January 9, 2019

Respected social work researcher, prevention expert and prolific author Steven P. Schinke, 73, died January 1 of pulmonary fibrosis. At the time of his death, he was the D’Elbert and Selma Keenan Professor of Social Work at Columbia School of Social Work and acting director of its Social Enterprise Administration Program.

Schinke began as an assistant professor at the UW School of Social Work in 1975 and later became associate professor and then full professor. While at the UW, he also served as the director of social services at what is now the Center for Human Development and Disability.

“Steve possessed an extraordinary work ethic and, in very short order, he and his team raised the profile of the School of Social Work in attracting externally funded research,” recalled School of Social Work Emeritus Professor Jim Whittaker. 

In 1986, he joined the faculty at Columbia School of Social Work where he specialized in researching health behavior among adolescents, particularly youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. One of his most recent projects, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was to research the effects of a computer-based intervention program called “Vamos,” aimed at reducing drug abuse among Hispanic adolescents. He also served as the faculty director of the Columbia School of Social Work’s online program where he successfully applied technology for teaching and learning. 

In a Columbia University video, Schinke explained his reason for his career path choice: “The pivotal point for me was taking the introductory social-work class. I remember seeing the demonstrations of social work clinical skills that were very responsive and empowered the practitioner immediately with the authority and the knowledge and the confidence to make a real difference. I realized that I could make a great contribution being a change agent and being on the front line and dealing with human problems first hand.”

Schinke also had a long-standing interest in social enterprise administration. In the 1980s, he enrolled in the executive MBA program at Columbia Business School where he learned the management, marketing and entrepreneurial skills that would assist him with promoting his applied research agenda. After leaving the MBA program to start his own business, Schinke built a successful startup to advance scientific interests in a for-profit environment. He also launched a nonprofit enterprise, which was later spun off.

Schinke earned an MSW in social work in 1972 and a PhD in social welfare in 1975, both from the University of Wisconsin, where he also earned a BA in social work. He was a proud veteran of the U.S. Air Force. 

Over the course of his career, Schinke was the recipient of many prestigious awards and honors. He was the first president of the Society for Prevention Research, which was founded in 1991. For the past 13 years while at Columbia, he was also an adjunct professor of public health at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College. He is survived by his wife Mary.

Related Links:

Columbia University School of Social Work obituary 
New York Times obituary