Joanne Sobeck

Joanne Sobeck

Associate Professor, Associate Dean for Research; Director, Center for Social Work Research

(313) 577-4439

Joanne Sobeck


Prior to joining the faculty, Dr. Sobeck was on staff at the Addiction Research Institute for 15 years. While there, she conducted research that examined predictors of adolescent alcohol and other drug use and tested prevention strategies implemented in large community contexts and school-based settings. Since joining the Wayne State University School of Social Work, her research has expanded to include capacity building with nonprofit organizations, applications of evidence-based programs in community settings, and processes related to program development, implementation science, and evaluation.

Dr. Sobeck is the Associate Dean for Research and Director for the Center for Social Work Research, where she directs strategies related to building infrastructure to support faculty research and engaging community partnerships to develop and evaluate best practices in social work interventions. She is active in the American Indian community and serves on several nonprofit boards. Her combined experiences and publications in community-based research and capacity building provide a strong basis for her teaching, mentoring, and commitment to fulfilling the School's urban mission.

Curriculum Vitae

Degrees and Certifications

  • Ph.D., Political Science, Wayne State University
  • M.S.W., Policy, Planning and Administration, Western Michigan University
  • B.S.W., Northern Michigan University

Teaching Interests

  • Social research
  • Program development in community practice and social action
  • Social work community practice methods
  • Resource development in community practice and social action
  • Substance abuse and public policy

Areas of Expertise


  • Quantitative
  • Case study method


  • Non-Profit Organizations
  • Native Americans


  • Substance abuse prevention and treatment
  • Capacity-building strategies and models for nonprofits
  • Implementation science
  • Needs assessment, program development and evaluation



  • Nonprofits
  • Substance abuse
  • Community-based research

Research Project

Evaluation and Capacity Building with the Focus HOPE: Neighborhood Network

In its third year, this collaborative project is building the capacity of the Focus: HOPE Neighborhood Network and evaluating the implementation processes and outcomes for participating residents and agency partners with the aim to increase economic self-sufficiency.  The Neighborhood Network is a unique model of service delivery that assesses needs, creates a person-centered solution-focused plan, and connects residents with warm transfers to support service utilization. The model moves seven nonprofit organizations toward a new way of doing business that opens opportunities for residents to achieve their goals.  Residents access the services of all organizations through a single point of entry, and where data is shared in real time regarding progress of participating residents moving to self-sufficiency. The evaluation team uses multiple methods to assess and support the Network including web-based surveys of stakeholders, mail surveys and Word Cafés with residents and a case study approach to understand the contextual conditions that are relevant to the evaluation of the program. Social work students have been involved with developing an implementation manual to improve practice fidelity, facilitating professional development and working with staff and residents to gather feedback on the successes and challenges.

Wayne Together Collaborative: Child Welfare Learning and Leadership Development
The School of Social Work is partnering with the Michigan Department of Human Services, with a focus on Wayne County, to be at the forefront to invest more, engage longer, look to the future, and hone the education and training for current and prospective child welfare workers in southeastern Michigan. The “Wayne Together” goal is to select up to 15 students per year for each of the five years, for a total of 75 students and become a sustainable education and training exchange between the University and the Department of Human Services for Wayne County, directly addressing child welfare career and workforce development. By selecting the best students, generating integrated learning opportunities, using Independent Development Plans (IDPs), and creating connections between faculty, students, graduates, and child welfare workers, the WTC program is set to launch the next generation of staff to become the region’s leaders in child welfare. Dr. Sobeck and Dr. Najor-Durack (Co-PIs) also support evidence-based child welfare practice by facilitating professional development and providing coaching to the existing child welfare workforce in Wayne County.
University and Community Partnerships
With the increasing emphasis on evidence-based practice, partnerships between universities and communities can produce exciting internal and external opportunities for collaboration. Knowing why, when and how to invest in these partnerships is important for stakeholders in both settings. This research applies theoretically driven factors such as motivation, external environment, organizational characteristics and resources to assess partnership viability and sustainability. Using case study methodology, this research seeks to identify principles for effective research and teaching collaborations as well as challenges of creating community-engaged partnerships. Trends in the types of partnerships and the processes that are used to meet the objectives are also examined. Finally, this research documents the impacts of partnerships. How has the practice in the agency partner changed? What publications have resulted? How much external funding has been generated through partnerships?

