NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Betsy Schaefer Vourlekis, PhD, MSW
Betsy Schaefer Vourlekis’ social work career has been one of outstanding accomplishments in research, teaching, and practice areas in which she has truly been a pioneer. Born in Buffalo, New York, Vourlekis received her BA, Magna Cum Laude, from Harvard University in 1964 and her MSW from Columbia University in 1966. During the following two years, she ran a community center in Peru while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. When she returned to the United States, in 1969, Vourlekis accepted a position at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC, where she remained until 1973.
Throughout the 1970’s, Vourlekis was a field instructor for Smith College, Howard University, and held a faculty position at University of Maryland. From 1975-1980, she was an Assistant Professor at University of Maryland, School of Social Work. In 1980, she became a Social Work Training Officer at St. Elizabeth. During these same years, she worked on a PhD in Human Development at University of Maryland, which she received in 1984. In 1985, Vourlekis joined the NASW team as Staff Director for Health and Mental Health, leading the Association’s efforts to develop clinical indicators for quality improvement in psychosocial care. Since 1988, she has been on the faculty at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where she is Professor of Social Work.
Vourlekis played a leading role in establishing the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research. Beginning in the 1980s, she was an active member of the NIMH Task Force on Social Work Research, later was Chair of the National Implementation Committee on Social Work Research, and served Interim Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research in 1993, until a permanent director could be appointed. She also co-chaired the National Conference of Social Work Researchers on “Advancing Knowledge for Human Services” in 1995, and has participated in numerous other studies, workshops, and symposia related to health care practice, education, and research.
Vourlekis has made important contributions to social work research and practice improvement on both national and international levels. She presented papers based on her research findings and her historical interests at conferences throughout the United States, Israel, Australia, and Hong Kong.
Perhaps the most unique quality of Vourlekis’ pioneering work in social work is her partnerships with practitioners to demonstrate the difference social work can make. Through her visualization of the creative role social workers must play in quality health care; her efforts to construct and promote practical evidence-based practice tools; and her disciplined approach to studying and demonstrating the factors that contribute to the highest quality of social work, she supported the profession in making its case within health and mental health care.
Social Work Pioneer- 1998