Professor of Social Work Jessica Ritter has testified on behalf of organizations at the Oregon State Senate, written her own textbooks and has inspired her students for the past ten years of being a professor at Pacific University. Ritter recently accepted the position of Associate Dean of Social Sciences, which she will begin in the fall of next year.
“[Ritter] is the sweetest, she is incredibly caring and kind and she has a way about her to really bring out the strength of whoever she is interacting with,” said senior social work major McKenzie Brock. “She brings a lot of social work perspective which is like a strength based perspective into her relationships which is really nice.”
Her teaching style, according to senior social work major Celine Yip, is that Ritter is very aware of her student’s situations and will work to take their situation into consideration. Not only for grades, but also in helping to find opportunities for her students to get hands on experience in the social work field.
Ritter received her Bachelors of Social Work from the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. Although she said she wasn’t sure about her major at first, Ritter ended up following social work and getting her Phd in Social Work in Texas as well.
“Like a lot of students, I was sort of in this general area and I knew I wanted to do something that helps the world in a big picture way and I really liked the idea of helping people more individually,” said Ritter. “I sort of discovered social work, I didn’t know much about it, but once I found out about it, I was like ‘this is the major for me.’”
Ritter started fresh out of her graduate program as a social worker in Texas working in child protection, working with families where children had been removed from the home and then helping parents to either get their children back or to find permanent alternative homes for the kids.
“I think that my interest in children and children’s issues started there,” said Ritter. “It started a little more narrowly in wanting to make sure that children are safe in their homes and then over the years I think my interest in kids started broadening out a little and I think it started being a little bit about thinking about child well-being in a bigger picture way. How do we make sure children in our society have what they need?”
Looking at the bigger picture is exactly how Ritter fell into politics as well as social work. Ritter is currently a member of the Board for an organization called Children First for Oregon. Children First for Oregon is an advocacy group for children in Oregon that focus on two groups of children; children who are poor and living in poverty or low income kids and also kids who are in the foster system.
Ritter recently travelled to Salem to speak on behalf of Children First of Oregon to testify in support of the Minimum Wage bill that recently was passed in the Oregon State Senate.
“It did pass, I am very happy, and it was really heartbreaking to sit and listen, because even though there were organizations like ours that were there testifying that were maybe more impactful and some were coming forward telling their stories about living on the minimum wage,” Ritter. “They were absolutely heartbreaking.”
When Ritter is not teaching or speaking on behalf of advocacy groups, she is writing Op-Ed columns for The Oregonian.
“I’m not one of those people who is really prolific in the sense of publishing a lot, I really only do it when I am moved for a topic,” said Ritter. “I usually will focus on issues within my field of social work but probably most of them will be focused on children and children’s rights.”
Ritter also ended up writing her own textbook for her social work classes after years of thinking of what the perfect book would look like for her classes. After three years she was able to publish “Social Work Policy Practice: Changing Our Community, Nation, and the World” for her students to use.
In her downtime, Ritter likes to spend time with her 10-year-old shih tzu, Addie, following the current political news and watching films.
With Ritter as her advisor, Brock is extremely grateful for her guidance and help through her time at Pacific.
“She is a wealth of knowledge so if you haven’t met her or had the privilege of having a class with her, I would highly recommend that experience,” said Brock.
Although Ritter recently accepted a position that will take her away from teaching as the Associate Dean of Social Sciences, a position which she was reluctant to take due to her dedication to her students.
“Initially I kept saying no, I love teaching, I love my students so much but I finally came to terms with the idea it would be a really great leadership opportunity and also that I can go back,” said Ritter. “[It] can be temporary in that they can hold your position for 3-5 years and so I can always come back to my teaching job.”
Although Ritter may be moving forward in this opportunity, teaching still holds a special place and is something she may return to.
“If I think of my proudest moment as a professor it has to go toward seeing students, two different kinds of students,” said Ritter. “There are the students who go on to do pretty incredible things with their lives and those who are really struggling, but watching them persevere and hang in there and I enjoy finding out how I can support them and really watching students persevere is really inspiring.”