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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Jean Kathleen Quam, MSW
Jean Kathleen Quam

Pioneering Contributions

Jean Kathleen Quam, PhD, MSW, has been lauded for her work in both social work education and social work leadership. She created several projects that directly benefitted social work students and social work services. As an assistant professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota, Quam and other faculty members identified a need for housing and services for chronically mentally ill elderly citizens in the community and established the Community Care Corporation. This organization created two homes with field placement sites, provided support for students interested in mental health, and researched this social work model. The organization and its research continues today with multiple, operating sites.

 In 1992, Quam and Professor Esther Wattenberg created the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare in Minnesota, using Title IV-E funds to support hundreds of social work students who were interested in child welfare. The Center provided outstanding professional development opportunities to social workers in the community, educating undergraduates for work in the child welfare field. Although Quam focused her attention on broader issues of education as dean of the College of Education and Human Development, she continued to support social work students by establishing a fellowship. 

Jean Quam joined NASW as an undergraduate student in Moorhead, Minnesota, in the late 1960s. She encouraged students by example to be active members of NASW. She has been an NASW member in Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin.  Her leadership roles in the profession include being on the board of the Minnesota Chapter of NASW and serving as its President from 1996-1998. After serving on the NASW national nominating committee, she was elected to be a member of the national board in 2005 and served on the Executive Committee and was a representative to the Delegate Assembly. She helped to raise money for the NASW Foundation.

She played significant roles at the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) by helping to draft accreditation standards and serving on the Committee on Accreditation for six years. She was an active site visitor and made many visits around the country to undergraduate and graduate programs. 

Career Highlights

In 1980, Quam was recruited to the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota where she remains a member of the faculty. In 1991, she became director of the School and established distance education programs around the state building a strong legacy of endowed scholarship funds. She wrote three books and several book chapters and refereed publications in the process as well. She was a contributor to the NASW Encyclopedia in three different editions. Her work focuses on marginalized populations who are aging, chronic mental illness, GLBT relationships, and the history of social work.  She has presented at many social work and aging conferences. 

In 2006, after 16 years as director of the School of Social Work, she was hired to serve as senior associate dean at the College of Education and Human Development, the academic home for the School of Social Work.  Two years later, she was appointed dean, where she served for more than 11 years. She retired from that position in 2020 and returned to a position on the social work faculty. During her tenure as dean, she raised over $100 million for the college, secured funding from the state legislature to build a new building for the Institute of Child Development. Additionally, she combined a developmental childcare center with a laboratory school and secured funding for a renovated building, and worked with the Medical School to establish the Masonic Institute on the Developing Brain. She built the most diverse faculty and student body at the university.  

In addition to her work with NASW, Quam has served in leadership roles in other social work organizations: for example, SSWR, the St. Louis Group, ANSWER, NASW Assurance Services, Inc. (ASI), and the National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work (NADD). During her time as president of NADD, she was selected to participate in a conference at Wingspread where she led discussions about the ways different social work organizations could work together, rather than competing with one another. 

Biographic Information

Quam was born in 1948 in Fargo, North Dakota. She has an identical twin sister who is a psychologist. Quam attended North Dakota State University in Fargo but transferred to Moorhead State University in her Junior year when a new undergraduate program in Social Work was starting. She was recruited to attend the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where she received financial support for her MSW from the National Institute of Mental Health. Her social work field placements were in a mental retardation residential setting and a psychiatric clinic. She received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1981.  

Her post-MSW experience included working in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at Social Services to the Handicapped; and in Iowa City, Iowa, at the University of Iowa Hospitals, on a cancer research project. While in Iowa, she began an outreach program in rural Iowa in Center City. 

Quam has two adopted sons, one of whom was born in Peru and the other who was born in Paraguay.  Raised in the Lutheran Church, Quam became active in the Jewish community where her spouse worshipped and where her two sons were raised. Quam served on the Temple Israel Foundation Board for six years and was active in the congregational activities.

Significant Recognition and Awards

  • 2015    Robert Holmes Beck Endowed Chair of Ideas in Education        
  • 2008   Generations of Love and Service Award, GLBT Generations.
  • 2006   Mullen, Spector, Truax Women’s Leadership Award, University of Minnesota
  • 2001 “Breaking the Silence Award” from University of Minnesota for improving campus climate for GLBT people.
  • 1998 Chapter Service Award for Outstanding Service to the Chapter and its members.  NASW – Minnesota Chapter.
  • 1996 College of Human Ecology Educational Leadership Award.
  • 1988 Fulbright grant, University of Trondheim, Norway, January -June,1988.
  • 1984 Outstanding Young Alumni Award, Moorhead State University, Moorhead, Minnesota.

Significant Publications

  • Quam, J.K. (Ed.).  (1997).  Social Services for Senior Gays and Lesbians.  New York:  Haworth Press.
  • Humphreys, N.A. and Quam J.K. (1998) Middle-Aged and Old Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Adults in Appleby, G.A. and Anastas, J.W.”  Not Just a Passing Phase.  New York: Columbia Press, 245-268.
  • Quam, J.K. and Whitford, Gary S. (1992) Adaptation and age related expectations of older gay and lesbian adults. The Gerontologist, 32 (3), 367-374.
  • Macht, Mary W. and Quam, Jean K.  (1986).  Social Work:  An Introduction. Columbus, Ohio:  Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co.
  • Abramson, N.S., Quam, J.K. and Wasow, M. (Eds.).  (1986).   The Elderly and Chronic Mental Illness, San Francisco:  Jossey Bass, Inc.
  • Quam, J.K. "E. Abbott, G. Abbott, J. Addams, A. Altmeyer, C. Barton, C. Beers, C. Brace, S. 
  • Breckinridge, Z. Brockway, F. Bruno, B. Buell, R. Cabot, I. Cannon, M. Cannon, G. Coyle, D. Day, R. DeForest, E. Devine, D. Dix, A. Dunham, M. Eliot, F. Perkins, B. Youngdahl, and E. Younghusband".  NASW Encyclopedia of Social Work (18th Edition).  New York:  National Association of Social Work, 1986.
  • Quam, J.K. (1985) Marion Hathway,Virginia Robinson,Jessie Taft,and "Gertrude Folks Zimand" in Biographical Dictionary of Social Welfare, by Walter Trattner (Ed.), Greenwood Press, 1985.

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.