NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Diana Ming Chan Photo
Diana Ming Chan* (1929-2008)

Ms. Diana Ming Chan, LCSW, ACSW, was a professional social worker for 54 years after receiving her Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota. As with many great pioneering social workers, Ms. Chan worked tirelessly in direct services during this period. She directed youth and family programs in Richmond, Oakland, and San Francisco, and completed her direct service career as a school social worker in San Francisco in 2000. Early on, Ms. Chan shared her knowledge and experience through teaching, with social work students and with the parents of the families she was serving. Ms. Chan taught at City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, and at many community agencies, and public schools. Ms. Chan also served as an educator and trainer at the Shun Tin Children and Youth Center in Hong Kong.

Ms. Chan broke the "color" barrier as the first Cantonese speaking Chinese MSW in San Francisco Chinatown. She helped bring the “cultural" in cultural competence through her work and training with many social workers in clinics, churches, and other private nonprofit organizations. She advocated for the recruitment and training of social workers of color during the Civil Rights and War On Poverty eras. One of Ms. Chan's greatest accomplishments was her work translating the lessons of direct service to policy. As a lifelong youth and family social worker, Ms. Chan became resolute in her conviction that prevention and early intervention were critical services to helping all students and families become or remain healthy. She saw that this was especially true for immigrant families.

In this respect, Ms. Chan personally began a monumental effort to convince policymakers to increase the number of school social workers in the San Francisco Unified School District. Unlike other states, California is a notorious latecomer to utilizing school social workers and has one of the lowest ratio of school social workers to pupils (one school social worker per 25,000 pupils). Additionally, other pupil support services personnel were underutilized in California schools including school nurses, school counselors, and psychologists.

Ms. Chan committed herself to change policy by educating policymakers on the critical need for school social workers and actually increasing funding for school social workers. There is no greater social work than changing policy that results in measurable outcomes at the direct services level. Her first task was to demonstrate the value and need for school social workers. Her request was politely declined by the San Francisco Unified School District given the dire budget situation. As usual, the threat of laying off school teachers and closing schools held higher priority than increasing pupil support personnel such as school social workers.

Undaunted, Ms. Chan reacted to this in classic professional social work fashion, "I’ll show you how important it is and I'll give you a way to do it." Ms. Chan organized. She formed a committee, the Learning Support Services Advocates (LSSA) to find a way to increase school social workers in the district. She teamed with the NASW California Chapter and the NASW Foundation to endow the "Learning Springboard" fund of nearly $1 million to pay for half the salary of two school social workers. Additionally these school social workers would take on social work interns from San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley to provide social work services in the schools.

Fresh from this success, Ms. Chan did not stop. Her LSSA included a school nurse, which led to joint advocacy efforts by social workers and school nurses to increase pupil support services in the schools. She was well known in school support circles in San Francisco for her innovative and effective dumpling diplomacy. She invited top policy officials to her home to share a delicious Chinese dinner and to hear about her passion for school social work. With the nurses, Ms. Chan was able to effectively lobby the Board of Education for $1.5 million to hire five school social workers and five school nurses. In the following year, the number was doubled for each profession. In 2007, Diana was nominated to be a member of the NASW Social Work Pioneers®, received the NASW California Chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and was elected to the California Social Work Hall of Distinction, University of Southern California, School of Social Work.

California Social Welfare Archives: Oral History

Diana Ming Chan:
Her National Legacy
Remarks by Robert Carter Arnold, Director, NASW Foundation
San Francisco, October 26, 2008

I am so very honored to be here today representing the National Office of the National Association of Social Workers and our 150,000 social worker members. My name is Bob Arnold, and I am here from Washington, DC.  I would like to share a little about Diana’s impact and legacy at the national level. As Director of the National Association of Social Workers Foundation in Washington, DC, I feel fortunate to have known Diana for the past six years. 

