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Focus on immigrants marks lecturer’s work, locally and internationally

March 1st, 2022

Rebecca Thomas

Rebecca Thomas, Ph.D., will give the second Ada Schmidt-Tieszen Social Work Lecture at Bethel Friday, March 4, at 11 a.m. in Memorial Hall as part of the regular convocation series.

The public is invited. Her lecture topic is “Climate-Induced Migration and Environmental Justice.”

Thomas has a heart and mind focused on conditions facing immigrants around the world, and on training others to channel that same passion.

She is currently a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Connecticut, Hartford, where she began teaching in 2010, and director of the Center for International Social Work Studies at UConn, a position she took in 2014.

Thomas graduated from Bethel in 1989 with majors in social work and international development, and went on to earn a master of social work (MSW) degree and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Nancy Banman, Bethel associate professor of social work, nominated Thomas as the 2022 speaker for the lectureship that was endowed to honor longtime Bethel Professor of Social Work Ada Schmidt-Tieszen, Ph.D., who retired in 2020.

“While at Bethel, Rebecca was a live wire,” Banman recalled, “full of energy, studying social work and international development and maintaining solid friendships amongst the student body.

“She was in a social work cohort/class with several other young women, who [have kept] in touch despite being spread across the nation.

“Rebecca and I connected while she lived in Philadelphia, and was attending Temple University while I was at Bryn Mawr College. …

“She worked with foster care youth to prepare [them] for emancipation – powerful and influential work. My sense is she was a trailblazer in that arena.”

In her position at UConn’s School of Social Work, Thomas chairs the policy practice concentration, as well as the focused area of international social work.

She directs a joint academic program exchange between UConn and Yerevan State University in Armenia.

In the wider social work world, Thomas chairs the Global Commission of the Council on Social Work Education and represents the International Association of the Schools of Social Work on the NGO Committee on Migration at the United Nations.

Closer to home, she serves on the City of Hartford Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

Thomas’s current research and scholarship includes issues related to remittances, international development, poverty and climate-induced migration.

This has meant, most recently, serving as principal investigator on a needs assessment of the State of Connecticut’s responses to human trafficking, and collaborating with Yerevan State University to conduct research with students on Syrian refugees of Armenian descent returning to Armenia.

In 2016 and 2017, with scholars and educators from around the globe, Thomas traveled to Prato, Italy, to formulate new ideas on social work education and leadership, resulting in a book for which she co-authored a chapter entitled “Beyond the Mainstream: Diversity Leadership and Leading Diversity in Social Work Education.”

Her lecture at Bethel is open to the public, and will also be livestreamed on the Bethel YouTube channel.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #15 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #31 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest, both for 2021-22. Bethel was the only Kansas college or university selected for the American Association of College & Universities’ 2021 Institute on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, and has been named a TRHT Campus Center. For more information, see

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.