Mary L. Ohmer

  • COSA Chair and Associate Professor

COSA Chair and Associate Professor Mary Ohmer received her Ph.D. with distinction from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work. Mary received her MSW and MPIA from the University of Pittsburgh, and BSW from Gannon University in Erie, PA. She has over 30 years of experience in community organizing and development, working with residents and community, social service, corporate, government and philanthropic organizations to promote community change. She has also worked internationally, presenting at conferences in Tokyo, Japan and Hong Kong, China, conducting research for an NGO in Ghana, and directing a study abroad program in Costa Rica focused on health, social justice, and sustainability. Dr. Ohmer is on the board of the Association for Community Organization and Social Action and has leadership roles for the Society for Social Work and Research in Community and Neighborhood Research. She is the Academic Co-Lead for the Policy and Place Committee for The Pittsburgh Study (UPMC, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh). Dr. Ohmer is on the Internal Advisory Council for Pitt’s Community Engagement Center Initiative, and on the COVID 19 Community Response Task Force for Pitt’s Pandemic Service Initiative.  She is also the lead author a new book by Sage Publications, Measures for Community and Neighborhood Research, the first book its kind to compile and synthesize measures for community research.  In addition, she was on the leadership team and a contributing author to the Council on Social Work Education’s Specialized Practice Curricular Guide for Macro Social Work Practice.

Research Interests

  • Community organizing
  • Violence prevention
  • Community solutions to violence and trauma
  • Community development
  • Equitable development
  • CBPR

Dr. Ohmer conducts research and evaluation on a variety of community-based projects and initiatives. Her research areas include civic engagement and participation, evaluation research and intervention research focused on facilitating community capacity to address substantive neighborhood problems. She is currently working as Co-PI with Dr. Shannah Tharp-Gilliam at Homewood Children’s Village on the Research for Equity and Power Project, a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project which has engaged youth and adult Homewood residents to facilitate civic engagement around equitable development issues. The project has resulted in an Equitable Development Playbook, which is being widely shared with the Homewood and greater Pittsburgh community. The project will also be replicated in 2021 in Hazelwood, in collaboration with the Hazelwood Initiative and Center of Life. This project is also in collaboration with Pitt’s Community Engagement Centers, and guided by resident led community advisory boards. 

Dr. Ohmer is also working on two community-level violence prevention projects.  The first project is a collaboration with the Perry Hilltop and Fineview Citizens Councils (Joanna Deming, Executive Director, Co-Investigator) to replicate and extend an intervention Dr. Ohmer implemented in Atlanta, GA that facilitated collective efficacy among youth and adult residents to prevent community violence. The current project also focuses on improving community mental health outcomes impacted by exposure to community and youth violence. This project uses CBPR methods and is guided by a resident led community advisory board. Dr. Ohmer is also a Co-investigator for the Child/Youth Thriving Matrix, Community-level strategy to reduce youth violence project in collaboration with the Dr. Liz Miller (PI), Dr. Alison Culyaba and Dr. Anna Ettinger from the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, as well as Dr. Jamil Bey from Urbankind Institute and Rev. Paul Abernathy from the Neighborhood Resilience Project. The project engages youth and adult residents and stakeholders from two Pittsburgh communities to assess dimensions of child thriving related to youth violence. The project is intended to increase collective self-efficacy, promote emotional wellbeing, and reduce social isolation among supportive adults and youth, and reduce youth violence in racially segregated neighborhoods.  The results of these two projects will contribute to a greater understanding of how community level interventions can facilitate collective efficacy and community supports for the prevention of youth violence and the promotion of community wellbeing.

Dr. Ohmer has also conducted program evaluation research on numerous community-based initiatives and programs sponsored by a variety of organizations, including Pitt’s Office of Child Development, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, and Families First in Atlanta.

Selected Funded Grants

  • Co-Principal Investigators, Mary Ohmer and Shannah Tharp Gilliam (Homewood Children’s Village). Resident Civic Engagement on Behalf of Equitable Development: Partnering for Community-Based Participatory Research in Homewood (Pittsburgh, PA). Funder:  Americorps (formerly the Corporation for National and Community Service).
  • Co-Investigators Mary Ohmer and Joanna Deming (Perry Hilltop and Fineview Citizens Council). An Intervention to Prevent Violence and Improve Community Mental Health.  CiTECH Practice Innovation Opportunity.
  • Liz Miller, PI and Co-Investigators Mary L. Ohmer, Jamil Bey, Paul Abernathy, Anna Ettinger and Alison Culyba. National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Competitive and Administrative Supplements for Community Interventions to Reduce the Impact of COVID-19 on Health Disparity and Other Vulnerable Populations, Supplementary Award to R01. Child/Youth Thriving Matrix: A Community-level Strategy to Reduce Youth Violence.
  • Co-Principal Investigators, Mary Ohmer and Jaime Booth.  Research on Barriers to Fair Housing Choice in the City of Pittsburgh.  Funder: Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations.
  • Co-Principal Investigators, Mary Ohmer, Jaime Booth and Rosta Farzan.  We are strong! Leveraging Information Technology to Empower Marginalized Communities. Funder:  University of Pittsburgh, Office of the Vice Provost for Research, Social Science Research Initiative.
  • Principal Investigator, Mary Ohmer.  Facilitating Collective Efficacy to Prevent Youth Violence: Using Consensus Organizing and Restorative Justice (Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA). Funder: FAHS-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation, New York Community Trust.

