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Educating for Success

Lila Swell, MSW ’58, EdD

“The University of Michigan taught me how to be reflective of myself and others, which helped launch my career,” said Lila Swell, MSW ’58, EdD, educator, creator of the Educating for Success program and author of four books including, Success You Can Make
It Happen.

Swell recalls living a relatively sheltered life as a child growing up in New York City. After earning her bachelor’s degree at New York University, she came to U-M SSW in 1956 to complete her social work degree with an emphasis on psychiatric case work.

“I was very young when I came to the University,” Swell said, “and I learned how to be independent…. I grew up while attending Michigan, and it was quite an experience.”

Swell continued her education at Columbia University Teacher’s College, where she earned her EdD in psychology with an emphasis on the family.

“My education was extremely thorough…and I owe my observational, analytical and problem-solving skills to my education at Michigan,” Swell said.

“My U-M professors, Dorothy Schroeder and Dorothy Robinson, taught me to pay attention, to see with my ears and listen with my eyes,” Swell said. “So many people walk through life asleep, but I learned to listen to myself, life and people. My observation skills were sharpened and that set me up to analyze data without making assumptions.”

Swell reminisced about Ida Pettiford, a social work supervisor at the hospital, who had a tremendous influence on her life, teaching her process recording, how to conduct patient interviews, and how to respond to the patient. She appreciates the intellectual discipline she was taught during her MSW program and said she grew through paying attention to detail. 

Swell developed her confidence and potential in teaching while attending Columbia University and returned to U-M as faculty. She also taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois before returning to New York City, where she joined the Queens College faculty in 1970. Swell is an associate professor and former deputy chair of the Elementary and Early Childhood Education Department, where she teaches graduate courses in psychology and has been an active role model, advisor and champion of helping others succeed.

Swell recently made a provision in her estate plan to establish an endowed Dr. Lila Swell Scholarship in honor of professors Schroeder and Robinson, who were such an important influence on Swell.

Differences are not better or worse, they are just different.

“I left a bequest because I wanted to give back to Michigan, what Michigan gave to me,” Swell said. “The endowed fund is a token, because I really can’t quantify what Michigan gave to me, and I’ve never forgotten the impact the University of Michigan has had on my life.”

The Dr. Lila Swell Scholarship is an endowed fund, which provides scholarship support for U-M MSW students with a preference for students with a specialization in Interpersonal Practice.

“Michigan helped me determine my life philosophy,” Swell said. “In today’s world we focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Michigan helped me focus on an individual’s strengths, and as a result, my teaching and my books are based on a positive health model.”

Swell is the author of several books based on her Educating for Success program, which she created to help people develop strength and confidence to make good choices in life. She expanded the program for children when she returned to New York, conducted Success workshops and lectured globally about the positive aspects of her lifechanging course.

Swell loves being in the teaching profession, and continues to teach life lessons. Her best advice is to be in the moment and to pay attention to your surroundings, not your cell phone, because those interpersonal experiences are the key to your success.

“We remember how people treat us, more than what they teach us, and I was treated very well by my professors at U-M.”

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