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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John A. Yankey, PhD
John A. Yankey

Pioneering Contributions

John A. Yankey, PhD, MSW, is the Leonard W. Mayo Professor Emeritus at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences (Mandel School) at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio.  During a social work career spanning 60 years, he has been described as an iconic social work educator, collaborative leader, visionary, catalyst, mentor, and sought-after conference speaker and consultant. His pioneering contributions, which are as numerous as they are wide ranging, have been primarily related to the improved management and organizational effectiveness of public and nonprofit organizations.

Yankey’s early achievements are reflected in his leadership as deputy commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Welfare. As the chief operating officer of a state-wide system, he led the transformation of the organization’s structure and culture to make it more client-oriented and responsive. His collaborative and energetic leadership style contributed to stream-lining the administration of public assistance and food stamps programs, increasing public assistance grants, transforming the work incentive programming, and incorporating technology to enhance the delivery of public services. These outcomes resulted in positive impacts for thousands of clients and staff and brought favorable attention from state and national public welfare leaders, as well as from state and national media.

At the Mandel School, one of Yankey’s achievements was developing and directing programs to prepare students for effective functioning in key leadership roles in Ohio’s public human services agencies and other nonprofit organizations. With a grant from the Ohio Department of Human Services, he created a public welfare specialization which further strengthened the preparation of students to move into leadership roles. Complementing these highly positive curricular impacts, Yankey obtained state and federal scholarship support for hundreds of Mandel School students who, upon graduation, assumed important direct services, supervisory, and administrative roles in the Ohio Department of Human Services. 

Yankey’s strong relationships with public sector officials in Ohio led to the establishment of the Ohio Family & Children Services Institute, which provided management training for administrative leaders of Ohio’s public family services and child welfare organizations. This Institute later evolved into the Center for Public Sector Leadership and Services, a major training, technical assistance, and consulting center that served as the Mandel School’s primary connection with public human services organizations.

Another of Yankey’s pioneering contributions was his collaborative leadership in helping to create, and then co-direct and teach in the Ohio Executive Institute, an institute jointly developed with the College of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University. This executive education program provided management and leadership training for Ohio Governor Richard Celeste’s cabinet and state departmental leadership teams. Yankey also established, directed, and taught at, the Fundraising Academy. This Academy was established at the Mandel School for the purpose of preparing students to be more effective grant-seekers and, for some, to pursue careers in the field of philanthropy. 

Career Highlights

Yankey began his social work career as a child welfare worker for the West Virginia Department of Welfare in 1961, providing protective, juvenile court, foster care, and adoption services. In 1963 he received his MSW degree from West Virginia University.  After graduation in 1965, he was promoted to child welfare supervisor, providing supervision to fifteen child welfare workers in the state’s Eastern Panhandle. In 1966 he was promoted to the state office where he served as the Assistant Director for West Virginia’s Child Welfare Program.  In 1967 pursued his PhD in social work at the University of Pittsburgh. Yankey then became the Deputy Commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Welfare. 

In 1973 Yankey joined the faculty of the CWRU School of Applied Social Sciences (now the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School).  He was among the faculty who envisioned and help establish the school’s Intensive Weekend Program, a groundbreaking educational program which provided opportunity for full-time employees of public and nonprofit organizations to pursue their graduate degrees on weekends.

Yankey was the acting dean of the Mandel School in 1980-1981 and associate dean for Community Programs from 1981-1983. In 1984 Yankey was a driving force in the establishment of the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations. In addition to drafting the initial concept paper for the Center, he served as its Director of Community Services during the mid-1990s. In 2001-2002 and 2009 Yankey was the interim executive director of the Center. 
Over a 30-year period, Yankey has been heavily engaged in the activities of NASW.  In Greater Cleveland, he assumed leadership roles for the then Cleveland Chapter. He accepted a major leadership role with the Statewide Reorganization Committee to establish the Ohio Chapter NASW and then served among the first of its Vice-Presidents and Presidents. Additionally, he chaired various state chapter committees, including the PACE Committee, which was established to engage in legislative activities. Yankey assumed a pivotal leadership role for the Ohio Chapter in getting social work licensing legislation enacted. At the national level, Yankey was involved in the work of the Delegate Assembly. He represented Ohio at five national Delegate Assemblies and on several occasions coordinated the Midwest Coalition. Later, he served NASW at the national level as Chair of the Legislative Committee. 

