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The Professor’s Room: Jessica Retrum

An occasional series that explores the inner sanctums of academia – because clever people have interesting spaces.

By Lindsey Coulter

September 19, 2018


Jessica retrum in her officeJess Retrum, MSSW, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in the Department of Social Work, helps undergraduate and graduate students learn to support individuals, families and older adults across their lifespans. From a light-filled office in the Central Classroom Building, Retrum conducts research and community projects and prepares students to practice in a variety of settings.  

Supporting a large department and serving more than 800 students training for positions that can be mentally and emotionally taxing can sometimes feel daunting. In response, Retrum and her social-work colleagues arm themselves with humor and kindness. Retrum’s office in particular is a cozy and welcoming mix of items that reflect her family, personal passions and nearly lifelong dedication to the art of helping others.

  1. I like to be ready to celebrate things like people’s birthdays or accomplishments. I mean, you just never know when you are going to need a helium tank and a balloon.

  2. Something I really appreciate about our department is our regular use of humor to get through the day. A few people made me this hat with a cardboard chair when I was appointed chair of the department last year. My son also left his Marvin the Martian, Elf Popper and Snow Speeder toys here once, and everyone just enjoys playing with them so much I decided to keep them here.

  3. This is a postcard from A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm, a fiber farm my mom and her wife own in Maine. They do everything from shearing the sheep to cleaning, dyeing and spinning the wool – and yes, they have knitting clubs. They also make maple syrup. It is a pretty amazing and relaxing place.

  4. Exercise is important to your physical and mental health. I decided to start exercising during the day rather than try to fit it in before or after coming to the office, and it was a wonderful decision! I run with a few folks on campus and recently started small group work with a personal trainer and Pacesetters at the Rec Center.

  5. I’ve held on to these Haitian bead necklaces since the eighth grade when I helped with construction projects and medical clinics there as part of my church youth group. It was a humbling experience to see such poverty and social challenges. It flared my passion and interests in addressing social-equity issues in our world – and probably led to my decision to study social work.

  6. This is a picture of my grandparents who lived to be 102 and 103. People are living so much longer these days, and it is changing our social landscape. My teaching and research interests are focused on supporting individuals and families during late life, serious illness and end of life.

  7. A few years ago, students voted me Faculty of the Year, and another year our Student Association of Social Workers had this plaque made for my support of their work to sponsor a conference. These are nice reminders about why we are all here: to provide remarkable learning experiences for students.

Do you or one of your colleagues have an interesting office? Email to have it featured in the Professor’s Room series.

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