Dr. Cornelius Recognized for Decades of Industry Work

Dr. Llewellyn Cornelius with Dean Hong and University of Chicago Vice Provost Johnson at AASWSW on January 13, 2024

Dr. Llewellyn Cornelius with Dean Hong and University of Chicago Vice Provost Johnson at AASWSW on January 13, 2024

Spotlighting Service: UGA Professor, Researcher Recognized for Decades of Industry Work

Yours in service.

They are only three words, but Llewellyn Cornelius uses this signature to conclude his email messages to the colleagues, students and individuals he serves on a daily basis. In his more than 30 years spent in social work and higher education, Cornelius has lived out the phrase by completing research and assisting a number of populations, while building a rich curriculum vitae and long list of awards.

Last month, the list got a bit longer.

Cornelius was inducted to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) on Jan. 13. He is the first and only UGA Social Work professor to receive the distinction. The Donald L. Hollowell Distinguished Professor of Social Justice and Civil Rights Studies was one of eight fellows inducted in 2024, joining an exclusive list of social justice and social work professionals.

The distinction places Cornelius with the 137 top researchers, scholars and practitioners of the field, but he doesn’t let the accolade shift his focus from his signature.

“I got to that point as a reminder that I entered this profession to be of service to others,” Cornelius said. “Even though I am this fellow, when I get in this car to go down to the Georgia coast to do (research), I am not the AASWSW fellow. I’m a guy who’s excited to have them tell me a story that is historically important and relevant for them.

“Every day I remind myself of that. That’s why I came into social work.”

A body of work

The School’s Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights Director, Cornelius’s research specialties include racial and ethnic health disparities, social determinants of health, and the development of change interventions. His busy 2024 research slate focuses on serving the underserved and beyond.

One such project studies economic justice, where Cornelius works with rural Georgia communities to look at factors including water toxicity and pollution. He has engaged with individuals in Glynn and MacIntosh counties for six years, and current work takes his community engagement and qualitative research to paint a picture of the impacts of these topics on citizens.

This blends with a current land and cultural dispossession project he’s conducting with colleagues at Loyola University and DePaul University. In this study, Cornelius examines the impact of this problem in several Latin American Countries and indigenous tribes in North America (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10875549.2023.2217807), Within Georgia his work focuses on efforts to take land from individuals on Sapelo Island who have held land on the isle for over 100 years.

A different research project brings Cornelius to different waters. He’s completing a Flint River Farms Resettlement Project in Montezuma, Ga., where he is recording interviews that detail the history of resettlement of the 106 families who received land and funding to develop for farming during the FDR administration.

These interviews capture the history from the 19th century to 2023, and they will eventually be hosted on StoryCorps.org, an online archive of stories that allow anyone and everyone to tell their stories of humanity and possibility stored in conjunction with the U.S. Library of Congress. The project has led to training sessions with individuals on the Georgia coast on how to tell and upload their stories to the library.

“It’s really a neat thing to hear the storytelling from people’s point of view,” Cornelius said. “It’s actually leading to us doing some training with community persons on how to use the StoryCorps app to put yourself on the Library of Congress site.”

Closer to home, Cornelius continues work with the East Athens Development Corporation (EADC), an organization he’s worked with since 2015. The partnership runs several projects in economic empowerment and youth economic development, as well as housing affordability grant work.

Additionally, Cornelius and colleague Jane McPherson are planning for the 2025 Art and Education for Social Justice Symposium. The event is held every two years in conjunction with the UGA Lamar Dodd School of Art and Florida State University, as Athens and Tallahassee play rotating hosts. It serves as a place to advance the industry through scholars and practitioners.

“We’re just excited to bring it back to UGA,” Cornelius said. “We collected information from the folks at the last symposium of where the field should go, and we’re using those themes to frame what the themes should be in 2025.”

Honoring a career of service

It was the collection of projects like these that led to his AASWSW fellowship. Comparable to a nomination to the Academy of Science, the AASWSW’s induction ceremony was a celebration of the hard work and dedication of Cornelius and the other fellows.

Between the speakers and celebration, Cornelius rekindled relationships he made throughout his career. Conversations with fellow inductees and members, including a former colleague at the University of Maryland, a classmate from his graduate school days and his Ph.D. dissertation chair, brought Cornelius back to his beginnings as a social worker.

“It was a wonderful full-circle moment,” Cornelius said. “It was like a family reunion and a grad school reunion.”

The academy conducts research and impacts policy as a collective in addition to the various projects its fellows complete at their respective universities and organizations. Speakers challenged Cornelius and others to elevate their work in the field as they enter a space for change.

“The incoming AASWSW President was really pressing us not just to continue doing data science, artificial intelligence and evidence-based research and practice,” Cornelius said. “But he really pressed us about social impact – that now more than ever the Academy has needed to play a leadership role in providing an interface for leaders to receive knowledge and experience around where the field needs to be in the next generation.”

Cornelius is using his leadership role to make an impact. From molding students into future scholars and practitioners in his courses or serving communities across the country in his years as a researcher, impact is at the forefront of this newly-crowned AASWSW fellow.

“At the end of conversations, I try to remind myself to ask the following question, ‘What can I do to help?’” Cornelius said. “It’s about how you help others find hope in a changing world. And this world is changing.”

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