Meet Nathan Stephens, who comes to the School of Social Work as our new faculty member. He has worked for almost 14 years in diversity, social justice, and multicultural affairs areas within the field of Student Affairs, including three and half years as the former director of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Stephens has also worked at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale as the director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence for over three years and as the senior coordinator of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri for almost seven years. He has taught social work courses at the University of Missouri, William Woods University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to entering higher education, he worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, Parks and Recreation, University Behavioral Health Services’ adolescent clinic, and GRO-Grassroots Organizing of Missouri. At Illinois State University this year , he will be teaching SWK 444: Social Justice for Diverse Populations in the falls and in the spring he’ll be teaching SWK 329: Preparing for Professional Practice and SWK 337 Generalist Practice III: Groups. Stephens will also continue his research on the impact and effects of racialized stress and trauma in communities of color. Let’s get to know him.
Why social work?
I come from a family and was raised in a community that believes in helping others. The notion of helping others was normalized and instilled in me as a young man. At church we would conclude our Sunday service with a song whose lyrics included “reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place if you can.” With that type of an upbringing, where helping others is expected, social work aligned perfectly with that. Also having the opportunity to teach emerging professionals about ways to make an impact while helping others and do research that can make a positive difference in the world is a blessing.
What do you hope to accomplish as an assistant professor within Illinois State’s social work department?
My goal is to contribute to a team of incredible faculty members and staff who are known by students for helping students. It was really meaningful for me to hear students say that they know that the Social Work faculty cares for them and are available to help them. Not only does that appeal to me as someone who spent 14 years in Student Affairs where being student centered was a job requirement.Those sentiments also appeal to me as a person or as my mother used to call me the ‘born social worker.’ My mom used to tell stories about how I wanted to help other kids in the community, and did things like giving away my clothes to those whom I deemed less fortunate. She said that I did this in spite of being from a disadvantaged background myself where my family received public assistance like food stamps, WIC, and more.
How do you feel about becoming a Redbird?
I am very excited and happy to be a part of the ‘Redbird’ family. As faculty we have many opportunities to really impact the lives and learning of our students. So I am excited to be able to engage with students where they are intrinsically motivated to reach out and connect with me. I am also excited about the emphasis that the School of Social Work and the Illinois State University campus as a whole places on community engagement. It was impressive that ISU has a Redbird Impact magazine and that the campus earned a national community engagement designation. I also look forward to engaging the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning once I get settled in.
Anything else to add?
I would just add that I am very fortunate to have the support of my family. My beautiful wife Kristen, my daughter Kaylisa, and my son Nathan Jr. They are very excited for me and my new start as a faculty member at ISU. As for pets, we have a cat named Stix and a rabbit named Waffles. So we may have to arrange a ‘play date’ between Waffles and Harold. (Harold is the School of Social Work’s unofficial mascot). My hobbies are shopping, watching football, college and professional football. By the way I am a huge Kansas City Chiefs fan! Sorry Chicago Bears but I am from Missouri and a lifelong Chiefs fan. When I have time, I also enjoy playing the board game Scrabble.