Welcome New Faculty!

Graphic of new faculty headshots

The University of Georgia welcomed its Class of 2027 to campus in August, bringing 15,300 new faces to the birthplace of public higher education in America. At the same time, the UGA School of Social Work ushered in some new members to its faculty.

The new five faculty members bring a plethora of experience – both professionally and academically – and a wide variety of research interests. Let’s take a moment to learn a little more about these new (and old) Dawgs.

Daniel Gibbs, Assistant Professor

Daniel Gibbs headshotDaniel Gibbs, who earned his master of social work and juris doctor from UGA, is making his return to the Classic City as an assistant professor.

Gibbs brings experience as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – the same school where he earned his doctorate in social work – and Winthrop University, as well as the University of South Carolina School of Social Work. A former practicing attorney, Gibbs’ research interests include systems that serve children and families, policy analysis, program evaluations and other issues related to child welfare, all of which are issues he encountered in his time around the court system.

His draw to the UGA School of Social Work was threefold: the School of Social Work’s sense of community between faculty, staff and students; connections to the practice community; and its emphasis on building a capacity for research in data science.

“I wanted to do this engaged research agenda, and I wanted to do it in a place where I was supported and liked who I worked with,” Gibbs said. “I felt like it was the place where I could do the research I want to do and be a part of a community I want to be a part of.”

Gibbs noted he would like to address issues of child-induced mental health challenges for children in formal systems of care and the increase of AI and other technology in current systems of care. Outside of campus, he looks forward to rekindling relationships with his favorite Athens locales like Cali N’ Titos, Clocked and The Globe from his time as a graduate student.

Christopher Weatherly, Assistant Professor

Christopher Weatherly headshotFaculty members with similar research interests are part of the reason Christopher Weatherly was interested in joining the UGA School of Social Work faculty.

Weatherly, who holds a doctorate in social work from Washington University in Saint Louis, brings more than a decade of clinical experience to share with students in his courses, while his research interests of climate change, mental health and rural care overlap with work in which current faculty members are currently engaged.

The Tallahassee, Florida, native has worked with patients with severe mental illness in the past, but qualitative work for his dissertation brought him to a hog farm in Arkansas, where he was able to see first-hand that stigmas about rural farmers not wanting to talk about mental health and climate change were untrue. He wants to be the link to help facilitate conversations about these topics.

But Weatherly is most excited about the classroom. He hopes to breed inspiration through his courses to enable students to make a difference.

“I love teaching so much – I’m especially excited to teach students and help them become great social workers so they can be facilitators of change in their own communities,” Weatherly said.

Yingying Zeng, Assistant Professor

Yingying Zeng headshotYingying Zeng earned degrees in multiple countries, giving her an international perspective she will be able to share with students.

Zeng, who finished her doctorate earlier this year, found that the UGA School of Social Work aligned with many of her academic aspirations, including its diverse and accomplished faculty, commitment to social justice-minded research and its strong emphasis on community outreach and engagement.

The amateur photographer brings experience teaching and researching topics of wealth disparity, financial capability, immigration and social policy – specifically social factors contributing to the marginalization of immigrants and refugees. Zeng wants to combine those interests with her experience to illuminate realities and contribute to both discussions and policies to enact change in immigration policy.

“The well-being of immigrants is a critical concern, particularly in the context of Georgia and the U.S.,” Zeng said. “I am deeply invested in understanding and addressing the challenges faced by immigrants and their families, including health impacts of immigration policies. In addition, within the immigration issue, it’s essential to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and interventions aimed at supporting immigrants.”

In addition to immigration research, Zeng hopes to further research financial capability and asset building and their impacts on individual or household outcomes, taking a closer look at the impacts of state-level social policies on financial education and inclusion.

When she’s not working on campus, Zeng enjoys cooking authentic Chinese cuisine, a way to connect to her heritage and gain inspiration for her work.

Liwei Zhang, Assistant Professor

Liwei Zhang headshotA former research assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Liwei Zhang’s research interests include the impact of economic adversity on child maltreatment and well-being, along with how financial assistance programs can mitigate these affects. She noted UGA’s commitment to equity and inclusion – and rich interactions with the community – as factors to joining the University.

While she’s a member of the UGA community, she wants her research to identify or develop economic support policies to better serve disadvantaged families and children, a topic that hits close to home. Her childhood, one marked by economic hardships, played a role in her career – and research interests – today.

“Those experiences drew me to social work, a field where empathy meets action,” Zhang said. “During my MSW days, I had the opportunity to work with diverse populations, including underserved migrant families, impoverished rural households, and individuals with severe mental health concerns.

“These experiences underscored the pervasive impact of oppression and marginalization, leading me to pursue a career in social work focused on research and teaching to combat social injustices.”

The frequent runner, biker and hiker enjoys exploring global cuisine outside of the classroom, while her favorite Athens landmarks are the uniquely painted Bulldog statues across town.

Donnetta Washington, Field Faculty

Donetta Washington headshotIt was in her freshman seminar of her undergraduate degree where Donnetta Washington was exposed to her school’s social work program, a curriculum that emerged over the others.

“Social work was the one that stood out to me,” Washington said. “It was because I was familiar with it. I knew people who had been social workers; I grew up around social workers, and it was just something that I felt that was home for me.”

Washington, who co-instructed courses during her doctoral program at Barry University, said she is thrilled to teach full-time. She brings research interests that include pediatric mental health, lethal means training and child welfare, along with project experience with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and several national conferences.

Washington plans to address child welfare issues, particularly how to equip child welfare with the tools to deal with severe child mental health and developmental issues while she’s a member of the UGA community.

The former CPS investigator and DFCS State Office Care Coordinator had two words for why she wanted to become a member of the UGA faculty: “Go Dawgs.” Washington, an avid Georgia football fan, was drawn to the University’s academic status among state schools and the job’s alignment with her future goals, along with the diverse student body that creates an enriching experience.

When she’s not watching the Dawgs with her family, Washington enjoys listening to educational and spiritual podcasts and videos.

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