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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Scott D. Ryan

Specific Pioneering Contributions 
For 30-plus years Scott D. Ryan, PhD, MSW, MBA, has made an undeniable mark on the field of social work through his leadership and his multifaceted contributions to research, higher education, and to his communities’ children and families needing clinical service. Early in his career, Ryan worked both as a registered play therapist and as a licensed clinical social worker. These experiences provided the foundation for his transition to research on behalf of children and families, specifically those impacted by adoption. 

After the completion of his PhD in 2001, Ryan received three funding awards from the Florida Department of Children and Families to study the Adoption and Safe Families Act, post-adoption service utilization, and filial family play therapy with post-adoptive families. In 2002, he began a four-year longitudinal study of family development in Florida adoptive families, funded by The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoptions. 

In 2006, Ryan partnered with psychologist Dr. David Brodzinsky to conduct the Adoption by LGBT Policy Project. His work was highlighted in two documentaries, Finding Family: Gay Adoption in the U.S. (2006) and Breaking the Barriers to Teen Adoption (2007), and at national and international conferences. Between 2000 and 2023, he contributed to more than 46 academic articles and nine book chapters focusing primarily on adoptions, including international adoption, therapeutic needs of adoptees, and adoption by LGBT-headed families. 
Within Ryan’s extensive adoption work, championing adoption by LGBT families is perhaps his most important contribution to the field. While same-sex adoptions were banned in the State of Florida, Ryan promoted equality through his research and writing. He authored numerous academic papers exploring attitudes about gay and lesbian adoption, including Floridians’ perspectives of the state’s adoption ban, and highlighting the experiences of gay and lesbian adoptive parents. Ryan has presented on these topics to national and international audiences more than 75 times. 

In 2006, Ryan was invited by then-Florida Senator Nan Rich to provide expert testimony to the Florida State Senate’s Committee on Children and Families. The proposed bill, Senate Bill 172, sought to codify exceptions to the Florida ban on same-sex adoptions to enable permanency for more children in the state’s foster care system. While the bill itself failed, Florida’s ban on same-sex adoptions was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by a state appeals court in 2010 (Ryan’s work was cited in the court case). Ryan went on to provide additional leadership and advocacy on behalf of LGBT families while sitting on the LGBTQ Advisory Committee of the Child Welfare League of America (2007-2009) and the editorial advisory board for the Journal of GLBT Family Studies (2007 to present). 
In addition, Ryan has made his mark on social work academia through higher education leadership. He became an assistant professor at the Florida State University (FSU) College of Social Work in 2000 and advanced to associate professor there in 2005. From 2005 to 2009, he was associate dean for research, before becoming dean of the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in 2009. He has held two endowed professorships: the Jeanene M. Janes Endowed Professor of Child Welfare at FSU and the Jenkins Garrett Professor in Social Work at UTA. During his tenure at UTA, the School of Social Work grew from 970 to an enrollment of over 2,200 combined degrees: Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Bachelor of Science and Substance Use Treatment (BSSUT), Master of Social Work (MSW), and PhD in Social Work programs. These innovations made UTA the largest School of Social Work in Texas and one of the largest in the nation. Ryan has been instrumental in advancing the school’s online offerings, promoting equitable access to higher education and paving the way for 100% online BSW and MSW program options. Ryan leads more than 100 full-time faculty and staff. In addition to developing the size and scope of the programs, he has helped to secure approximately $8.0 million in private gift funds for the school and has participated as PI or Co-PI on research projects that received an estimated $9.9 million in grants during his tenure. 
Importantly, Ryan has also demonstrated exemplary commitment to highlighting issues of diversity and inclusion within the university setting. In 2021, Ryan appointed the first director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within the School of Social Work. The School is ethnically diverse (nearly 65% of students identify as non-white) and serves a high number of military veterans and their immediate family members (over 10% of the student population). Ryan also chaired the UTA Committee on Diversity and Inclusion from 2011 to 2013 and again from 2015 to 2017. He provided integral funding and leadership support for the development of an interdisciplinary Diversity Certificate Program and, later, a Diversity Studies Minor. Moreover, Ryan aided in the establishment of the interdisciplinary Center for African American Studies in 2012. From 2013 to 2016, he was a member of the task force responsible for helping UTA receive its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in 2014. 
Career Highlights 
After completing his graduate degrees, Ryan worked briefly as an associate financial analyst (1995-96) and then went on to become a registered play therapist supervisor with the International Association of Play Therapy and an LCSW/Qualified Supervisor in the State of Florida. Ryan acted as a consultant for the Center for Adoption Studies in Normal, Illinois (2003-09) and was appointed as a senior research fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, New York (2005-14). Since 2006, he has served as the editor of the peer reviewed research journal Adoption Quarterly.  
During his time at FSU, Ryan rose to increasing levels of leadership within the College of Social Work, moving from interim doctoral program director (2003-04) to director of field education (2004-05) to associate dean/associate dean for research (2005-09) and director of the Institute for Social Work Research (2005-09). His professional service included participation in numerous committees benefiting the College and the broader FSU community. 
Ryan became a full professor and dean of the UTA School of Social Work in 2009. While at UTA, he directed the Center for Clinical Social Work (2017-21) and the Center for Child Welfare (2021-23). Select highlights of Ryan’s professional service at UTA include: sitting on the university’s Teacher’s Education Council (2009-15); sitting on the university’s Dean’s Council (2009-23); and chairing the school’s Executive Committee (2010-23). 
Outside the university setting, Ryan has possessed various leadership roles within professional organizations such as the Council on Social Work Education, NASW, National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work, Society for Social Work Research, and Texas Association of Social Work Deans and Directors. 
Biographic Information 
Ryan was born in Kingston, New York. He holds a BBA (1988) and a BSW (1990) from Florida Atlantic University, an MSW (1992) from Columbia University, an MBA (1995) from Howard University, and a PhD in Social Work Research (2001) from Case Western Reserve University. He has been a member of NASW chapters in Texas, Florida and Metro Washington, D.C.  

