Iris Chi, the Chinese-American Golden Age Association/Frances Wu Chair for the Chinese Elderly at the USC School of Social Work and a senior scientist at the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging, has been named a fellow to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, the first national society honoring excellence in the research and practice of social work.
“It’s a great honor to be elected to the academy,” said Chi, who also holds a joint appointment in the USC Davis School of Gerontology. “It is one of the highest honors in the social work profession.”
Chi is among a class of 17 new fellows, who were formally inducted in a ceremony in San Antonio at the 17th Annual Conference of the Society for Social Work and Research in January.
“Academy fellows, like Iris, reflect the highest values and standards in social work and represent our profession’s greatest scholars,” said Marilyn Flynn, dean of the USC School of Social Work. “The nomination speaks to Iris’ significant career accomplishments and commitment to improving the quality of life and welfare of the elderly. We are deeply proud of this well-deserved acknowledgement.”
Other elected members from the USC School of Social Work include John Brekke, the Frances G. Larson Professor of Social Work Research; Kathleen Ell, the Ernest P. Larson Professor of Health, Ethnicity, and Poverty; and Rino Patti, dean emeritus.
Dedicated to achieving excellence in the field of social work and social welfare through high-impact work that advances social good, the academy’s first major project is the Grand Challenges for Social Work initiative that aims to tackle the world’s most challenging and persistent societal issues.
“The first thing they’ve asked fellows to do is to participate in the discussion about the Grand Challenges,” Chi said. “My research has always focused on health, aging and international social work, and those are the areas that I will give my input for the Grand Challenges.”
Chi, an expert on long-term care, chronic mental illness and suicide, and community service systems for the elderly in the United States and China, taught at the University of Hong Kong for 17 years before joining the USC School of Social Work in 2004. In 2012, she was named honorary associate director of the Sau Po Centre on Aging at the University of Hong Kong in recognition of her contributions to the field.
“The needs of older adults in modern society tend to be overlooked,” said Chi, who has participated in dozens of studies and published hundreds of articles on mental health, dementia, elderly suicide and social support. “Nonetheless, they have contributed so much to building the society for us to live comfortably. If we want to be treated well when we grow old, we need to build a caring society now.”
In addition to directing the first research and training center on aging in the region, she helped transition the Master of Social Work program to a problem-based learning model and chaired one of the largest postgraduate research programs. Based in part on her recommendations, government officials and nongovernmental organizations developed elderly suicide prevention programs, resulting in lower suicide rates among aging groups in Hong Kong and China.
At USC, she leads the China Program, an effort to encourage cultural and multidisciplinary collaboration, and views cultural exchange as critical to social work practice.
“As social workers, we can’t do a good job of helping people from another culture without understanding how the other culture perceives and reacts to a social problem,” she says. “International social work allows us to learn different ways of dealing with social problems so we are not confined to our own ways of problem solving.”
Among other accolades, the city of Hong Kong has honored Chi with the prestigious Bronze Bauhina Star for her public and community service with the city's aging population. She has also earned a Certificate of Merit for Housing Research from the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, the Outstanding Research in Gerontology Award from the Hong Kong Association of Gerontology and the Best Research of the Year Award from the Hong Kong College of General Practitioners. As a result of her extensive work and expertise, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government appointed her to the Elderly Commission, a post she held for seven years.