Sixties youth culture possessed so much political awareness that at the time it looked like everyone under eighteen was committed to a populist cause. Once the sea changed there were some people who maintained their idealism and continued their work in this area. Tracy Soska is one of these people. He is currently an Assistant Professor and Director of Continuing Education in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh.
As a teenager Tracy marched against hunger and was an antiwar activist. He went to Pitt but dropped out to become a VISTA volunteer. When his tenure there ended, he went back to Pitt for social work study and realized then that he could make a career out of his passion—helping people and communities achieve their best. Tracy recalls, “I couldn’t believe I could actually get a degree in something I enjoyed doing”.
Today, he is still doing it. He is involved in community organizing, social administration, workforce development, collaboration and coalition building, and university-community relations and partnerships. At the University of Pittsburgh he heads a program on Living Learning Communities. There students get hands on experience in community development. They can apply what they learn in an academic setting to real world issues the neighboring communities are facing, while employing respect and consideration for these communities.
Tracy explains the mutual benefits for the students and the community, “Too often a university can be criticized because we come in as experts, we do our studies and then leave. That’s changing. The community has knowledge. We can partner effectively with them and build long term relationships.” He continues, “Students are learning and developing skills, and communities are learning from us. Simultaneously, students are getting that sense of partnership and collaboration. They are respectful of the expertise that the community has. We teach our students that and hopefully that’s the way my work is perceived in the community.”
Tracy was nominated as a Dignity & Respect Champion by Dr. Larry E. Davis who in his endorsement of Tracy states, “Tracy Soska is not content to keep his work purely academic. He is more than just a scholar, he is an active member and a driving force of many neighborhood organizations. Tracy’s hands-on approach not only demonstrates his commitment to the ideals he teaches, it inspires the students to look into community work themselves.”
When asked how he feels being recognized as a Dignity and Respect Champion, Tracy says, “Trying to emulate dignity and respect is one of the primary tenets of social work. I do that as a professor, but I also think I try to live that as a person.”