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.

Skip Navigation Links
James Zabora Photo
James Zabora

Dr. James Zabora is the Dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service.  Prior to becoming Dean, he had a 20 year career in oncology social work at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He was head of the Department of Patient and Family Services and one of five associate directors in the Comprehensive Cancer Center where he specialized in community programs and research. 

He developed with others what has been called the best psychosocial services program for cancer patients and their families in the United States. He also administered the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program for low-income women living in Baltimore City. As a result of these activities, he was appointed Co-Director of the Baltimore City Cancer Plan and Co-Director for Community Outreach and Education at the Urban Environmental Health Center in The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Dr. Zabora has maintained a research consultant position at the Life with Cancer Program in Fairfax, VA, and his research continues to focus on cancer prevention and control, psychosocial screening, problem-solving education, and quality of life among cancer patients and their families. 

Among other positions for which he provided leadership are: Administrator, Sickle Cell Anemia Project, Baltimore City Hospitals, 1975 – 1983; Principal Medical Social Worker, Southeast Baltimore Drug Treatment Program, 1977 – 1979; Director of Community Outreach and Education in the Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.  

Dr. Zabora is the Editor of the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology and the author of more than 70 papers and book chapters on cancer prevention, psychosocial screening and community program development, quality of life, and problem-solving education. He has often served as keynote speaker for conferences nationally, regionally, and internationally and given more than 300 invited lectures in the United States, Canada, Asia, Australia and Europe.  

As dean, Dr. Zabora shows the same outstanding qualities of dedication and leadership. In a CSWE reaccreditation review in November 2007 the report said that every standard for social work education was rated as strong. Their graduates pass the licensing exam at a 95% rate on the first attempt and the practice preparation is considered to be the leader in the region. He has fostered a research culture and in the last four years, in collaboration with faculty, he has implemented three new centers and redesigned three others.

He and a faculty member have received$135,000 from the Susan B. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research in collaboration with Nueva Vidato to study the program's effectiveness in providing services to Latinas with cancer. In the past he and another faculty member developed a coalition with the Child and Family Services Administration, the School, Howard University, and the University of the District of Columbia to secure funding (equal to full-time tuition for 5 NCSSS students) under Title IV-E for training graduate students for child welfare. His research has won a number of Awards at Johns Hopkins, and in 2002, his research team received the Annual Quality of Life Research Award from the National Office of the American Cancer Society.

In 2007, at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society, Dr. Zabora received the Jimmie Holland Distinguished Leadership Award based on his "outstanding contributions (in clinical practice, education, research and leadership) in the field of psychosocial oncology," and in 2009, he received the Ida M. Cannon Award for Distinguished Leadership from the Society for Social Work Leadership in HealthCare.  In addition, three times he received the Jennifer Brager Award for Cancer Research (1986, 1988 and 1996); the National Leadership Award, Association of Oncology Social Work (1994); Community Recognition Award from Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore (1994); a Special Community Service Award from the Hispanic Apostolate, Baltimore (2000); and the Trish Greene quality of Life Research Award from the American Cancer Society (2002).  This impressive list of awards reflects his growing national recognition and impact in the field of oncology social work.

Dr. Zabora received his BA in 1973 from Loyola College, Baltimore, MD; his MSW in 1975 from the University of Maryland School of Social Work & Community Planning, Baltimore, MD, and his ScD in 1998 from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene & Public Health, Baltimore, MD. 

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.