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Remembering Helen Hartnett

Helen HartnettThe West Virginia University Eberly College of Arts and Sciences is mourning the loss of colleague Helen Hartnett, a faculty member in the School of Social Work. Hartnett passed away peacefully on January 21 while surrounded by family. She was recently diagnosed with an aggressive illness.    

Hartnett spent much of her career advocating for others. Prior to studying social work at The Ohio State University, Hartnett served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic in the early 1980’s as a health and nutrition specialist. She later became a social worker practicing community organizing and political advocacy. She was a fierce advocate for people experiencing homelessness and some of her work included shaping housing policies, income support and health care access.   

Hartnett joined the WVU School of Social Work in 2006. Throughout her time at WVU, she held various leadership positions including the Masters of Social Work program director, School of Social Work associate director, and interim director. She also served as an Administrative Fellow in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office and was leader of the Eberly College Interdisciplinary Research Collaborative for a Safe and Healthy Society.   

“As outstanding as Helen was as an academician, practitioner, and scholar, she was an even better person,” Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, said. “She cared deeply for others, had a wonderful sense of humor, and was an incredibly grounded person. Her contributions to the Eberly College were vast and lasting. I am crushed by this loss, but I’m also incredibly grateful for the time I had to work with her and call her a friend. Our School of Social Work, Eberly and WVU are better places because of Helen.”   

Hartnett was a beloved professor in the School of Social Work and a prolific researcher. Along with Carrie Rishel, she was co-investigator on the Rural Integrated Behavioral Health Training program. Since 2012, RIBHT has supported student training and West Virginia behavioral health workforce development.   

“(Helen) was a mentor, a friend, and a fierce advocate for our students and the communities and populations with whom we worked,” Rishel, RIBHT program director, said. “In our work together, she found her greatest joy in working with the students, supporting them in learning how to be the best social workers they could be, and continuing to offer support post-graduation to our program alumni. I have heard from so many students, graduates, and community partners over the past few days about their memories of Helen and how she impacted their lives and careers. 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.”  

Hartnett also served as the chair of the School of Social Work, Anti-Racism, Equity and Justice Committee. Mandy Weirich, MSW Online coordinator and Gerontology program coordinator, served on the committee with Hartnett and recalls the difficult conversations she and Hartnett shared about language, assumptions and ignorance.  

“We read books together and watched videos that transformed us and urged us to be better humans. We spent the last year and a half sharing ideas on how we can be better social workers by committing to antiracism,” Weirich said. “In her last email to me, Helen said simply, ‘I really want this work to continue.’”  

Hartnett was also a lead investigator for the national Job Accommodation Network Customer Evaluation Project. She has been published widely on topics such as trauma informed intervention with children, interprofessional social work education and practice, disability accommodations, assistive technology, veterans’ mental health and social action.   

School of Social Work director Deana Morrow, Ph.D. recalled Hartnett’s passion for her work and the university.   

“May we each resolve to carry forward Helen’s fierce passion and commitment to building more just and inclusive institutions and communities,” Morrow said.   

Details regarding memorial arrangements and tributes to Hartnett will be announced later.