Ryan is a proud member of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) since 2015. He and his therapy dog, a Frenchie named Moose, make therapeutic visits to schools and nursing homes. He currently resides in Mansfield, Texas with his spouse, a VA social worker, and his youngest daughter, a BSW student. His older daughter (BSW, MSW) and her spouse (MSW, PhD) are also professional social workers. 
Significant Recognition and Awards 
Among Ryans many awards are: Lifetime Achievement Award: NASW-TX North Central Texas Branch, 2020; Adoption Excellence Award (Individual Contributions): U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Children's Bureau, 2007; Angel in Adoption Award: Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, 2007; Friend of Children Award: North American Council on Adoptable Children, 2007; Field Instructor of the Year Award: Gallaudet University, 1997; and Student Social Worker of the Year Award: NASW-FL Broward County Branch, 1990.
Significant Publications (alphabetical order) 
Averett, P., Strong-Blakeney, A., Nalavany, B., & Ryan, S. (2011). Examining the gay adoption ban: Florida's adoptive parents speak out. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 7(12), 30-48.  
Groza, V., & Ryan, S. (2002). Pre-adoption stress and its association with child behavior in domestic special needs and international adoptions. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 27, 181197. 
Madden, E., Ryan, S., Aguiniga, D., Killian, M., & Romanchik, B. (2018). The relationship between time and birth mother satisfaction with relinquishment. Families in Society, 99(2), 170-183.  
Ryan, S. (2000). Examining social workers’ placement recommendations of children with gay and lesbian adoptive parents. Families in Society, 81(5), 517-528. 
Ryan, S., Pearlmutter, S., & Groza, V. (2004). Coming out of the closet: Opening agencies to gay men and lesbian adoptive parents. Social Work, 49(1), 85-96. 
These papers are among the all-time Top 10 most cited articles published in Adoption Quarterly: o Brown, S., Smalling, S., & Ryan, S. (2009). The experiences of gay men and lesbians in becoming and being adoptive parents. Adoption Quarterly, 12(3/4), 229-246. 
Howard, J., Smith, S., & Ryan, S. (2004). A comparative study of child welfare adoptions with other types of adopted and birth children. Adoption Quarterly, 7(3), 1-30.  
Smith, S., Garnier, P., & Howard, J., & Ryan, S. (2006). Where are we now: A post ASFA examination of adoption disruption. Adoption Quarterly, 9(4), 19-44.  

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

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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 

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