Faculty profile: Frances Bernard Kominkiewicz
by Elizabeth Station
Photo by Matt Cashore
Frances Bernard Kominkiewicz—whom students call “Dr. K”—is associate professor and chair of the Department of Social Work. Raised in South Bend, she was a licensed social worker and educator in the community for many years. She joined the Saint Mary’s faculty and began directing the social work program in 1998. Kominkiewicz holds a Ph.D. and M.S.A. from the University of Notre Dame, and Master and Bachelor of Social Work degrees from Indiana University.
You’ve said that your Catholic upbringing was important in shaping your sense of responsibility to others. What other life experiences led you to social work?
My family instilled a basic understanding in me that I had to find out what was happening with other people and not make judgments. If I had a concern about someone—if I even made any statement about another person—my family would challenge me and say, “Now tell us about how you formed that idea. Tell us what you think that other person is going through, what his or her experiences have been, and then you can better understand how to work with him or her.”
Were there other clues that you were interested in people?
In high school, my nickname was Mom. I am still very close to my high school friends, and that was because I tended to be the person that individuals would come to for advice.
You played a major role in helping the social work program gain national accreditation in 2003. What has this status meant for the program?
Having that national expertise in social work to guide us and assist in achieving learning goals for students has, I believe, made us a better program academically. Accreditation is difficult because it takes a great deal of time; it means being able to attend national conferences, being able to learn what is new, what is coming, and what we have to be prepared for. We always have to be on our toes, but our knowledge base has increased, and it’s made us so in tune with the students. We’re lifelong learners just as the students are lifelong learners.
Your research recently took you to Germany and China—what kind of connections did you make there?
I interviewed German social workers and professors for my child welfare research, looking at differences in child-abuse policy. I’d like to do cross-cultural comparisons, so we’re looking at expanding our research together. And they’re also very interested in doing student exchanges.
Another project involved a student, Megan Kennedy ’06, who came to me last year with the idea of looking at mental health counseling at colleges in the United States and making comparisons to China. We presented our research together at the Pan Asian Mental Health conference in Shanghai, and were able to interact with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and professors there. It was a wonderful experience, and our collaboration with the Shanghai Mental Health Center will continue.
Your daughter Lauren is a first-year student at Saint Mary’s, planning to major in biology. How did she make that choice?
I let her make her own decision about this. She has always felt that Saint Mary’s feels like home. In grade school, she came to fi ne arts camps and worked with (professors) Kara Eberly and Tom Fogle on biology projects. They treated her as if she were already a Saint Mary’s student. There is something about this campus that just brings out the best in everybody—faculty, students, and even young students like that. We are still small enough to take time for each other.
When you look at Saint Mary’s social work graduates, how do you measure success? What qualities or skills do they have?
An understanding of diversity and cultures; a desire to help individuals, families, groups, and communities achieve self-fulfi llment and well being. When I look at each of these young women, I can see that they’ve gained experience and confi dence from being here at Saint Mary’s, from having the opportunities to go out and become leaders to really make a difference in the lives of others. When I see them on graduation day it’s as if I know they are, at that point, colleagues. They will be working with us to make changes in society and help others.