Capacity Building Research

This research is an ongoing effort to understand how nonprofits, particularly grassroots organizations, emerge, evolve and change over time. This research has been realized through multiple studies including a longitudinal evaluation of a capacity building program for nonprofits, case studies to examine a staged model of capacity building, a cost effectiveness study, and two surveys of nonprofits reaching over 500 organizations. Combined with practice experience of working with nonprofits, this research is helping to build a framework for capacity building and the identification of factors that influence organizational readiness for change and growth.

For further details on other research, see Center for Social Work Research:

Office Location

5447 Woodward Avenue, Rm 189

Courses Taught

SW 8065 Advanced Systems Theories and Policies

Grand Challenges Project

A Strong Child Welfare Workforce
Sobeck and director of field education, Anwar Najor-Durack, are working to promote a strong child welfare workforce in Michigan through Wayne Together – Child Welfare Learning and Leadership Collaborative in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Aimed at increasing recruitment and retention in this vital workforce area, the federally funded initiative trains select M.S.W. students for child welfare positions with an expanded curriculum and a rotational field education placement in child protection, foster care, and adoption. It also provides coaching, workshops, and continuing education to publicly and privately employed child welfare staff in Wayne County.
Now completing its third year, the collaborative receives support from partners that include the Wayne County Department of Health and Human Services, Vista Maria, Judson Center, The Children’s Center, Christ Child House and Forever Families. In addition to coursework and field training, the program offers lunch-and-learn sessions, career development workshops, and self-care activities as a means of coping with the stress of child welfare work. Students selected to join the program earn a stipend to assist with tuition and other educational expenses. Learn more

Empowering Medically Underserved Areas
Across Michigan, a health care workforce shortage has made access to quality health services a persistent problem. To address this work force shortage and its impacts, Wayne State University with HRSA funding established the Michigan Area Health Education Center (MI-AHEC) as part of the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Program, a federal initiative launched in 1972. The goal of MI-AHEC is to improve community health and strengthen Michigan’s economy. This is done through a network of regional centers that foster pipeline programming to support students’ interest in and preparation for health careers, support for community-based training, and targeted recruitment and retention efforts. The School of Social Work has taken a leadership role in the statewide community engagement effort through the contributions of Smith-Darden and Joanne Sobeck, associate dean for research. Given the complexity of serving rural and urban populations, Sobeck and Associate Professor Joanne Smith-Darden have partnered with four of the five regional centers to assess community readiness and capacity to discuss barriers to primary health care and explore strategies for engaging in dialogues with communities to find solutions. In addition to providing technological support, methodological and analytical consultation and training, data analysis, and other key forms of assistance, they have facilitated 12 community engagement events and shared insights from their work with the MI-AHEC at the 2017 Society for Social Work Research Conference in New Orleans. Learn more

A Voice for Flint Residents
For the public health community, an adequate response to the Flint water crisis requires not only the provision of a safe water supply and long-term health care and monitoring, but careful attention to residents’ emotional and psychosocial responses. Because giving residents a role in the public health response is critical to this support, School of Social Work faculty have brought community engagement expertise to The Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP), a multidisciplinary group of institutions and individuals working to identify and reduce exposure to Legionella bacteria in Flint residences and institutions. Sobeck, Professor Poco Kernsmith, and Associate Professor for Research Joanne Smith-Darden are making sure that Flint residents who participate in FACHEP site testing feel heard and have help accessing solutions and resources to address their most pressing concerns. With funding from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Sobeck, Kernsmith and Smith- Darden developed a survey to be administered at the time of water collection to assess behavioral health needs and connect residents with needed services. Working in three-person teams, social work-trained community specialists have used the survey to conduct nearly 200 interviews with Flint-area residents. Recruitment and data collection are assisted by M.S.W. advisor Tamarie Willis and two M.S.W. student interns, who have received guidance from Lecturer Susan Lebold in identifying ways that health inequities are exacerbated by socially unjust actions. The study ended in December 2017 and investigators will present results to Flint residents, partners, agencies, and professional groups such as the Society for Social Work Research and the American Public Health Association. Learn more

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