Willma and Albert Musher Program

The Willma and Albert Musher Program promotes the use of science and technology for life betterment. Established in 1995 by Albert Musher in memory of his wife, Willma, this unique program was born of Mr. Musher’s conviction that “the betterment of human life can best be accomplished through the use of the principles and procedures of science.”

History of the Musher Program

Albert Musher was born in 1904 and grew up in Washington, D.C. He received a B.A. in economics from Johns Hopkins University. His career was characterized by an avid interest in how things work, and he ultimately went on to hold over 50 U.S. and foreign patents in the food and pharmaceutical fields. His family’s life experiences gave Albert a broad perspective, strong business acumen, an appreciation for the intellectual qualities of the university, and a sincere empathy for the underserved.

Mr. Musher founded the Willma and Albert Musher Program at Columbia University, named in recognition of his profound bond with Willma and their shared commitment to improving the lives of others. Mr. Musher died in 2001, at the age of 97. The Willma and Albert Musher Library Collection, located at the Columbia School of Social Work Library at 1255 Amsterdam Avenue, holds his personal papers as well as publications pertaining to social work research.


Albert and Willma Musher

The Willma and Albert Musher Program at Columbia University continues Mr. Musher’s legacy and promotes his abiding belief in the power of science to improve the human condition. The Musher Program was developed from Albert Musher’s concept that wellbeing and quality of life can best be improved through science—particularly the principles and practices of social work. “My Concept envisions life betterment through more effective science and life engineering,” he said, “and my dream is that we will be able to improve lives throughout the world.”

One of the Musher Program’s first initiatives was a national symposium on “The Use of Computer Technology in Social Work Education.” This 1995 symposium brought scholars together to examine the emergent use of computers in social work practice and pedagogy. The Mushers further supported the adoption of computers at Columbia by establishing the Willma and Albert Musher Computer Laboratory, located on the first floor of the School of Social Work building at 1255 Amsterdam Avenue. The Musher Computer Lab remains a vital resource for students and faculty to this day.

In 1997, two students received the Willma and Albert Musher Fellowship in International Social Welfare to pursue studies in global social work. This program was offered through special arrangement with the United Nations Economic and Social Council Secretariat.

Today, the Willma and Albert Musher Program supports a range of scholarly activities and resources at Columbia—including the Musher Chair, Musher Lecture, and the Musher Doctoral Scholarship—all with an emphasis on the development, dissemination, and implementation of evidence-based interventions.

Nabila El-Bassel was named the Willma and Albert Musher Professor of Social Work in 2011. Her landmark scholarship focuses on behavioral and social sciences approaches to the co-occurring epidemics of HIV/AIDS, addiction, and gender-based violence. Professor El-Bassel has published extensively on these topics and designed groundbreaking interventions, many of which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified as best practices. She serves as a Director of three research centers: The Social Intervention Group (SIG), the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia, and CHOSEN. In 2019, she was named a University Professor, joining a highly select handful of current professors to receive Columbia’s highest academic honor. A global leader in dissemination and implementation science, Professor El-Bassel builds on the Musher legacy at Columbia by translating scientific practice to human benefit.

The inaugural Willma and Albert Musher Professor of Social Work was Edward J. Mullen, who occupied the chair from its establishment in 1995 through his retirement in 2010, and now occupies the chair in emeritus. An influential scholar and educator, Dr. Mullen served as Principal Investigator for an NIMH-funded predoctoral training program in mental health services research at Columbia from 1989-2007. His research and publications focus on evidence-based policy and practice, outcomes measurement in the human services, mental health services research, and research applications in social work practice.

The Willma and Albert Musher Program supports a robust portfolio of research at Columbia, including the following projects:

  • ARC: an innovative study using a mobile app and smart watch to examine adolescents’ social connectedness and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study will lead to the development of a tailored intervention to address the needs of racial/ethnic minority adolescents.
  • eWORTH: a tailored multimedia intervention to reduce risks for HIV, STI, and intimate partner violence among Black women who use drugs and are under community supervision in New York.
  • NOVA: a microfinance intervention and HIV prevention program for female sex workers in Kazakhstan.
  • WINGS: a tool designed to identify intimate partner and gender-based violence among women who use drugs. This evidence-based intervention enables women to develop safety planning strategies and strengthen their social support networks.
  • Connect HIP: a couples-based intervention tailored to populations disproportionately affected by HIV. Connect HIP supports skills development for individuals and couples to negotiate safer sex and substance use behaviors.

The annual Willma and Albert Musher Lecture was launched in 2019 to provide a platform for leading researchers and practitioners to share their work on the application of science and technology for life betterment.

In 2019, Dr. Anindita Dasgupta delivered the inaugural Musher Lecture on “Evidence-Based Practice in Humanitarian Crises.” Drawing on her experience as Co-Investigator of Project ASPIRE, Dr. Dasgupta discussed the process of developing interventions tailored to meet the needs of female refugees and care providers in Jordan and Turkey. Her remarks provided a model for how researchers can demonstrate ethical leadership on the frontlines of humanitarian disasters like the Syrian refugee crisis.

The 2020 Musher Lecture took place on Thursday, November 5th. Dr. Timothy Hunt, Associate Director of SIG, delivered remarks on “Utilizing Community Engagement to Overcome Co-Occurring Health Crises: Data-Informed Selection and Implementation of Evidence-Based Solutions.

The Willma and Albert Musher Scholarship, established in 2018, provides financial assistance to a doctoral student at the Columbia School of Social Work whose research focuses on the application of science and technology for life betterment. In recent years, Musher Scholars have pursued a diverse program of study, including research into health disparities in low- and middle-income countries, anti-racist praxis, and more.