Ira Colby '71, H '10, and Deborah Norton Colby '72
By Claire Burns
When Ira and Deborah Colby envision tomorrow's world, they foresee a greater need than ever before for skilled practitioners in their life's work – social work. The stakes are high in the quality of human life, as Ira, dean of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, describes. "Social workers deal with people facing incredible difficulties – substance abuse, child abuse, aging, end of life, veterans' issues and more. Social workers must help them navigate these minefields and find the best solutions. It's not easy. They need more than a good heart. It's critical that they have excellent education and high competence to understand human relationships, fragility of the human psyche, and much more. Getting it wrong could destroy a person's life."
Ira and Deborah have deep commitments to excellence in social work, including the education of skilled professionals. He has spent his career in social work education. She has been a social work practitioner and administrator. Recently, they added a new dimension to that commitment through a planned gift to Springfield College. Their contribution will support scholarships for master of social work (MSW) students who focus on youth and family services. It is the largest pledge that the College has received for the School of Social Work.
"We both believe that the future wellbeing of our society rests with young people. Everyone benefits when young people are given every opportunity to grow, excel and maximize their potential. I would advise any persons who find themselves in a position to help someone realize their dream of getting their degree to do it," says Ira.
"The School of Social Work greatly appreciates the planned gift from Ira and Debra Colby. Scholarship resources will enable us to provide financial support to outstanding graduate social work students," said Francine J. Vecchiolla, Ph.D., dean of the school.
The Colbys speak highly of the Springfield College School of Social Work MSW program. It is a practice-directed curriculum that differs from most MSW programs, which are research-based. "Springfield College has been well known for many years as a school that really knows how to do this. Practice informs research, just as research informs practice. Springfield has carved out a niche that is so needed across the country," Ira says. He finds the emphasis on engagement a reflection on Springfield College's historic humanics philosophy – sprit, mind, and body in service to others.
Social work serving youth and families, the focus of the Colby's endowed scholarship, is an area of practice important to both Ira and Deborah. She is Triad Program Director for Harris County (Texas) Protective Services for Children and Adults/Youth Services Division and has held a succession of increasingly responsible positions in social work serving youth and families since earning her MSW. Ira, who began his career in youth services, points out that effective social work with youth is an investment in their lifelong wellbeing and can preclude, or mitigate, their need for social services later in life.
Youth leadership development is the field in which the Colbys both earned their bachelor's degrees at Springfield College and began their careers. Even though there were no degree programs in social work at the College then, Ira points out that there was a social work focus to most courses in their major. That sowed the seeds that blossomed into their distinguished careers.
"Springfield College is an important place to both of us," says Ira. "We began our lives together there, both as a couple and in our professions. Without Springfield College, we wouldn't be where we are today." Deborah adds that they will celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary this year and says, "Springfield College helped us develop into the people that we are -- spirit, mind, and body."