University of Southern California

About USC

Sarah Gehlert

Sarah Gehlert

Sarah Gehlert was appointed dean of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, effective April 15, 2020. She previously served as dean of the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina and is known for her work on the connections between social and environmental factors and health, with a focus on vulnerable populations.


Before her post at the University of South Carolina, Gehlert held a joint appointment at Washington University in St. Louis, where she served as the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and a professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery.


Gehlert has held numerous leadership and research positions throughout her career, including current president of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and past president of the Society for Social Work and Research — both preeminent national organizations for social work researchers and practitioners.


As a researcher, Gehlert has focused on the interplay between social work and health, including disparities in treatment, women’s health and mental health and how people adapt to serious illness and injury. A recent project examined how community violence and unsafe housing affects African American women diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a co-author of the authoritative Handbook of Health Social Work, now in its third edition.


Among her many leadership roles, Gehlert served as co-leader of the Prevention and Control Program of the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, co-director of the Transdisciplinary Center on Energetics and Cancer, and training program director of the Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities — all at Washington University.


Prior to Washington University, she was the Helen Ross Professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, Department of Comparative Human Development and Institute for Mind and Biology. Gehlert also was deputy dean for research and associate director of the university’s Institute for Translational Medicine, in addition to leading the university’s federally funded Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research and its Maternal and Child Health Training Program.


Her involvements with national organizations include serving as a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Human Genome Research Institute until January 2016. She is a member of the Council for Extramural Grants at the American Cancer Society, sits on the Steering Committee of the California Breast Cancer Research Program and serves as a managing editor of the Transdisciplinary Journal of Science and Engineering.


Gehlert holds a Ph.D. in social work from Washington University in St. Louis; a master’s degree in anthropology and social work, both from the University of Missouri-Columbia; and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a minor in zoology from Southern Illinois University.

Last Updated: 04/15/2020