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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Darla Spence Coffey

Specific Pioneering Contributions

Darla Spence Coffey, PhD, MSW, was a practitioner from 1983-1999 and an academic from 2000-2022, during which she created new programs that brought about positive social change in the lives of countless family members, students, and educators. 

Coffey’s contributions as president and CEO of the Council of Social Work Education from 2012-2022 included establishing 842 programs that increased the number of social work graduates to meet the demand of the shortage in the world. She also created new education initiatives to enhance CSWE membership including a social work educators’ toolbox to effectively connect EPAS course designs and instruction. Coffey contributed to a presence with all federal, state, local, nonprofit, and community-based organizations that connected “sister” services to various CSWE committees, taskforces, and the board of directors. 

Coffey brought interprofessional education to the academic world through her partnership with IPE. These efforts continue to inform standardized social worker “roundtables” of discussion and partnership across institutions. She presented numerous presentations about social justice in practice and education (DEIA), including self-care for practitioners and students for wellness, as well as policy and legislation connections to social work education and practice.

Career Highlights

Coffey’s most significant contribution to the field of social work education was her pioneering courses on mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence. She remains a nationally recognized author and speaker on these topics. 

After years of working with and researching the effects of domestic violence on children, Coffey developed a curriculum, “Parenting After Violence,” and trained social workers in the child welfare system in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her passion for mental health awareness, domestic violence intervention, and prevention generated several research projects in behavioral sciences. 

Noteworthy governmental and NGO grants covered issues like: gerontological social work education, children exposed to domestic violence, safe families and parent education and support group, mothers who have survived abusive relationships, and preadolescent boys’ violence prevention. 

Coffey was director of a NIMH-funded research project assessing the relationship between case managers and chronically mentally ill patients. During her tenure at CSWE, Coffey managed initiatives to elevate social work education and the social work profession in academia and in the broader public arena. The number of accredited programs grew to 842 under her leadership, Coffey oversaw two updates to the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, expanding support for faculty members and students of accredited programs; elevated the role of social work in interprofessional education (IPE); secured a consensus study from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine that focused on the need to integrate social determinants of health into the delivery of health care; and led dozens of advocacy efforts to advance higher education and social work on Capitol Hill. In the past year, she has been focused on advancing social work education that is decisively antiracist, anti-oppressive, and anti-colonial.

Coffey's vision for CSWE and social work education has been clear, exciting, and progressive. She was a transformational president and CEO for CSWE. She managed and administered with care and precision. She provided support for, and encouraged, staff and volunteers to move beyond their comfort zone. Stepping into this role, Coffey had a vision for CSWE that she executed with grace and style. Coffey was a dynamic leader who moved CSWE forward, leaving it in a dynamic position to promote excellence in social work education.

Biographic Information

Coffey is a native of Philadelphia. She received her BA from Eastern College (1983) her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania(1987), and her PhD from Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (1999). She was a member of the social work faculty at West Chester University starting in 1998; there, she contributed to the first, accredited MSW program in 2000 and served as the director and chair of the university’s undergraduate social work program from 2002 to 2005. 

From 2005 to 2012, at West Chester University, Coffey served in senior university administrative capacities, providing leadership for academic program development and policies, assessing student learning, transfer articulation, accreditation, and faculty development. During the 2008/2009 academic year, she served as interim provost/vice president for academic affairs. In addition, her service activities within the university were extensive, including co-chairing West Chester’s Campus Climate Intervention Team and serving as a founding member of the Advisory Board of Women in Leadership and Service. 

Significant Recognition and Awards
Among the awards and recognition Coffey has received are: 2017 Advocate for Human Rights Award, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University; 2017 Distinguished Fellow, National Academies of Practice, Social Work Academy; 2017 Political Advocacy Leadership Award, Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy; 2014 Eastern University Alumna Award; and 2010 West Chester University Civility Award.

Recent Publications

Coffey, D.S. (2022). Commentary. In Grand Challenges for Social Work and Society: Milestones Achieved and Opportunities Ahead. RP Barth, JT Messing, TR Shanks, and JH Williams (Eds.) Oxford University Press.
Engleson, B., B.S. Robinson, D.S. Coffey (2020). Health professional education student volunteerism amid COVID-19: How a diverse, interprofessional team of health students created a volunteer model to support essential workers. NAM Perspectives. 
Commentary, Washington, DC: National Academy of Medicine,
Connolly, M., C. Williams, D.S. Coffey (Editors). (2019). Strategic Leadership in Social Work 
Education. Switzerland: Springer. 

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.