University News

Robert Hawkins named new SSW vice dean

An associate dean at NC State, he will take on his role at the UNC School of Social Work on July 1.

Robert Hawkins
Robert Hawkins, who starts as vice dean of the UNC School of Social Work on July 1, is motivated to make the school the best in the country.

Robert L. Hawkins, associate dean for academic and faculty affairs at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at NC State University, will take on the new position of vice dean at the UNC School of Social Work, effective July 1.

A native of Henderson, North Carolina, Hawkins holds a Master of Public Administration from the UNC School of Government and a master’s in social welfare policy and doctorate in social policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. At the New York University Silver School of Social Work, he was assistant dean and director of undergraduate education for seven years before being named associate dean for academic and faculty affairs. He held an endowed chair in poverty for 14 of his 18 years at NYU.

“This is a homecoming of sorts,” Hawkins said about his return to Carolina.

Hawkins reflected on the research and leadership opportunities that took him to 24 countries, sharing the gratitude he felt for where his education led him.

“I have been exposed to things that a little boy from Henderson who didn’t have running water and worked with his mom and sisters in tobacco fields should not have ever dreamed of. I have been fortunate in so many ways. But I’ve also experienced tremendous injustice,” he said. “What I’d like to do is to give others access to some of the opportunities I had but try to reduce the number of injustices they experience.”

Navigating growth

At NYU, Hawkins led a team focused on strategic affairs, policy development and academic excellence across a broad range of business functions, including six academic program directors and adjunct faculty.

At NC State, Hawkins helps set policy, expand global experiences and create mentoring opportunities. He also oversees faculty affairs and high-impact practices and procedures for a college housing 19 programs and 4,000 students, including a social work program.

He will be responsible for many of the same areas at Carolina.

“We look forward to drawing on Robert’s mission-driven leadership in this new position for the school,” Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson said. “Our team has grown by 30% since I came to Chapel Hill in 2021 as a direct result of our continued growth in research impact and national status as educators. Robert’s deep experience as an administrator, strategic planner, policymaker and collaborative partner in both private and public higher education settings will help us navigate the path we have developed together as a community under our recent strategic planning process.”

Hawkins shared his excitement about the innovation of the new position and at the school in general.

“People are doing really important work at the school,” he said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues and the school’s partners to think outside the box about how to have an impact as social workers and researchers.”

Family time

Outside of academia, Hawkins and his wife, Eri, watch a classic film every week. They enjoy scary movies, mysteries, documentaries and true crime narratives, while keeping up with their daughter, who is entering a Master of Social Work program in the fall, and son, a writer for Politico. They also talk about many of the same things he invests his time on professionally.

“My wife and I really care about social justice. Our dinner conversations are about structural racism. We talk about gender bias. We talk about violence against women,” Hawkins said. “She is a psychotherapist, but a social worker first, an expert on interpersonal violence and trauma. We talk about what we care about.”

Learn more about Hawkins in this Q&A from the UNC School of Social Work.