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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Rafael Aguirre (1937- )

Pioneering Contributions

For more than 40 years Rafael Aguirre has been mentor, advocate, role-model and instigator for the inclusion into the  profession of minority individuals, particularly in the Hispanic community. When  Aguirre arrived in El Paso, Texas, there were only three other bilingual bicultural social workers for a largely Hispanic and Spanish speaking population. He has tirelessly promoted the social work profession and service to underprivileged  and underserved clients in the community, encouraging Mexican American young people to study and remain in El Paso. With respect to social work education, he spearheaded  faculty recruiting effort to attract and retain minority candidates, and served on  the Texas Graduate Schools of Social Work Advisory Board on Minority Curriculum, Faculty and Students. He helped the University of Texas at El Paso obtain CSWE accreditation, which enabled students to graduate with a BSW and pursue graduate studies if they chose.  An innovative administrator, sensitive above all to client needs, he helped design and implement the residential mental health program for the El Paso State Center in the 1970s, when the closest in-patient psychiatric program was 360 miles away, thereby providing patients the opportunity to be treated close to home and family.

Career Highlights

Aguirre began his career in 1960 as a child protection worker in Brownsville, Texas.  He then served Native American populations on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from 1963-69. In the 1970s he was the Director of Mental Health services for the El Paso State Center. Aguirre was appointed Executive Director of Family Service of El Paso  in 1979, serving in that capacity until 1996. From that date until 2005 he served as Faculty Associate in the Department of Psychiatry, Texas Tech School of Medicine, training residents in the field of marriage and family therapy.  Although intending to retire in 2005, Rafael Aguirre established what is now a full-time private clinical practice, including consultation to a number of organizations.

Biographic Data

Rafael Aguirre was born in 1937 in El Paso, Texas where he continues to make his home. He received his MSW from Our Lady of the Lake University in 1967 and his BA in psychology from Texas Western College (now University of Texas El Paso) in 1960.  He has participated on numerous boards and committees, including the Ruben Salazar Memorial Foundation, the Children’s Justice Center of El Paso, El Paso Ad Hoc Committee on Mental Health and Mental Retardation, El Paso Center of Children, La Familia Program for the mentally Ill, and the El Paso Independent School District Trust Fund.  Aguirre has been an active contributing member of NASW at the local, state and national level. He served on the NASW National Board of Directors (1974-1977) and the National Task Force on Minority Affairs (1979-1981).

Significant Achievements and Awards

Rafael Aguirre received the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award-El Paso Chapter, Social Worker of the year award-El Paso Chapter, 1984; was designated as Master Marriage and Family Therapist by the National Association of Latino Social Workers in 1996; and received a Unit Award Certification for Excellence of Service in 1970 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.


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