Associate Professor, Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work
Ph.D., Social Work & Political Science,
University of Michigan, 2014
M.S.W., University of Pennsylvania, 2007
M.Div., Princeton Theological Seminary, 2001
B.A., Connecticut College, 1998
SOWK 241 Introduction to Social Work
SOWK/POSC 340 Inequality & Social Policy
SOWK 355 Community Organizing
SOWK 395 Intergroup Dialogue
SOWK 405 Poverty & Place
SOWK 495 Racial Justice & Anti-Oppressive Practice
SOWK/SOCI 540 Social Work/Criminal Justice/Sociology Internship
It is my core belief as both a teacher and a learner that every educational situation is an opportunity to challenge our perceptions about the world, as we encounter ideas and perspectives different from our own. In keeping with this belief, my primary goal as an educator is to facilitate not only students’ acquisition of knowledge but also their understanding of themselves as learners, thinkers, and members of a broader community. When you come into my classroom, you can expect to be both challenged and supported as you actively engage with your fellow students, your own identity and experiences, and the community around you.
My classes tend to be reading- and writing-intensive but also highly interactive. I believe that both teachers and students are responsible for creating a classroom atmosphere that allows for genuine exploration. We work together to build trust and to encourage each other’s learning.
You will also find that my teaching is grounded in the values of social work, which include commitments to social justice, the importance of human relationships, and the dignity and worth of every human being. I love being a part of the MCLA community, because I have the opportunity to share these values with students and colleagues while supporting students’ development as strong contributors to their community and the broader society.
Since joining the faculty of MCLA in 2014, I have worked to build relationships on campus and in the surrounding community that allow me to actively engage students in the “real world” work of social change. Through research, reflection, and action, my students connect their classroom learning with practical experience – a key component of the integrative learning that is a cornerstone of your MCLA education. Some examples include one-on-one interviews with practicing social workers (Introduction to Social Work), development and leadership of local community organizing projects (Community Organizing), and an entire course dedicated to learning how to dialogue across difference (Intergroup Dialogue, co-taught with my colleague Michael Obasohan).
As the director of our department’s internship program, I guide students through the process of exploring, securing, and completing semester-long internships in the local community. These experiences allow students to gain practical experience in a field of interest while also learning more about themselves and their capabilities. Witnessing students’ growth and development as professionals through our internship program is among the most rewarding experiences I have at MCLA.
In addition to teaching and advising students, I am actively engaged in research that bridges Social Work, Political Science, and related fields. I use interpretive research methods, which focus on how people tell their own stories, to understand how individuals and communities make sense of their experiences and what changes are needed to create a more just and inclusive society.
My earlier research focused on how low-income people in the U.S. perceive and experience the public policies designed to assist them. I learned that people living in or near poverty have very different ideas about their own needs than the people who design “antipoverty” programs and that, as long as we continue to shape these programs based on abstract definitions of need, we are unlikely to improve the experiences and situations of those who are struggling the most. If we want to combat poverty, we need to listen to those who experience it.
More recently, I have been working on two community-based research projects in the Northern Berkshires, both of which involve listening carefully to the stories of community members in order to understand needs for change. The first is a collaboration with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, examining ideas about gentrification and development in the region. The second is a collaboration with the Town of Williamstown, seeking to understand residents’ ideas about community safety and wellbeing.
In addition to these research projects, I have served on multiple local committees to promote racial and economic justice in our region. All of these experiences give me the chance to work directly with amazing partners in the community and to develop relationships that open doors for students.
I feel incredibly grateful to be a part of this community – MCLA, North Adams, and the surrounding region. Like all communities, we face challenges, but we also have an incredible amount of potential, and I love working with others to bring that potential to fruition.
Krings, A., Fusaro, V., Nicoll, K.L., & Lee, N.Y. (2019). Social Work, Politics, and Social Policy Education: Applying a Multidimensional Framework of Power. Journal of Social Work Education.
Nicoll, K.L., Richards-Schuster, K., & Ruffolo, M. (2018). Beyond Service-Learning: Helping Undergraduates Define and Plan for Lives of Civic Engagement at the University of Michigan. In T.D. Mitchell & K.M. Soria (Eds.), Educating for Citizenship and Social Justice: Practices for Community Engagement at Research Universities (99-111). Palgrave Macmillan.
Nicoll, K.L. (2017). Who Defines Need?: Low-Income Individuals’ Interpretations of Need and the Implications for Participation in Public Assistance Programs. The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 44(4): 117-141.
Nicoll, K.L. (2015) Why Do Eligible Households NOT Participate in Public Anti-poverty Programs?: A Review. Journal of Poverty, 19(4): 445-465.
Richards-Shuster, K., Ruffolo, M., Nicoll, K.L., Distelrath, C., Mishkin, A., & Galura, J. (2015). Exploring Challenges and Struggles Faced by Students as they Transition to Social Justice Work in the Real World: Implications for Social Work. Advances in Social Work, 16(2): 372-389.