Carmen Luca Sugawara (Social Work)

IUPUI Faculty Profile: Carmen Luca Sugawara, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
IU School of Social Work

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Carmen Luca Sugawara is an associate professor with the IU School of Social Work (IUSSW). Her scholarship ranges from researching issues relating to strengthening civil society, macro-social work practice, parental involvement in post-war communities and, most recently, through her Fulbright sabbatical year she started exploring the role of higher education institutions in strengthening the local capacity for development.

International Partnerships for Social Justice and Global Solidarity

Dr. Luca Sugawara began her journey as a global community engaged educator more than a decade ago, soon after she joined the IUSSW. With a deep commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially relating to human rights and justice (#16) and partnerships for the goals (#17), she has provided new opportunities for social work students at Indiana University to strengthen their ability to engage with the world and find solutions to its most critical challenges. As Dr. Luca Sugawara nicely puts it: “One of our greatest challenges as a higher education institution is to focus on preparing students to fearlessly and willingly navigate complex problems – and be comfortable at what Cathy Davidson’s call “cliff’s edge”.

Dr. Luca Sugawara embraces a decolonizing approach to international social work education. Together with her global educational partners, she co-designs and co-teaches international student experiences, while always remaining accountable to her hosts, local NGOs, higher education institutions, and the international development community. For example, she forged academic partnerships with two universities and UN agencies in Croatia in order to develop a novel international service-learning course for social work students. In so doing, she has helped internationalize the IUSSW curricula. She also brings Croatian students into her virtual classrooms to learn from one another and engage with the world.

The International Service Learning Course: Social Work Practice in Post-War Communities has been in operation for a decade. This course was developed as a way to better prepare social work practitioners to work with communities affected by conflict. (Indianapolis is a major center for resettlement of people from war-torn countries from Burma to Afghanistan).
Dr. Luca Sugawara says that these types of global community engagement courses give students the opportunity to be in the world and outside of their comfort zones, allowing for personal transformation to take place. The best way to truly learn, she says, is “…to be engaged with the unknown, to walk on new roads in new places, and have an opportunity to ask questions about yourself, the world, and the profession, outside one’s own cultural values.”
Prior to joining IUPUI, Carmen was responsible for the Academy for Educational Development’s Eastern European civil society strengthening portfolio and served as a consultant for UNICEF in Romania, where she worked on developing partnership programs between governments, schools, and child welfare agencies.

While undertaking research in Vukovar, a community that endured a siege and bombardment during the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s, she developed close ties with a non-government agency (NGO), the PRONI Centre for Social Education, as well as the University of Zagreb Department of Social Work, and the University of Osijek.

Discovering the passion of her Croatian colleagues to engage youth and find ways to make their community strong again, she understood that the PRONI team and Croatia would be a valuable setting to expand the global mindedness of IU students and, more specifically, to understand the complexity of the social development arena. In Croatia they could explore the roles that social work plays in a post-war context. However, it was not just the painful stories of the war that moved Dr. Luca Sugawara to action. It was the incredible strength and creativity of the community to create new social structures, build new social spaces, and develop inclusive youth polices that was her true inspiration.

With an increasing number of new Indiana residents having direct experience of war, Dr. Luca Sugawara thought it was important to expose social work students to communities that had endured ethnic conflict, so they could gain a deeper understanding and reflect on that experience in preparation for becoming social workers in post-war communities at home.
Throughout the Croatia international service-learning experience, students meet with social work faculty and students from the two Croatian universities, and with local community organizations. They also have a unique opportunity to engage in dialogue with officials from UNICEF and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

As part of the service to the Croatian community, IU students are asked to develop presentations on youth services as they pertain to improving social skills, employability and voluntarism of youth in Indiana. They also engage in street events, support organizational strategic planning, and undertake their own research. After eighteen days abroad, students participate in a community forum to (a) share lessons learned with local community members, and (b) publicly acknowledge and thank the host community for their role in student learning. Nicole Ridge’s digital story echoes the type of learning that takes place in this course.

As one student, Mason Hutcheson, wrote, “Having had the privilege of traveling to Croatia to see social work practice in a post-war community has enabled me to develop a clearer vision for professional social work in Indiana… The importance of networking, cooperating, and seeking to understand are now central concepts guiding my work with agencies, government programs and colleagues.” A 2017 graduate student, after returning home, she was invited to meet with the school superintendent from Richmond to discuss new ways of partnerships between schools and community organizations (as she witnessed them taking place in Croatia).

 Dr. Luca Sugawara and a student standing in front of an American Corner sign Group of IUPUI students standing in front of a Croatian waterfall