Social Work Hero: Jonathan B. Singer, Founder of the Social Work Podcast
Jonathan B. Singer is a pioneer in combining social work research and technology. His website, The Social Work Podcast, features episodes with the country’s top researchers exploring all aspects of social work. Singer started his popular website in 2007 to provide information on direct practice (both clinical and community organizing), research, policy, education and more.
The purpose of the podcast is to present useful information in a user-friendly format to anyone in a helping profession, including professionals in psychology, nursing, psychiatry, counseling and education. Singer’s connection with people is part of the unique perspective he brings to producing social work podcasts. He has conducted inspiring interviews over the years, including one with Dr. Anthony Hassan, clinical associate professor and director of the USC School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families.
Singer says one of the advantages of a career in social work is the diversity of possibilities. He was initially drawn to working with children and their families, and enjoyed the limitless variety of the job.
“Even if the kid who comes to see you is the third kid with ADHD that week,” Singer explains, “there is always something new or different.”
Singer came to social work after first rejecting the profession because he “believed in the stereotype that social workers hand out food stamps and take kids away from their parents.” Instead, he went to France as a jazz musician and later moved to Austin, Texas, where he began working in environmental community organizing. He discovered his favorite part of the job was the personal connection, but the part that fascinated him the most was trying to understand the motivation behind people’s behavior. What was it about people’s lives and identities that led them to take action?
“It was a realization that I had one day,” says Singer, “that social work was what I wanted to do.”
Soon after, he applied to the University of Texas and was initially rejected, but sought out the head of the department who then found a place for him.
Singer earned his doctorate in social work at the University of Pittsburg in 2009. From his earliest days studying social work, he incorporated technology as part of his approach to education. His interest began after a conversation with a fellow student, who suggested Singer develop a personal webpage. Through a relationship with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Singer built a website to publish statistics about children — information that is crucial for social workers writing grant applications. This was the first of a number of pro bono websites he developed.
Singer is now an assistant professor of social work in the College of Health Professionals and Social Work at Temple University. As Singer’s career progressed and he started teaching courses in social work, he realized that certain information becomes most important when students are studying for licensure exams or out in the field, so he began summarizing his lectures and turned them into a blog. Soon he was creating an archive of information that social workers from anywhere could access.
Singer has since spent more time thinking about what constitutes an effective use of technology in social work practice. He guesses that although we don’t yet know what new technology means in terms of ethical practice, social workers love using technology to experiment and determining how it can possibly make the lives of others better.