significance of social work in its ability to drive social change,” Icenhower said.
The endowment will generate roughly $3 million in annual revenue for the school.