With the American Public Welfare Association, he served on a number of planning and policy committees, as well as on the organization’s board of directors. For more than a decade, he reviewed articles for and served on the Public Welfare Journal Advisory Board.  He also was actively involved in the work of various committees of the National Conference on Social Welfare, including its Task Force on the Future for Social Services in the United States.

Biographic Data

Yankey, the eldest of four children, was born on January 28, 1938, in Petersburg, West Virginia.  He graduated from Petersburg High School in 1956. He was the first of his extended family to attend college, graduating with a Secondary Education degree from Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, West Virginia in 1961. Yankey later received his MSW from West Virginia University (1965) and his PhD in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh (1970).

Significant Recognition and Awards

  • Selected by Cleveland Chapter NASW as Outstanding Social Worker of the Year (1977)
  • Selected by students at the Mandel School as the Outstanding Teacher of the Year (1977, 1987,1989, 1992, 1996, 2001, 2005)
  • Selected by Ohio Chapter NASW as Outstanding Social Worker of the Year (1981)
  • Chosen as the Outstanding Alumnus in Education—University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work (1994)
  • Awarded Herman D. Stein Distinguished Social Work Educator Award by the Mandel School (2005)
  • Honored by designation of the three annual Outstanding Teaching Awards at the
  • Mandel School as the John A. Yankey Outstanding Teacher of the Year Awards (2008, 2019) 
  • Presented Catholic Charities USA Centennial Medal for designing and teaching in the annual National Leadership Institute (2014)
  • Designated as “Distinguished Mountaineer” by West Virginia Governor Tomblin (2014) 
  • Inducted into the Mandel School Hall of Achievement (2016)

Significant Publications

  • Yankey, John A. & Lois Swack, “Short-Term Management Training:  Practical Perspectives,”Social Work Continuing Education Yearbook, 1974-1975, Austin:  University of Texas,1976.
  • Yankey, John A. The Personal Social Services System Approach: Is It Feasible? Cleveland:  Case Western Reserve University, 1978.
  • Yankey, John A. “Public Social Services,” Encyclopedia of Social Work, 18th Edition. Silver Spring, National Association of Social Workers, 1987.
  • Edwards, Richard & John A. Yankey (eds.). Skills for Effective Human Services Manager. Silver Spring: NASW Press, 1991.
  • Yankey, John A. & Mark Singer, “A Manager’s Guide to Mergers and Consolidations,” Skills for Effective Human Services Management. Silver Spring: NASW Press, 1991.
  • Yankey, John A. “Strategic Planning,” Encyclopedia of Social Work, 19th Edition. Silver Spring:  NASW Press, 1995.
  • Yankey, John A., Barbara Jacobus & Kelly Koney. Merging Nonprofit Organizations:  The Art and Science of the Deal. Cleveland:  Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations, 2001.
  • Edwards, Richard & John A. Yankey (eds.). Effectively Managing Nonprofit Organizations. Washington, D.C.:  NASW Press, 2006.
  • Yankey, John A. & Carol Willen. “Consulting with Nonprofit Organizations: Roles, Processes, and Effectiveness.”  Effectively Managing Nonprofit Organizations. Washington, D.C.: NASW Press, 2006.
  • Yankey, John A. &Vera Vogelsang-Coombs. “Strategic Planning,” Encyclopedia of Social Work. Washington, D.C.:  National Association of Social Workers, 2007.
  • Yankey, John A. & Carol Willen. “Strategic Alliances,” The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2010. 
  • Yankey, John A., Janet Coquillette, Susan Eagan, & Carol Willen. The Human Services Strategic Restructuring Project—A Journey of Learning. Cleveland:  The Funders Collaborative, 2012.

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.