UConn Social Work Scholar Mogro-Wilson Achieves a Pair of ‘Firsts’ in Reaching Milestones

The first Latina to become a full professor in School history will also take the top spot at a prestigious academic journal, as the first person of color to hold the post

UConn School of Social Work professor Cristina Wilson poses for a photo in front of the School of Social Work Building on the UConn Hartford campus on Sept. 1, 2022.

UConn School of Social Work professor Cristina Mogro-Wilson poses for a photo in front of the School of Social Work Building on the UConn Hartford campus on Sept. 1, 2022. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

Cristina Mogro-Wilson, Ph.D., has reached two key milestones as a social work scholar in a short span of time: First, she was promoted to full professor at the School of Social Work, becoming the first Latina full professor in the School’s 75-year history in a promotion that took effect in August. Second, she was named editor-in-chief of Families in Society, the first journal of social work research in the United States, becoming the first person of color to hold the position.

Both accomplishments will allow Mogro-Wilson to continue to promote the culturally responsive research and practice she has pursued at UConn and throughout her career. “As a Latina social worker, I value social justice and am committed to advancing equity. In its 100-plus years of publication, I will be the first person of color appointed as editor-in-chief. That means something to the field,” she says.

“We are delighted about Dr. Wilson’s appointment to the editorship of one of the most prestigious journals in the field of social work,” says Dean Nina Rovinelli Heller. “Dr. Wilson’s significant stature as a scholar and her broad professional network position her very well for this work. Her commitment to raising the voices of scholars of color in research and scholarship will advance social work research well beyond the journal itself.”

The art and science of social work

These achievements are the culmination of a long career in social work practice and research. Mogro-Wilson received her Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Michigan, with a focus on practice with children, youth, and families in 2003, followed by a Ph.D. from the University at Albany in 2007. Her career at UConn began that year when she served as assistant professor in residence at the UConn Health Center in the School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics. In 2009, she transitioned to the School of Social Work, achieving tenure in 2015 as an associate professor.

In 2019, Mogro-Wilson was brought on to the editorial board of Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services by its then-editor in chief Sondra Fogel. Just a year later, she was promoted to associate editor. “Families in Society has played a significant role in my career,” she says. “It’s important that I uphold the journal’s existing values of teamwork, inclusiveness, creativity, and critical thought.”

I am deeply committed to transforming the academy to make it a space where women, academic mothers, and marginalized groups can find success and fulfillment. — Professor Cristina Mogro-Wilson

As editor-in-chief, Dr. Mogro-Wilson plans to increase the diversity of the journal’s editorial advisory board, reviewers, readers, and contributors. By bringing more voices and experiences to the advisory board, she hopes to re-evaluate the manuscript submission and review process with an eye toward removing barriers for scholars of color. She would also like to expand mentorship opportunities so the next generation of scholars have the support they need to become capable peer reviewers.

“It is my vision to increase the vitality and diversity of FIS though representative advisory board members, peer reviewers, manuscript authors, and – importantly – the readership,” she said. “The art, science, and practice of social work are such important elements of the discipline because they can strengthen families and communities and help all people achieve their full potential.”

The journal’s leadership agrees. “We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Mogro-Wilson, whose work as a recognized Latina scholar and expert in health disparities and culturally-responsive practice and education in racial minority populations will greatly inform the future direction of FIS,” said Dr. Jody Levison-Johnson, president and CEO of Social Current, co-publisher of FIS, in a statement.

Cultural competence — and humility

As a full professor Mogro-Wilson plans to continue her focus on culturally responsive practice and pedagogy as they relate to under-studied ethnic and racial minority groups. She is a known scholar in health disparities and prioritizes what she calls “cultural humility”.

“Cultural humility challenges us to continuously explore how our identities shape our beliefs and asks us to de-center our knowledge in favor of our clients’ experiences,” she explains. “It moves beyond just the ‘us’; it is a desire to fix power imbalances and to advocate at the more macro, community, organizational or state level.”

She brings that humility to research that aims to improve the lives of Latino families, focusing on preventable risk factors for problems such as substance misuse. Most recently she has worked to engage Latino fathers in parenting during times of stress and uncertainty, developing interventions that include fathers.

In addition to addressing challenges for families who are at-risk or have high-intensity needs, Mogro-Wilson has also promoted the concept of resilience. “In my practice as a social worker I am committed to focusing on individuals’ strengths, empowering at-risk groups, strengthening Latino families, and helping to create environments where children and youth can thrive,” she says.

Mogro-Wilson currently teaches master’s-level courses in research methods and program evaluation while also teaching in the doctoral program. She is co-principal investigator with Dr. Mary Beth Bruder of UConn Health of two five-year grants from the U.S. Department of Education to train students to focus on children with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder.

As a Latina full professor, she takes her role seriously and she’s grateful to women and faculty of color who paved the way for her. “The promotion to full professor is not about individual success, it is about the ability to harness institutional power and open doors to create opportunities for people who may otherwise not have them,” she says.  “I am deeply committed to transforming the academy to make it a space where women, academic mothers, and marginalized groups can find success and fulfillment.”