Unexpected Social-work Riches

  • Prosperity
  • 2016

No donor had ever given a social-work school a gift as large as $60 million. The previous high was the $50 million that Constance and Martin Silver donated to New York University’s social-work school back in 2007. But what made 2016’s record-setting benefaction to the University of Southern California School of Social Work doubly surprising was that it came from someone who is a prominent social worker herself. “Wealthy social worker” is not a phrase that gets typed often in newsrooms. Yet in addition to her work within her main profession, Suzanne Dworak-Peck was able to accumulate a fortune through real-estate investments in southern California, and a consultancy that advised film and media producers on how to portray social problems in entertainment.

The USC social-work department to which she directed her gift is the largest such school in the world. It has an enrollment of 3,500 students, and produces one out of every 20 graduate-level social workers in the U.S. Among other things, it is known for its research in aging, its correlated nursing program, and an unusual specialty in military social work. (One professor in that last USC niche was Anthony Hassan, now director of the innovative mental-health network for veterans funded by philanthropist Steven Cohen—see 2016 entry on our list of Medicine achievements.)