Dr. Strom-Gottfried is a distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is also renowned for her focus on professional integrity.

by Leslie Hunter-Gadsden, M.A. ’01

Kim Strom-Gottfried, M.S.W. ’81, Ph.D., LCSW, did not initially set her sights on becoming a social worker. Then, as an undergraduate majoring in sociology at the University of Maine, she had two experiences she described as “transformative”: literacy work in a county jail and working at a suicide hotline. Studying for a master’s degree at the Adelphi University School of Social Work “ended up being perfect in terms of working in suicide prevention,” she said.

Today Dr. Strom-Gottfried is at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, where she serves as the Smith P. Theimann Distinguished Professor for Ethics and Professional Practice in the School of Social Work and associate director of the Academic Leadership Program in the UNC Institute of Arts and Humanities. She is known for her focus on professional ethics and what she calls moral courage, the “centerpiece of my work,” she said, explaining that, as professionals, “It’s not enough to know the right thing, but to do it. It’s not about whistle-blowing, but about everyday acts of courage and supporting people who are doing the right thing.”

Thinking back to her early career, when she directed emergency services at a rural mental health center in northern Maine, Dr. Strom-Gottfried said, “It was an experience where you had to be able to do everything: crisis calls, speaking about suicide and sexual assault. It was a great lesson. There were a lot of ethical issues related to service provision in small communities, confidentiality, boundaries. I learned from the ground up how to help people navigate from the purity of ethics standards in writing to the complexities of these [standards] in reality.”

Dr. Strom-Gottfried applies some of that early expertise to her current experience teaching and training in ethics and looking at “how we reconcile the challenges of practice with our ethical standards.” At UNC Chapel Hill, she has a regular faculty role teaching direct and macro practice, communities, organizations and human resource management as well as training the next generation of academic leaders. Dr. Strom-Gottfried notes, “Most of the time, faculty don’t come into the field expecting to move up the ladder of success and become administrators. My role is to cultivate the next generation of academic leaders, to help develop people to become directors of graduate studies, deans and associate deans.”

She said serving in an endowed professorship named after Smith P. Theimann is special because “he respected his clients and taught other people to respect them.”

This article appeared in Impact, the School of Social Work Newsletter

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