NASW Social Work Pioneers®



The NASW Social Work Pioneers® program honors members of the social work profession who have contributed to the evolution and enrichment of the profession. The Pioneer Program identifies and recognizes individuals whose unique dedication, commitment, and determination have improved social and human conditions. Since its launch in 1994, the Pioneer Program has inducted almost 900 accomplished individuals to its rolls.  A comprehensive collection of their stories can be found within the Pioneer Biography Index.


NASW Social Work Pioneers® 16th Annual Celebration 2022

On October 15, for the first time in more than two years, the NASW Foundation (NASWF) welcomed new Social Work Pioneer® inductees in person to the nation’s capital for a special ceremony. 38 women and men were commemorated this year, combining 2020 and 2021 lists of honorees. The event was impressive: double the number of usual inductees, double the excitement, and double the inspiration for those of us attending in person and watching during the livestream. We hosted an inspiring keynote speaker, The Honorable Edolphus “Ed” Towns, a social worker turned congressman who talked about how critical his practitioner skills were for the job.

We heard from an energized student panel, addressing trends in the field and suggesting solutions for the challenges ahead with problem-solving models. We had a surprise honoree induction, NASW CEO Dr. Angelo McClain, who announced his retirement from NASW at the end of 2022.

In the keynote address, former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns, MSW (a Social Work Pioneer, 2012) – who represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years – stressed the need for more social workers in Congress and other legislative bodies. “We must stop spending all of our time solving problems, and begin to focus on preventing problems,” he said. “We need to realize it is time to step into the political arena.” He added: “I could not imagine what our world would be like without social workers.”

The group shared numerous stories about these newly inducted Pioneers and their lifelong achievements in wide-ranging practice settings, including: financial social work, national and international child welfare policy; social, economic, and environmental justice; advocacy for indigenous people and communities, substance abuse, and hospice services for pets.

Recognition of new NASW Pioneers® is an annual celebration and is one of the profession’s highest honors. These super achievers are role models for future generations of social workers. They are practitioners, academics, healthcare workers, and policymakers at the top of their fields and represent different regions and institutional sectors across the country. The NASW Social Work Pioneer Program honors members of the social work profession who have contributed to the evolution and enrichment of the profession, recognizing individuals whose unique dedication, commitment, and determination have improved social and human conditions.

The theme this year was: “A Time for New Lenses: Striving Toward Progress,” The 120-plus attendees included newly elected Pioneers and their families, deans and faculty of schools of social work, students, NASW leadership and community leaders.

Student panelists heralded from Fordham University (Linda Levin), San Diego State University (Elena Metz), Clark Atlanta University (Aaron Quick) and University at Buffalo (Meschelle Linjean) formed a panel to explore a wide variety of issues including: post-Covid social worker burn-out and impacts on low-income patients; Native American children’s rights when removed from families for adoption; lack of mental health intervention for police officers; and nationwide trends in social welfare program funding and sustainability. The students presented possible solutions to the problems, from calls to action to legislative recommendations, to social mobilization efforts. 

The NASW Foundation thanks all of the event sponsors: NASW Assurance Services, Association of Social Work Boards, Baylor University, Columbia University, Fordham University, University of California – Berkeley, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, San Jose State University and the University of Southern California.


16th Annual Program and Luncheon

View Full Invitation

The NASW Foundation Wishes to Thank Event Sponsors


Penn Social Policy & Practice University of Pennsylvania
columbia school of social work
NASW assurance services


berkeley social welfare
ASWB Association of Social Work Boards
Baylor University Diana R Garland School of Social Work
USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
Fordham the jesuit university of new york graduate school of social service
Michigan School of Social Work
University of Maryland School of Social Work

national association of social workers

SJSU School of Social Work



Pioneer Nominations Accepted On A Rolling Basis 

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting.  To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31.  Learn More >>

The NASW Legacy Project Preserves History

The NASW Legacy Project was created in 2001 to preserve NASW's historical record. The Project enables NASW to identify and preserve the photographs, books, papers, and other documents that will tell the NASW story for decades to come. Read More >>

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nomination Deadline

Nominate a new member of the NASW Social Work Pioneers®! 

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

The annual Pioneers nomination submission deadline is March 31. The Pioneer Steering Committee will consider completed packages received by March 31 at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting.  Follow this link to the Pioneer Nomination Application Form >>

Lit Candles Glittering In Dark

Memorials and Tributes

To honor living individuals, deceased colleagues, mentors, friends, or loved ones, by making a tax-deductible contribution please visit our Memorials and Tributes section. All gifts will be acknowledged on the NASW Foundation website and gifts of $100, or more, will be acknowledged in NASW's new magazine Social Work Advocates, which is published six times each year. You can also leave tributes to NASW friends who have passed away on the NASW Foundation Blog.