NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Jesse Harris (1935- )
Dr. Jesse Harris has been a commander and leader, serving as the top ranked social worker in the US Army and then as Dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. The respect, positions of influence and leadership, and rich array of role possibilities for social work in the military are due in no small measure to the efforts and careful stewardship of Jesse Harris.
Dr. Harris holds a broad view of clinical social work practice in relation to health and mental health and its requisite high level of clinical skills. This view he has promoted and implemented in programs encompassing soldiers and their families around the globe. It now infuses the mission and service of the innovative social work outreach center he established at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. This is a ground breaking initiative and national model that links direct social work practice (clinical, community organization, and social administration) with the school's field and class teaching and research. The Center’s target population are the children and families of one of Baltimore’s neediest communities. Under his leadership, the Center has undertaken collaborative programs with the Medical School, the Baltimore Public School System, the Department of Housing, and other city agencies. The School's Center has spearheaded the University of Maryland Baltimore's community outreach and commitment to the betterment of its closest neighbors.
U.S. Army Colonel Harris’s more than twenty-year career as an Army social worker culminated in his appointment as Chief of Social Work Services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Social Work Consultant to the Army Surgeon General. He also consulted to the U.S. ambassador to Mozambique on the plight of child soldiers during that country's civil war. Harris recognized that military personnel and their families have needs that social workers can meet, and while in the military conducted research on stress experienced by service personnel and their families, especially during times of combat and deployment.
After retirement from military active duty in 1990, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Social Work as full professor. He was appointed Dean in 1991, serving in that capacity for 15 years. During his tenure as dean faculty were inspired to establish several key interrelated service-research initiatives in addition to SWCOS including the Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children and the Family Connections program. He redirected the mission of the School’s Board of Advisors, leading to enhanced fund raising capability and alumni support both tangible and intangible. Also while dean, Dr. Harris organized and directed support efforts for families of military personnel in "Desert Storm" and continued to serve on advisory boards for both military personnel and veterans.
Born in 1935 in New York City, Jesse Harris grew up in Warren Ohio and in Baltimore. He earned a BS degree at Morgan State College [now university] in 1958, an MS degree in Psychology from Howard University in 1960, and the MSW degree (1971) and PhD (1976) from the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
Dr. Harris is well noted for being a warm, involved, and supportive chief. This has been true as a soldier and as a dean, two remarkably different administrative circumstances. Jesse Harris has the ability to lead without dominating, and the skills of decisiveness and taking action while bringing others along. He is energetic and enthusiastic, and has taken on professional and community commitments that would wear out two other individuals. A life-long fan of opera, who grew up listening to the Metropolitan Opera Saturday afternoon broadcasts, Dr. Harris served for some years on the board of the Baltimore Opera Company.
Dr. Harris has been awarded two Army Commendation Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Surgeon General’s "A" designator, and the Army Legion of Merit. He was named Alumnus of the Year in 1989 by the University of Maryland School of Social Work; Clinical Social Work Educator of the Year in 1993 by the Maryland Society for Clinical Social Work; Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement in Health and Mental Health Practice in 1996 by the NASW Foundation; and Distinguished Black Marylander Award from Towson State University. In 2004, the Archdiocese of Baltimore awarded Harris (who is not Roman Catholic) the Benemerenti Medal, a papal honor given to people who have earned special recognition from the Vatican. At the 2005 International Conference on World Peace and Social Work Education the Mahatma Gandhi University awarded Harris the “ponnada,” ( a gold-laced shawl) in recognition of his dedication to social work. The Maryland General Assembly and the Governor honored Jesse J. Harris for the scope of his accomplishments and the prudent leadership of his school.
Dr. Harris has been a member of NASW since 1971 and was named NASW Social Work Pioneer® in 1998.