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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Joan Oppenheimer Weiss Photo
Joan Oppenheimer Weiss

Joan Oppenheimer Weiss, ACSW, LICSW, LCSW, is a leader in the field of genetics and social work. During her extraordinary career, spanning nearly four decades, she has been a very effective advocate for individuals with genetic disorders and her work and contributions are on the leading edge of genetic research. A leading spokesperson for the role of social work in the growing field of genetic research and education, Ms. Weiss has provided numerous lectures and workshops in the United States and Europe, and has published several books in the field of genetics and social work.

Ms. Weiss was a Founder and first Executive Director of the Alliance of Genetic Support Groups, a major umbrella group for voluntary genetic organizations across the country. She also served as the Co-Director of the Human Genome Education Model (HuGEM) Project. HuGEM is an internationally recognized genetics education project for health professionals that seek to include consumers at all levels of policy, education, and research. She was instrumental in establishing the partnership that now exists between consumers and health professionals.

Ms. Weiss’s career in genetics began at the Johns Hopkins Hospital where she was a Senior Social Worker in Genetics for more than 20 years. Prior to this, Ms. Weiss was a caseworker at the Jewish Social Service Agency and Family and Child Services, both in Washington, D.C. She also has been an instructor at Georgetown University Hospital, and an adjunct instructor in the Department of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Vermont.

A number of national and regional genetic support groups, including the National Marfan Foundation and Neurofibromatosis, Inc., have honored Joan Weiss. She also received the Knee/Wittman NASW Health/Mental Health Outstanding Achievement Award in 1999, and is listed in Who’s Who of American Women: 2000-2001, and Who’s Who in America, 2001. She has published articles in a number of books and journals including the American Journal of Human Genetics, Journal of Genetic Counseling, Health and Social Work, and the American Journal of Medical Genetics

Ms. Weiss received a BA from Barnard College and a Masters in Social Work from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She has been an active member of NASW since 1956. She served on the National Association of Social Workers’ Foundation Board of Directors; and, serves on the NASW Social Work Pioneer Steering Committee. In addition, she is the chair of the NASW working group on standards for including genetics in the clinical practice of social workers.

NASW Social Work Pioneer - 2001  

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.