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Kalea Benner appointed dean of IU School of Social Work

Kalea Benner, associate dean of academic and student affairs and the Doris Y. Wilkinson Distinguished Professor in Social Work Education at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, has been named dean of the Indiana University School of Social Work, effective June 15.

Kalea Benner. Photo courtesy Kalea Benner Kalea Benner. Photo courtesy Kalea Benner Benner will also serve as a professor on the IU School of Social Work faculty and joins the Indianapolis campus just before the official launch of IU Indianapolis. She succeeds Jeffry Thigpen, who has served as interim dean since August 2023, when Tamara Davis stepped down after serving as dean since 2018.

“With her extensive leadership experience and research focus on child welfare and mental health, Kalea Benner is well-positioned to lead the IU School of Social Work,” IU President Pamela Whitten said. “From shaping academic programs to drive student success and expanding the scope and impact of research efforts, Dr. Benner will help IU advance our IU 2030 priorities and further strengthen the many ways this statewide school serves communities across the state of Indiana.”

As the oldest university-affiliated school of social work in the nation, the Indiana University School of Social Work is based on the Indianapolis campus. It serves communities and students with programs on IU campuses across the state of Indiana, including Indianapolis, Bloomington, Gary, New Albany, Fort Wayne and South Bend.

“At this pivotal time for IU Indianapolis, Kalea brings the combination of leadership, research excellence and working experience as a social worker that will propel the School of Social Work to make an even stronger impact, improving people’s lives,” IU Indianapolis Chancellor and Executive Vice President Latha Ramchand said. “Kalea’s expertise will serve the school well as it grows its culture of scholarly excellence, sharpens its focus on student success, and creates new opportunities for engagement, research and training of the next generation of social workers.”

Benner’s current responsibilities span fiscal, development, academic and research areas. During her tenure at the University of Kentucky, she oversaw and contributed to overall growth in enrollment, research initiatives, budget and personnel as she directed both graduate and undergraduate studies, as well as publishing and presenting her work nationally and internationally. In her previous role at the University of Missouri, she directed the Bachelor of Social Work program in the School of Social Work. As a licensed clinical social worker, her practice experience focused on the intersection of child welfare and mental health, reflecting her research interests as well.

“I am grateful and honored to be selected as the next dean of the IU School of Social Work,” Benner said. “The school’s dedication to excellence and to providing an unparalleled academic experience positions graduates to serve individuals, families and communities across Indiana, the region and the world.

“I look forward to working with faculty and staff as we advance the goals of the IU 2030 strategic plan and continue building partnerships that allow us to strengthen research, support our students, faculty and staff, and advance well-being for all.”

Benner has been recognized for excellence in teaching, advising and mentorship. She is also a triple recipient of the University of Kentucky Inclusive Excellence Award, for 2017, 2018 and 2019. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in social work from the University of Missouri.