Selected Awards

  • University of Pittsburgh, Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement’s Partnerships of Distinction Award (Ohmer, M., Tharp-Gilliam, S., Pearl, D. & Micire, M.).  Research for Equity and Power.

  • Fellow, Society for Social Work and Research

  • Emerging Scholar Award, Association for Community Organization and Social Administration

  • Interdisciplinary Fellowship for Community-based Evaluation, University of Pittsburgh.

Accepting Graduate Students: Yes. 

Representative Publications

Ohmer, M.L. (2020).  Youth-Adult Partnerships to Prevent Violence.  Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, Published Online, 24 August 2020, 1-22.

Ohmer, M. L., Davis, K.L., Eveleth, J.R., Ford, T.R., Green, A.F., Hershey, S.M., Hoffman, K., Micire, M., Webb, C., &Williams, S.J. (2020). Engaging in Genuine Research Partnerships with the Homewood Community: Results from Interviews and Focus Groups with Homewood and Pitt Stakeholders (pp.1-14, Rep.). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Community Engagement Centers.

Dostilio, L. D., Ohmer, M. L., McFadden, K., Mathew, S., & Finkelstein, C. (2019). Benchmarking How Urban and Metropolitan Higher Education Builds Community Capacity through Place-based, Hyperlocal Engagements. (pp. 1–41). Towson, MD: Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities.

Ohmer, M.L., Coulton, C., Freedman, D., Sobeck, J. & Booth, J. (2019). Measures for Community and Neighborhood Research.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Ohmer, M.L. (2019).  Citizen participation in neighborhood organizations and its relationship to volunteers’ self- and collective efficacy and sense of community, in T. Bent-Goodley, J.H. Williams, M.L. Teasley, and S.H. Gorin, (Editors), Grand Challenges for Society:  Evidence-Based Social Work Practice. Washington, DC: NASW Press.  (Invited)

Thurber, A,, Krings,  A., Martinez, L.S., & Ohmer, M. (2019).  Resisting Gentrification: The Theoretical and Practice Contributions of Social Work.  Journal of Social Work, 0(0), 1-20. Ohmer, M.L., Coulton, C., Freedman, D., Sobeck, J. & Booth, J. (2019). Measures for Community and Neighborhood Research.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Soska, T., & Ohmer, M.L. (2018).  Community Theories and Approaches for Addressing Crime: Prevention, Intervention, and Restoration, in Cnaan, R.A. & Milofsky, C. (Editors), Handbook of Local Organizations and Community Movements. Secaucus, NJ: Springer.

Ohmer, M. L., Baker, S., Carroll, B., Cosoleto-Miller, K., Hortens, C., Piotrowski, J., . . . Wotring, R. (2017). Respectful and Effective Community Engagement: Results from Interviews with Homewood Stakeholders (pp. 1-6, Rep.). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Community Engagement Centers.

Ohmer, M.L. (2016). Strategies for preventing youth violence:  Facilitating collective efficacy among youth and adults.  Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 7(4), 681-705.

Ohmer, M.L., Teixeira, S., Booth, J., Zuberi, A., & Kolke, D. (2016).  Preventing violence in disadvantaged communities: Strategies for building collective efficacy and improving community health.  Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment [Special Issue), 26(7-8), 608-621.

Winter, C. & Ohmer, M.L. (2014).  Using the best of research and practice to create an outcomes measurement framework: A family service agency’s experience.  Families in Society: The journal of contemporary social services, 95(3).

Ohmer, M.L., & Owens, J. (2013).  Using Photovoice to Empower Youth and Adults to Prevent Crime.  Journal of Community Practice, 21(4), 410-433.

Weil, M., Reisch, M., & Ohmer, M.L. (editors) (2013).  The Handbook of Community Practice, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Beck, E., Ohmer, M. L., & Warner, B.  (2012). Strategies for preventing neighborhood violence: Toward bringing collective efficacy practice into social work.  Journal of Community Practice, 20(3), 225-240.

Warner, B.D., Beck, E., & Ohmer, M.L. (2010). Linking informal social control and restorative justice: Moving social disorganization theory beyond community policing.  Contemporary Justice Review, 13(4), 355-369.

Ohmer, M. L., Warner, B., & Beck, E. (2010). Preventing violence in low-income communities: Facilitating residents’ ability to intervene in neighborhood problems.  Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, XXXVII(2), 159-179.


Areas of Expertise