Michael S. Spencer

Ballmer Endowed Dean in Social Work
PhD, University of Washington

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Michael Spencer was appointed dean of the UW School of Social Work in July 2023—the first Native Hawaiian dean at the UW. He recently served as director of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Oceanic Affairs at the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, a UW School of Social Work-based research center.

Spencer is a UW Presidential Term Professor in Social Work and has served as the co-chair for the Grand Challenges for Social Work in both Close the Health Gap and Eliminate Racism. In 2023, he co-authored Social Work and the Grand Challenge to Eliminate Racism, a compilation of perspectives from leading researchers on various forms of racism and its impact on racial groups.

Spencer received his PhD from the University of Washington in Social Welfare in 1996. Prior to returning to the UW, Spencer served as the Fedele F. Fauri Collegiate Professor of Social Work and associate dean for educational programs at the University of Michigan. He is of Native Hawaiian descent and is a 1983 graduate of the Kamehameha Schools.

His research examines health and wellness among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, focusing on interventions that promote health among Native Hawaiians through Indigenous practices and values. His research examines the added benefit of integrating Native Hawaiian healers into primary care in Waimanalo, O’ahu. He also works with colleagues at the University of Hawai’i to promote food security and well-being through the use of backyard aquaponics systems in Waimanalo among Native Hawaiians.     

Since 2005, he served as principal investigator of the REACH Detroit Family Intervention, an NIH and CDC-funded, community-based, participatory research (CBPR) project, which aims to reduce disparities in Type 2 diabetes through the use of community health workers serving African American and Latino residents in Detroit. He has taught courses in diversity, social justice and community practice. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) and the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) and serves as the co-chair for the Indigenous cluster and special interest group for SSWR.