Honoring 100 for the 100th: Wayne Chess

When Wayne A. Chess came to the University of Oklahoma in 1969, he planned to stay only a few years. He retired from the School of Social Work in 2000. Prior to coming to OU, Dr. Chess had a very successful career in mental health services in Ohio where he was a part of a small group of national experts in comprehensive mental health and intellectual disability planning that helped build state comprehensive mental health systems. He reported directly to the Ohio governor and was on a “fast track to Washington.” However, his “experiment” in teaching and research resulted in a love of teaching and of Oklahoma.

In his 31 years at OU, Wayne became a highly productive scholar with a strong portfolio of externally funded research. In the 1980s, he began a 15 year writing partnership with Siri Jayaratne on job satisfaction that produced 23 book articles and two book chapters. This research on job stress and strain earned national and international attention and respect and an invitation by Italy’s Laboratory for Social Policy Studies to discuss his research on “burnout” for the Worldnet Video Conference. The program was broadcast live to 45 European and 12 African cities. Wayne was also invited to lunch with President Jimmy Carter to discuss this research.

Chess continued to engage in research and publish his works. He and Julia M. Norlin coauthored one of the most widely used textbooks in the field. This pioneer work in social systems and its applications to the field of social work did much to establish the School as a forerunner in this area. Furthermore, the “social systems perspective” shaped the professional work of many agencies and social workers in the state. Many students especially recall “Urban Dynamics,” a classroom simulation used to illustrate social system constructs, and how it shaped their understanding of organizational and community systems.

Integral to Chess’s approach to practice was his commitment to social change, particularly his commitment to the exercise of individual rights. In Norman, he organized and chaired Citizens for Responsible Growth, a group concerned with growth on the east side of Norman that threatened Lake Thunderbird as a water and recreational resource.

A staunch and hard-working member of the faculty, he provided leadership to the “Societal Services Concentration,” which later became the “Administrative and Community Practice Concentration.” Many of the state’s agency directors and managers graduated from the concentration and shaped services for our most vulnerable populations. For more than 15 years, Wayne served as Coordinator of Social Work Advanced Programs and as Graduate Coordinator. He helped write four successful reaccreditation self-studies. For his many contributions, Wayne was honored by NASW-OK as Social Worker of the Year in 1973. Above all, students and colleagues will remember him as a gifted and dedicated teacher, an exceptional scholar, and a distinguished leader in his profession whose work enhanced the School, the University and the profession. Two separate endowed scholarships have been established in his honor, to support future generations of social work students: Wayne and Nancy Chess Scholarship and Chess-Norlin Social Systems/Human Behavior Graduate Scholarship.

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