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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Marilyn Flynn Photo
Marilyn Flynn

Pioneering Contributions

Marilyn Flynn has been a visionary leader in social work education, moving the field into new terrain and 21st century opportunities. Flynn established the first nationally available MSW specialization in military social work, a program initially supported through the first direct congressional appropriation to a school of social work for this purpose. The military specialization is now a model for other schools of social work offering that specialty.

The University of Southern California (USC.), where Flynn has been Dean for more than 15 years, was the first school to offer an interactive web-based MSW degree, now accessible almost everywhere in the United States and Canada. With an enrollment of over 2,000 MSW students in both virtual and campus environments, the school has greatly expanded educational opportunities for all students interested in a social work career, including special populations such as military personnel, persons living in remote areas, persons with disabilities, and others requiring a flexible learning environment. Flynn pioneered the field of computer-assisted learning and was the first in her field to publish in this area.

She has established a ground-breaking program for placement and employment of social workers in non-traditional settings. Graduate social work interns have been introduced in finance, banking, insurance, and managed care companies, with subsequent employment. She also created a new TeleHealth Clinic at USC, using licensed clinical social workers to provide internet-based counseling services for clients drawn from a wide variety of settings and geographic locations. This is a model currently being expanded at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Career Highlights

Flynn helped found the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and was the first president of the St. Louis Group, representing most U.S. schools of social work in major research institutions. At USC, she greatly enlarged the Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services and established the nationally respected Flynn Prize for Social Work Research.

Flynn was Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research and of the School of Social Work at Michigan State University (MSU) from 1992-1997. She was the first woman and the first social worker to serve in the role of Director of the Institute. She was also an affiliate faculty member in MSU’s Russian and East European Studies Center and in the College of Social Science, she was affiliated with the Applied Developmental Sciences Program and the Center for Advanced Study of International Development.  Flynn was active in Russia and emerging democracies in Asia. In 1993, she led a delegation to Siberia to conduct one of the first local political leadership development programs in Tomsk, Siberia’s oldest city.

From 1985 to 1991, Flynn was Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Flynn designed and implemented the most comprehensive multi-sector survey of public and private programs for at-risk children ever conducted in Detroit/Wayne County. Results of her survey and related organizing activity contributed to the creation of a new public entity, the Wayne County Human Services Coordinating Board. She has held several positions of national leadership in the Council on Social Work Education.

She received her PhD in 1976 and her MSW in 1964 from the University of Illinois at Urbana. She received her AB in history and sociology from Roosevelt University in 1960.

Significant Achievements and Awards

  • 2014:  Community Angel Award, Drew Child Development Corporation.
  • 2013:  Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; President’s Volunteer Service Award, Corporation for National and Community Service.
  • 2012:  Provost’s Prize for Innovation in Educational Practice, University of Southern California;  International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award, National Association of Social Workers Foundation.

Significant Publications

  • Flynn, M. & Hassan, A. (2010).  Guest editorial: Unique challenges of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Journal of Social Work Education, 46(2), 169-173.  doi:10.5175/JSWE.2010.334800002.
  • Flynn, M.L. (1990). Using computer-assisted instruction to increase organizational effectiveness.  Administration in Social Work, 14(1), 103-118. doi: 10.1300/J147v14n01_07.
  • Flynn, M.L., DiBello, L.V., & Brussell, S. (1985). Adapting computer-assisted instruction to meet the needs of elderly job seekers: Final report.  Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, Office of Human Development, Washington, D.C.
  • Flynn, M.L. (1977).  Computer-based instruction in social policy: A one-year trial.  Journal of Education for Social Work, 13(1), 52-59. 

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.