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Remembering Helen Hartnett

Photo of Helen Hartnett

Dr. Helen Hartnett, a professor, researcher, activist and public servant, has been posthumously named a Professor Emerita of Social Work for her significant contributions in research, teaching and service to West Virginia University and beyond.  

Hartnett passed away at home surrounded by family on January 21, 2022 after being diagnosed with an aggressive illness.  

“The death of Dr. Hartnett is an enormous loss for our School of Social Work community, Eberly College, West Virginia University and social work education nationwide,” said Deana Morrow, director of the WVU School of Social Work. “May we each resolve to carry forward Helen’s fierce passion and commitment to building more just and inclusive institutions and communities.” 

Hartnett’s academic expertise was in macro social work practice. She was a beloved teacher at the WVU School of Social Work, educating students in social policy, practice evaluation, practice in organizations and communities, and field practice. In addition to being a highly effective teacher, Dr. Hartnett contributed significantly to the School of Social Work’s curriculum development. 

Over her 14-year career at the School of Social Work, Hartnett served as Associate Director, Interim Director and Director for the Master of Social Work program, and she was instrumental in helping plan the School’s new PhD degree program. She also served as Chair of the School of Social Work’s Committee on Anti-racism, Equity and Justice.  

Hartnett was also an Administrative Fellow in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and a member of Faculty Senate. She served on the Eberly College Social Justice Think Tank and Interdisciplinary Research Collaborative for a Safe and Healthy Society.  

In the early 1980s, well before she came to WVU, Hartnett served in the Dominican Republic as a health and nutrition specialist for the Peace Corps. She then attended The Ohio State University to study social work. When she graduated, she served as a social worker practicing community organizing and political advocacy. She was a fierce advocate for people experiencing homelessness and worked to improve housing policies, income support and health care access.  

Her career demonstrates her great passion for advocating for others, and she carried that passion into her personal life. Recently, she served on the board of the Mon Valley Homeless Initiative and worked to deliver Meals on Wheels to residents in Monongalia County.  

“As outstanding as Helen was as an academician, practitioner, and scholar, she was an even better person. She cared deeply for others, had a wonderful sense of humor, and was incredibly grounded,” said Dean Greg Dunaway. “Her mere presence brought joy to those who knew her and had the benefit of working with her.” 

In addition to being a beloved teacher in the School of Social Work, Hartnett was a productive and talented researcher. Her work has been published widely and covers topics such as trauma informed intervention with children, interprofessional social work education and practice, disability accommodations, assistive technology, veterans’ mental health and social action. She also produced numerous grant reports and countless presentations at the state, regional, and national levels. 

Hartnett became the lead project evaluator for the Job Accommodation Network Customer Evaluation Project in 2008 and served in that role until the time of her death. She was also co-investigator on the School of Social Work Rural Integrated Behavioral Health Training (RIBHT) Program, along with Program Director Dr. Carrie Rishel. The RIBHT program has supported student training and behavioral health workforce development in West Virginia since 2012.  

“(Helen) was a mentor, a friend, and a fierce advocate for our students and the communities and populations with whom we worked,” said Rishel. “Her legacy of advocacy and commitment to justice will live on in all the students and community practitioners she has touched with her warmth and passion.” 

Photo of Helen Hartnett with children