Marilyn L. Flynn

Transformational leader and strategic visionary for social work education, government and nonprofits

Marilyn L. Flynn is a transformational leader whose career has spanned appointments in higher education; consulting on strategic planning for county governments and nonprofit organizations; practice in mental health and school social work; and membership on numerous boards at the local, national and international levels.

She was appointed dean of social work at the University of Southern California in 1997, only the second woman to hold this position in the school’s nearly 100-year history. During her tenure, Flynn established new graduate academic centers in San Diego and West Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center, and in 2010, launched the Virtual Academic Center, a web-based Master of Social Work degree, inaugurating USC as the first truly national program in the profession. Her legacy includes creating the first military social work specialization in a major civilian research university, introducing ground-breaking changes in field education for the more than 3,000 students now enrolled at USC and starting the first career services program for social workers focused on non-traditional occupational settings. Flynn has significantly expanded the school’s Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services and recruited a nationally recognized faculty to conduct clinical and intervention studies in health, mental health, aging and child maltreatment. Under her leadership, the school’s full-time faculty has increased from 23 to 100, who now offer graduate instruction on campus and across the nation in 38 states. She is also credited with starting the nationally respected Flynn Prize to recognize interdisciplinary research that has achieved high social impact.

Prior to USC, she was director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research and director of the School of Social Work at Michigan State University, with faculty appointments at the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Flynn received her MSW and PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana, with specializations in social work, social policy and public finance.
Within the profession, Flynn helped found the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, and serves on its Grand Challenges Executive Planning Committee, and was the first president of the St. Louis Group, representing most U.S. schools of social work in major research institutions. Flynn is also faculty member of the New York Academy of Medicine Leadership Training Program and organizer of the Islandwood Roundtables, designed to advance science in the social work profession, doctoral education and the professoriate. As president of the board of directors for the national Network for Social Work Management, she organized, funded and implemented the 2008 Institute on Management Training, and expanded regional membership of the organization to include new chapters in San Diego, Los Angeles and New Jersey. Flynn is recent past president of the board for the Los Angeles Center for Nonprofit Management.

In 2012, Flynn received NASW’s International Sarnat Award for Public Advancement of Social Work. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the USC Provost’s Prize for Educational Innovation and received President Obama’s National Award for Community and Volunteer Service.

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