Avila University
AU Spotlight
Submitted May 11, 2010
Avila professor of social work travels world in
name of aiding people and teaching students

Elaine Wright, Ph.D.,
Professor of Social Work
Member of Avila since 2008

Elaine Wright loves a good adventure.

Through her countless endeavors in social work – be it as a social services coordinator for families, a counselor for at-risk youth, or university professor – Wright has enjoyed dozens of adventures in some of the most exotic and interesting places on earth over nearly two decades.

Her most recent escapade took her to Munich, Germany, where she spoke at a ceremony March 17 commemorating the 20th anniversary of international cooperation between the Katholische Stiftungsfachhochschule (KSFH) and the Kent School of Social Work in Louisville, Ky., where Wright, currently an assistant professor of social work at Avila University, previously matriculated. Wright attended the event over spring break, traveling to Germany with her parents.

“During 1995-98, when I was working on my master’s at the Kent School of Social Work, I participated in the international exchange program with KSFH,” said Wright, who started at Avila in the fall of 2008. “I did so again in 2002-07 during my Ph.D. work. I visited twice but also helped facilitate visits by other international guests and in bringing German students over here.

“With each experience, I was greatly impressed with the program and its participants. I believe the collaboration between the two schools is a role model program that I have since used as an example in helping other organizations develop their international exchanges.”

Avila could be the beneficiary of her experiences in Germany and relationships built with KSFH in the near future, she said.

“KSFH is very interested in creating a relationship with Avila now,” she said.

With a background of working in outdoor settings as therapeutic environments, Wright emphasizes the importance of the environment on our social well-being. She said it’s a natural extension of her “macro approach,” or big picture assessment of society as a whole.

“As a social worker, you respond to the needs of people,” she said. “The environment is something we need to be happy and healthy. It’s a very important part of protecting a community.”

Her environmental interests include conducting research on environmental attitudes and practices of social workers in different countries and the environmental discourse in social work literature. She has volunteered as a research consultant for the Community Farm Alliance on Locally Integrated Food Economies (LIFE) in her native Kentucky and is a member of the Badseed Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program here in Kansas City.

"While Avila has given me a lot of opportunities to teach, it has also created a lot of opportunities for me to learn and be creative in my teaching."

Wright’s work and travels have taken her to India, China, South Africa, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Austria, Spain, France, England, Wales, Scotland, Italy, Hungary and Russia. One of her favorite experiences involved working with at-risk youth in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“That was a really interesting time,” she said, “because it made you think about people on the other side of the border.”

She said she was near bombings between Catholic and Protestant factions while she was there, having to scuttle quickly off roads or railroad tracks to find cover.

“The people over there were so desensitized to it all,” she said. “Like it was normal.”

Wright said it was difficult to pick one locale or “adventure” that was a favorite.

“All have a fascinating story to tell,” she said. “Those who are the most different from us have the most impact. In South Africa, we visited squatter communities where homes had tin roofs. But, the people had totally generous spirits.”

As far as she knows, Wright’s best adventure might be ahead of her. She and Sr. Mary McGlone, adjunct professor of religious studies, will take 16 Avila students to Ecuador May 17-27 as part of interdisciplinary course IS/RS 360, “Ecuador: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Social Justice and Intercultural Sensitivity.” She said the students will work at a shelter for youth in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, and work at an agency for people with disabilities in Baños de Agua Santa.

“The goal is to learn a better theoretical and conceptual understanding of different perspectives on intercultural sensitivity and social justice and then also practice it in real situations,” Wright said.
Wright said she’s benefited greatly during her short tenure at Avila.

“While Avila has given me a lot of opportunities to teach, it has also created a lot of opportunities for me to learn and be creative in my teaching,” she said. “Being small, it allows more direct contact and for me to develop deeper relationships with students. I get to know them and what they need to believe in themselves and in what they can do for their communities.” AU