Dr. Rolanda Ward was formally introduced this morning as the inaugural endowed faculty director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission at Niagara University.
Dr. Ward originally joined Niagara University as an associate professor of social work in the fall of 2015. She was appointed to lead the Ostapenko Center in August, a position that will require her to coordinate the university’s efforts to serve as a resource and leverage change on issues related to diversity, equality and social justice – both on campus and within the community.
The Ostapenko Center operates within the auspices of NU’s Office of Academic Affairs. It works in partnership with several university offices, including the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and seeks input through a community board comprised of regional leaders and an advisory council that represents external stakeholders.
“In the words of Pope Francis, we have created a center that is ‘a place of encounter,’ where we truly listen to one another, where we learn from one another, where we live, believe, act and breathe as brothers and sisters,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, during this morning’s event, which kicked off NU’s celebration of Vincentian Heritage Week. “Grounded in our mission, the center will also celebrate the living memory of St. Justin de Jacobis, a Vincentian priest and a loyal son of St. Vincent de Paul who ministered in Ethiopia and is considered an apostle to Africa.
“We are very pleased to have Dr. Ward heading up these critical initiatives – and many others – and know that you will find her to be a talented and willing collaborator.”
Since earning her doctorate in social work and sociology from Boston University, Dr. Ward has been the lead investigator or research associate on a number of studies focusing on society’s most vulnerable, underserved and proven-risk populations. These populations include foster care youths, recent parolees, child welfare workers, and healthcare providers for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
At Niagara, Dr. Ward has worked diligently to involve social work students with the Buffalo Public School system to combat chronic absenteeism. Her Niagara University Public School Collaborative trains social work students, high school students and social workers in youth development, civic engagement, leadership and youth participatory action research. The NUPSC program includes a summer leadership camp, weekly intervention lunch meetings, professional development and youth advocacy days, and directed field placements for NU social work students.
Through the Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission, Dr. Ward plans to strengthen the collaboration between Niagara University and local public schools by focusing her research agenda on educational attainment among high school students as a means to increase self-sufficiency, prosocial behaviors and community connectedness. She hopes to further enhance the project’s findings by convening students, scholars and practitioners in the field to dialogue about real-life and real-time solutions to address issues of chronic absenteeism and educational deficiencies, particularly in poor and minority communities.
Niagara University’s Ostapenko Center is named in honor of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko, a native of Germany who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s before becoming a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. Utilizing her talents as a clothing designer, Ostapenko opened The Sewing Shop in Washington, D.C., the precursor to The House of Fine Fabrics, a 17-store corporation. She sold the fabric store chain in 1978 to Fabri-Center of America.
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