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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James J. Kelly Photo
James J. Kelly

James J. Kelly became the President of Menlo College on January 1, 2011. He had served as the college’s Executive Vice President and provost since 2007, having overseen its reaffirmation of accreditation, implementation of its mission as a business school, and entrance into candidacy for accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Kelly joined Menlo College after serving as interim Provost of California State University, East Bay, and concurrently as the Associate Vice President for continuing and international education. As Associate Vice President, he oversaw a domestic executive MBA program as well as international MBA programs in Hong Kong, Singapore, Moscow, Beijing, Vienna, and Graz (Austria), as well as a CPA program in Japan. He started up and administered the East Bay Small Business Development Center for Alameda County, California, with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Kelly was responsible for international student recruitment, retention, and housing.

An expert in new program development, Kelly has garnered more than $41 million in grants, contracts, and gifts over the course of his career. While the Dean of Health and Human Services at California State University, Los Angeles, he headed a coalition with the university, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that resulted in a $96 million state appropriation for the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, which was built on the Cal State Los Angeles campus, and opened in 2007.

Teaching for 17 years in the areas of gerontology, social work, and student orientation, Kelly was a professor and the Director of the Department of Social Work at California State University, Long Beach. He was a pioneer in distance education, having used technology to help establish master’s programs for California State University campuses in Chico, Humboldt, Channel Islands, Hayward, and Bakersfield.

In his role from 2008–2011, as President of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), he sat on the Board of Directors of Assurance Services Insurance, a $55 million insurance company developed during his tenure as NASW President. Kelly earned his PhD from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University (MA), his MSSW from the University of Tennessee, and his BS from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. He is a fellow of The Gerontological Society of America. A strong advocate for ethics and social justice, he is on the editorial advisory board for the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. He was named 1987 National Social Worker of the Year for work in developing services for people with AIDS.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June 2021 Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31, 2021. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  2020 & 2021 Pioneers will be inducted at the 2022 Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and evet details coming soon.