June 14, 2020

Michael Spencer (PhD ’96), Presidential Term Professor and Director of the School’s Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander & Oceanic Affairs Office, was selected to receive the 2020 Lewayne Gilchrist Doctoral Mentor Award. This honor recognizes faculty members who have dedicated their careers to the promise and success of their students.

“I am so proud to accept this award," said Spencer. “As a former UW doctoral student, I received incomparable mentorship from outstanding faculty like Lewayne Gilchrist and many others who taught me how to treat students like bright and capable people who are on a mission for promoting social justice in marginalized communities. These faculty paved the way for me to be the first Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander to graduate from the School’s doctoral program and I intend to continue to open the doors for the next generation of scholars.”  

Nomination letters from former students praised Spencer’s mentorship focused on equity and justice and highlighted his ability to create an environment where students are free to develop their own identities as scholars. One student said his presence served as “an inspiration to continue pushing through boundaries, overcome challenges and advocate for underrepresented communities in academia.”

Spencer, who joined the School of Social Work in 2018, focuses his research on promoting the health and wellness of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders through indigenous practices and values. He is currently working with the Pacific Islander community to address health and economic needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is helping local school districts promote racial justice in education, both during and post-pandemic. 

He teaches courses on diversity and social justice and research at the MSW and PhD levels. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and the Society for Social Work and Research. He serves as the co-chair for the Indigenous cluster and special interest group for SSWR and is the co-chair of the AASWSW's Closing the Health Gap Grand Challenge and the new Eradicating Racism Grand Challenge.

Before joining the School faculty, 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 graduate of the Kamehameha Schools.

The doctoral mentor award is named for Lewayne Gilchrist, professor emeritus, who was known for her commitment to student mentorship and teaching. Gilchrist was affiliated with the School from 1988, when she was its inaugural dean for research, until her death in 2018.