I joined NASW in 2001 and learned about Diana—and her family.  I learned that in 2000, Diana, along with Mr. Chan and son Harrison, had committed a significant amount of funds to establish the Learning Springboard Endowment, designed to support social workers in San Francisco public schools.  They had decided to donate the funds to the NASW Foundation, in part because of the leveraging effect the donation to a national organization could have.  I learned of her work with the Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus—with Janice Wong and Nancy Lim-Yee and others—and the NASW California Chapter—and Janlee Wong—and the San Francisco public schools—with Trish Bascom.  And I learned of her work with Learning Support Services Advocates. 

In October 2002, the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers, Dr. Betsy Clark, and I spent several days with the Chan Family here in San Francisco.  Dr. Clark wanted to have been here today but is on a social work trip to South Africa.  We saw firsthand Diana’s influence and impact on the San Francisco area. But I am here to tell you that Diana’s impact is much larger than San Francisco—or even California.  It is indeed national.  The Learning Springboard Endowment, of course, has had a lasting impact.  It has helped children and families in San Francisco who have benefited from the work of social workers.  We have told the story, many times and in many ways, to our 150,000 members and to the public.  Various individuals—and various NASW chapters—have been inspired by the story and it has encouraged their efforts to increase social workers in public schools in their own states. But Diana has also had a lasting impact on many different efforts at the national level.  Here are just a few examples:

In May 2005, Diana was one of two people selected by NASW to be featured nationally during Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month.  Her story—her passion for children—the story of how social workers can help—and how one person can make a real difference—was featured.  Tens of thousands of people all over the country learned about Diana. Last year, Diana was elected an NASW Social Work Pioneer®.  Being elected an NASW Social Work Pioneer® is one of the highest honors in the field of social work.  Pioneers are elected by their peers.  To date, out of more than a million social workers who have lived during the last 100 years, only about 600 have been elected NASW Social Work Pioneers®. 

Pioneers are role models for future generations of social workers.  Because of her work, Diana was elected to be part of this select national group.  Her name is forever on a brass plaque in the Pioneer Room in our National Office.  A short biographical profile of her is on our national website. Why is this important?  The NASW National Web site receives an average of 150,000 visitors and over 2 million hits every month. If you google “Diana Ming Chan”—the number one story you will find is her NASW Social Work Pioneer® biography. 

Diana also played an important role in a national project related to Eliminating Disparities at End-of-Life.  The NASW Foundation received a grant to carry out three town hall meetings around the country and to collect the input given at the community level.  One of the locations was San Francisco.  Diana helped with the planning and presented a session in February 2007 on working with the Asian American community.  The results of this meeting were incorporated into our final report back to the national foundation—the Aetna Foundation—and can serve to shape their future programs.    

One year ago, in October 2007, Clarence and Diana attended an NASW event here in San Francisco.  Diana pulled several of us aside and told us her ideas—that we needed to create materials to promote social work—and social workers—to high school career counselors.  We took Diana’s ideas to heart and they are now an integral part of our National Social Work Public Education Campaign and our national efforts for Social Work Month in March 2009.

Diana also assisted and advised on NASW’s federal efforts.  In February and March 2008, the Dorothy Height and Whitney Young Social Work Reinvestment Act was introduced into the United States House of Representatives and the US Senate.  The Act calls for increased funding and support of professional social workers—so that families and communities will be better served.  Knowing of her work in California, NASW National Office staff sought out Diana’s insights and wise counsel as to strategies and advice—and found her input helpful. 

As a tribute to Diana, Diana’s family and friends, the Asian Pacific Islander Social Worker Council, the NASW California Chapter and the NASW Foundation have recently established a scholarship fund to honor Diana’s memory and support her legacy.  We have received numerous donations and look forward to being able to support one or more social work students through the Diana Ming Chan Scholarship. 

Diana’s story—the story of how one energetic woman had a vision of what the world could be like and pressed on—working with others and never giving up—giving generously of her own time and her own funds-- continues to be told, and she will continue to inspire everyone who hears of her work, including current—and future—social workers. We miss her terribly.  But while we mourn her passing, we at the NASW National Office, and I personally, pledge to do all we can to continue the good work and to carry on the legacy of this very special lady. 

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

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

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. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.