Katharine Hill.

University of St. Thomas has tapped Katharine Hill to become director of the School of Social Work in the new Morrison Family College of Health. Hill, a former ICI staffer, currently directs St. Thomas’ BSW program and will formally step into the new role in July.

In a welcome letter announcing the appointment, MayKao Y. Hang, founding dean of the College, praised Hill’s commitment to advocacy, along with her policy and research experience.

“Hill’s passion for social change to benefit those most disadvantaged in society and her commitment to nurturing the bonds of human connection to advance the common good makes her the perfect person to lead us courageously into the future,” Hang said.

The College brings together multiple disciplines within the University, including public health, exercise science, social work, and psychology, with plans to create a nursing school.

“It is really thinking about health more holistically, inclusively, and globally than a traditional college of health might,” Hill said. “Physical health is a part of it, but we’ve been intentional about setting a broader definition of health that includes communities, economic systems, and schools, the social determinants of health.”

Social work plays a critical role in bridging those disciplines, she said.

“We won’t have healthy individuals if we don’t have healthy communities,” she said. “We’re building a new system of health that includes both the personal and the environmental and exploring what role social work has in that system. Knowing I’ll be part of shaping that is really intriguing and exciting to me.”

Hill arrived at St. Thomas in 2009. She holds masters’ and doctoral degrees from the University of Minnesota. From 2002 to 2006, she was program coordinator for ICI’s Connecting to Success, a multi-state collaboration to provide mentoring to adolescents with disabilities, among other projects.

Traci LaLiberte, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, who sat on Hill’s dissertation committee, praised Hill’s research into the gaps in disability services in the child welfare system.

“One of the things I appreciate most in Katharine is her ability to understand complex systems and to translate that research into practice. She’s quite skillful at that,” said LaLiberte.

ICI provided foundational skills in grant writing and in developing partnerships, skills she continues to use today, Hill said.

“I learned how to include the thinking of all the partners in building a product or working toward an outcome,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do it.’ You have to think collaboratively and bring everyone’s ideas forward.”

Beyond the practical skills, Hill cited some intangibles she picked up along the way.

“A lot of how I think about leadership was formed by my work for David [Johnson, ICI’s director during her tenure]. He really modeled letting people bring their best talents to work. He created a format where people could be creative and pursue their interests but he kept us more or less pointed in the same direction, and that’s tricky business,” she said. “Come back and ask me in a couple years if I’m managing to do it, but thinking like that is something I learned at ICI.”