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Tanya Rhodes Smith - University of Connecticut. West Hartford, CT, US

Tanya Rhodes Smith

Instructor in Residence and Director, Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work | University of Connecticut

West Hartford, CT, UNITED STATES

Tanya Rhodes Smith specializes in policy development, nonprofit administration, voter engagement and legislative advocacy.


Tanya Rhodes Smith, MSW is an Instructor in Residence at the School of Social Work. She teaches in the policy practice concentration in the areas of program planning and evaluation, political advocacy and political social work. Tanya is the director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work. Her areas of specialization include policy development, nonprofit administration, voter engagement and legislative advocacy.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Electoral Participation

Social Workers in Elected Office

Voter Registration, Education and Outreach in Community Agencies

Nonproift Adminstration

Political Advocacy

Education (2)

University of Connecticut: MSW, Social Work 2000

University of Connecticut: B.S., Economics, Math 1988

Languages (2)

  • English
  • Spanish

Affiliations (4)

  • Social Venture Partners CT : Partner
  • TheConnectedCitizen.org : Co-founder
  • Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition : Board Member and co-chair Public Policy Committee
  • School Volunteer Associates Bridgeport : Student Mentor






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Media Appearances (5)

Opinion: Voting is power. Make it easier.

The Connecticut Mirror  online


On November 8, Connecticut voters will decide whether our state should consider early voting. Unlike most states, our state Constitution limits voting in each election to one day. The only way for the Connecticut General Assembly to consider early voting here is if Connecticut voters choose YES to the ballot question: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?”

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Episode 92: Healthy Democracy, Healthy People

UConn 360 Podcast  online


This week, we sit down with Tanya Rhodes Smith, director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work in the UConn School of Social Work. She tells us about how social work is inherently political, how social workers can help make positive changes for individuals and society, and how research indicates that higher rates of voter participation correlate with better overall health in people. Also, back by semi-popular demand, we journey into the mists of UConn’s past for a new installment of something we’re not calling Tom’s History Corner.

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UConn Hartford Power Voting Corps Plays Important Role in Historic Election Day

UConn Today  online


For five hours, students provided hot chocolate, coffee, snacks, crayons, hand warmers, and stickers to the hundreds of Hartford voters who in some cases waited hours to vote in the cold, according to Humphreys Institute director Tanya Rhodes Smith. The student volunteers answered questions, looked up polling sites for unsure voters, and ensured individuals with disabilities had accommodations to vote.

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Social Work Students on ‘Front Lines’ in Connecticut’s Congressional Offices

UConn Today  online


Field placements are an integrated part of the School of Social Work’s master’s program – giving students insight into the wide range of possibilities for social work employment, and providing the opportunity to integrate the theory students learn in the classroom with real-world practice. The School of Social Work’s Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work – which works to increase the political participation and power of all social workers and the communities they serve – supports and enhances engagement and collaboration between social workers and the field of political participation.

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A Voice Through Voting

UConn Today  online


Tanya Rhodes Smith ’88 (CLAS), ’00 MSW, director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work at UConn’s School of Social Work, responds: “There is a widespread narrative that your vote won’t make a difference. But elected officials pay attention to people and communities that vote. When people stay home, so does their power. And that has consequences.”

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Articles (5)

The Voter Engagement Model: Preparing the Next Generation of Social Workers for Political Practice

Journal of Social Work Education

2021 Although voting is a fundamental mechanism through which Americans engage with their democracy, social workers often do not see it as a valid component of practice. Voting is an important source of political power and provides a means to ensure equitable representation. Educating social work students on how they can encourage voter engagement within practice is an important step to rectifying this missed opportunity. This article describes the implementation of a voter engagement model in social work education. Pre- and post-tests from 475 participants demonstrate the efficacy of this model in increasing social work students’ perceived importance of voting to their practice, their likelihood of voting in future elections, and their likelihood of engaging others in voting in future elections.

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Training Social Workers for Political Engagement: Exploring Regional Differences in the United States

Journal of Teaching in Social Work

2020 Social workers are challenged by the profession’s Code of Ethics to engage in social and political action to create social change, and social work education is challenged by our Code and accreditation standards to prepare students for this challenge. Social policy instructors often need to adapt teaching methods in order to account for differences in the political and social context within which they are teaching. This study uses the Civic Participation Model [CPM] to assess the regional differences in a political social work training offered in two strikingly different locations in the Eastern and Western United States. This paper describes a case example of an adaptation of a political social work training to a new context that varies significantly in a number of ways from the one in which it was created, including geography, ideology, density, and political structure. Outcomes are discussed, and the article proposes research questions for a larger follow-up study of political social work trainings in a series of diverse geographic areas of the country.

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Voting is Social Work: Voices From the National Social Work Voter Mobilization Campaign

Journal of Social Work Education

2019 The National Social Work Voter Mobilization Campaign, also known as Voting is Social Work, involved social work faculty, field educators, practitioners, and students in a nonpartisan voter engagement drive. Following the 2018 elections, researchers surveyed Campaign participants in social work schools and agencies to document their voter engagement activities.The study reported extent and amount of their involvement. The survey distinguished between the voter engagement participation of school- versus agency-based social workers, which has not been studied elsewhere. Participants also reported the benefits of political participation to individuals, communities, and the profession and perceived barriers such as organizational constraints, fears of appearing partisan, and distrust of politics. Presented in historical context, the findings highlight the need to mainstream voter engagement throughout social work education.

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‘Politics is social work with power’: training social workers for elected office

Social Work Education

2018 Training social workers for leadership roles in electoral campaigns and political offices increases the profession’s effectiveness in promoting public policy that reflects our professional values and commitment to social justice. This research describes and evaluates an educational experience in the US that prepares social work practitioners and students to run for elected office; to work in leadership positions at the local, state, and federal levels; and serve as effective advocates for social change. Participants’ plans for future political engagement before and after the training were compared. Following the training, participants are more likely to plan to be politically active in general. Their intentions to work on campaigns, run for office, and engage with elected officials increased. These results can inform education in other social work settings.

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Collective Power to Create Political Change: Increasing the Political Efficacy and Engagement of Social Workers

Journal of Policy Practice

2017 Because social workers are called to challenge social injustices and create systemic change to support the well-being of individuals and communities, it is essential that social workers develop political efficacy: belief that the political system can work and they can influence the system. This study explored the impact of an intensive political social work curriculum on political efficacy and planned political engagement among social work students and practitioners. The findings suggest this model of delivering a political social work curriculum effectively increases internal, external, and overall political efficacy, and that increasing political efficacy has promise for increasing future political engagement.

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