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 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.  Dr. Ohmer teaches in the Community Organization and Social Action program.

Research Interests

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 to engage thirty youth and adult Homewood residents as leaders in understanding the indigenous definition of civic engagement and insight into the community's desire to act strategically in ways that foster equitable development. This project is also in collaboration with Pitt’s Homewood Community Engagement Center.  Dr. Ohmer has also worked on a project with Dr. Booth (Social Work) and Dr. Farzan (Computing and Information) to engage Hilltop neighborhood youth in creating a civic engagement mobile application. In addition she is conducting fair and affordable housing research with Dr. Booth for the City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations. She is also currently working with an interdisciplinary team out of Pitt’s Cyber Institute on cyberbullying project funded by AT&T.

One of Dr. Ohmer’s major projects at Georgia State University in Atlanta focused on facilitating neighborhood collective efficacy among youth and adult residents to prevent community crime and violence in a low-income neighborhood. She is currently working with community partners to plan a replication of this project in Pittsburgh. 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. Resident Civic Engagement on Behalf of Equitable Development: Partnering for Community-Based Participatory Research in Homewood (Pittsburgh, PA). Funder: Corporation for National and Community Service.
  • 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

  • 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., 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