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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Joel Fischer, PhD
Joel Fischer

Pioneering Contributions 

Joel Fischer, PhD, MSW, is considered an icon by many academics and practitioners for the contributions he continues to make to the social work profession. Fischer was one of the first in the field of social work to call for using research to inform the selection of social work interventions. In the 1970s, he was one of the first to call on social work practitioners to use what is now called evidence-based practice. In the realm of community service, Fischer became an NASW member in the mid-1960s, when the organization set the standards for giving social justice a voice. He continues to be a supportive member, 60 years later.
Fischer has never ceased efforts to fight for the rights of others. He has testified for decades in the Hawaii State Legislature on behalf of welfare improvements, homelessness, indigenous rights, and other social justice struggles. Additionally, he fought for divestment from businesses investing in South Africa. After three years of struggle, Hawaii eventually divested approximately $1.6 billion dollars, one of the largest divestments in the entire country. Additionally, Fischer took part in the fight against military-classified research at the University of Hawaii. Fischer and his coalition eventually won a number of crucial victories, including no classified research on campus.
In 2005, Fischer was honored with NASW Hawaii’s Social Worker of the Year Award for Social Justice for his leadership in social justice activities. Also, he was honored on the floor of the State Senate for his work in fighting for social justice.

Career Highlights

Fischer first worked in social work for two years as a caseworker for the Cook County Department of Public Assistance. After receiving his MSW degree, he worked for almost three years as a clinical social worker for the Veterans Administration in San Francisco. 

After receiving his doctorate, Fischer moved to Hawaii, where he was a professor for 40 years at the University of Hawaii School of Social Work. He was honored with several visiting professorships at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis, the University of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, and the University of Natal, South Africa.

Biographic Information

Fischer was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1939. He received his BS and MSW from the University of Illinois. Following three years of practice, Fischer obtained his doctorate in Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. He taught at the University of Hawaii for 40 years.
Fischer met and married his wife, Renee Furuyama. They have been together for 36 years and have two children, Lisa and Nikki, and two grandchildren, Christy and Parker.

Significant Recognition and Awards

Fischer has been recognized all over the world as one of the premiere social work educators. He has taught or presented papers in Canada, Israel, Taiwan, Japan, Puerto Rico, Kwa Zulu, Hong Kong, England, Mexico and France. His biography appears in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, and 25 other biographical collections of people with outstanding accomplishments. Fischer also has been on the editorial board or reviewer for 14 social work journals.

Significant Publications

Joel Fischer is one of the most influential social work authors in the United States. He has published 34 books, including three books in 2020, and has published some 150 articles and reviews. A few of the books and articles that are significant to Fischer are:

  • The article that launched Fischer’s career- "Is Casework Effective? A Review", Social Work, Volume18, Issue 1, January, 1973, pp. 5-21. Reprinted in: D.Miller (ed.), Social Work Practice Theory: A Resource Book.  Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, .1974; in M. Glicken (ed.) Toward Effective Social Work Practice. Tempe: Arizona State University, 1974; A.W. Clarke and R.H. Corney (eds.), Social Work and Primary Health Care. London: Academic Press, 1981.
  • Fischer, J. Bloom, M. Orme, J., Evaluating Practice: Guidelines for the Accountable Professional (1982). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall. Now in its sixth edition.
  • Fischer, J. Doing Stuff (2020). Conneaut Lake, PA: Page Publishing, Inc.

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.