Kirk A. Foster, PhD,

Making Change Happen

What keeps Dr. Kirk Foster up at night is poverty and the fight against it. With a background in social work and theology, Foster researches how people with little or no income can use the resources available to them to make systematic change. Through community-based organizations, he wants to see marginalized populations overcome the forces that keep their voices from being heard.

Foster believes he can best effect change through the classroom. He hopes his high expectations will encourage students to push beyond their own limitations even after the semester ends. “My hope is that they go out into the world and that they help other people go where they didn’t think they could go,” Foster said. “That through their conversations, through their actions... they achieve things that they never dreamed were possible.”

Foster practices pedagogy and research with heart, cultivating compassion and giving others the tools to make change. Working against poverty is challenging, but Foster knows that achieving social justice takes risks. In his words, “Sometimes you have to do things right, but more often than not, you have to do the right thing.”

Research Background:

Having worked as a local church pastor in diverse communities, Dr. Foster focuses his research on religious congregations and community-based organizations as brokers of resources necessary for social and economic development among the poor. His work emphasizes the role that diverse social networks play in gaining access to information and resources for development at both the individual and community levels. He is specifically interested in social capital leading to collective action for large-scale, sustainable community change. He uses social network analysis, GIS (geographic information systems), and quantitative and qualitative methods.

Research Projects (recent)

  • Foster, K. A. (2009-2011).  Urban Religious Congregations as Resource Brokers. The Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis.
  • Shaw, T., Foster, K. A., & Combs, B. H. (submitted). Place Attachment and Collective Action: The Changing Sociopolitical Landscape of Black Urban Neighborhoods. National Science Foundation.

Selected Presentations

  • Foster, K.A., & Stiffman, A.R. (2009). Child Welfare Workers’ Use of Technology for Psychiatric Referrals.  World Psychiatric Association International Congress, Florence, Italy.
  • Foster, K.A. (2008).  Defining Neighborhood Boundaries for Social Measurement.  Society for Social Work and Research Annual Conference, Washington, D.C.
  • Foster, K.A., & Stiffman, A.R. (2008).  Child Welfare Workers’ Adoption of Decision Support Technology.  Society for Social Work and Research Annual Conference, Washington, D.C.
  • Foster, K.A., & Stiffman, A.R. (2006).  IMPROVE: A Technological Intervention Translating Research to Practice.  Society for Social Work and Research Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX.

Selected Publications

  • Foster, K. A. (under review). Network embedded resources within urban U.S. congregations: Results from the Resource Generator-US.
  • Foster, K. A. & Maas, C. D. (under review). An exploratory factor analysis of the Resource Generator-US: A new social capital measure for urban populations.
  • Bowland, S., Foster, K. A., & Vosler, N. (under revision). Culturally competent and spiritually sensitive therapy with lesbian and gay Christians.
  • Rank, M. R., Hirschl, T., & Foster, K. A. (under contract). Chasing the American dream: Understanding the dynamics that shape our fortunes. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Foster, K. A. & Hipp, J. A. (2011). Defining neighborhood boundaries for social measurement. Social Work Research, 35 (1), 25-35.

Awards and Honors

  • 2009, 2010, 2011, Excellence in Teaching, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, St. Louis, MO
  • 2005 – 2008, William E. Gordon Fellow in Research, Washington University, St. Louis, MO
  • 2004, Excellence in Research, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, St. Louis, MO

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