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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Jesse Harris Photo
Jesse Harris (1935- )

Jesse Harris, Phd, ACSW, has been a commander and leader, serving as the top ranked social worker in the U.S. Army and then as Dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. The respect, positions of influence and eadership, and rich array of role possibilities for social work in the military are due in no small measure to the efforts and careful stewardship of Jesse Harris. He holds a broad view of clinical social work practice in relation to health and mental health and its requisite high level of clinical skills. This view he has promoted and implemented in programs encompassing soldiers and their families around the globe. It now infuses the mission and service of the innovative Social Work Outreach Center he established at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

This is a ground breaking initiative and national model that links direct social work practice (clinical, community organization, and social administration) with the school's field and class teaching and research. The Center’s target population: the children and families of one of Baltimore’s neediest communities. Under his leadership, the Center has undertaken collaborative programs with the Medical School, the Baltimore Public School System, the Department of Housing, and other city agencies. The Center has spearheaded the University of Maryland Baltimore's community outreach and commitment to the betterment of its closest neighbors.

U.S. Army Colonel Harris’s more than 20-year career as an Army Social Worker culminated in his appointment as Chief of Social Work Services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Social Work Consultant to the Army Surgeon General. He also consulted to the U.S. ambassador to Mozambique on the plight of child soldiers during that country's civil war. Harris recognized that military personnel and their families have needs that social workers can meet, and while in the military conducted research on stress experienced by service personnel and their families, especially during times of combat and deployment.

After his retirement from military active duty in 1990, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Social Work as full Professor. He was appointed Dean in 1991, serving in that capacity for 15 years. During his tenure as Dean, the faculty was inspired to establish several key interrelated service-research initiatives in addition to SWCOS including the Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children and the Family Connections Program. He redirected the mission of the  School’s Board of Advisors, leading to enhanced fundraising capability and alumni support, both tangible and intangible. Also while Dean, Dr. Harris organized and directed support efforts for families of military personnel in "Desert Storm" and continued to serve on advisory boards for both military personnel and veterans.

Born in 1935 in New York City, Jesse Harris grew up in Warren Ohio and in Baltimore. He earned a BS Degree at Morgan State College [now university] in 1958, a MS Degree in Psychology from Howard University in 1960, and the MSW Degree (1971) and PhD (1976) from the University of Maryland at Baltimore. Dr. Harris is well noted for being a warm, involved, and supportive chief. This has been true as a soldier and as Dean, two remarkably different administrative circumstances. Jesse Harris has the ability to lead without dominating, and the skills of decisiveness and taking action, while bringing others along. He is energetic and enthusiastic, and has taken on professional and community commitments that would wear out two other individuals. A lifelong fan of opera, who grew up listening to the Metropolitan Opera Saturday afternoon broadcasts, Dr. Harris served for some years on the board of the Baltimore Opera Company.

Dr. Harris has been awarded two Army Commendation Medals: the Meritorious Service Medal - the Army Surgeon General’s "A" designator, and the Army Legion of Merit. He was named Alumnus of the Year in 1989 by the University of Maryland School of Social Work; Clinical Social Work Educator of the Year in 1993 by the Maryland Society for Clinical Social Work; received the Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award in Health and Mental Health Practice in 1996 from the NASW Foundation; and received the Distinguished Black Marylander Award from Towson State University.

In 2004, the Archdiocese of Baltimore awarded Harris (who is not Roman Catholic) the Benemerenti Medal, a papal honor given to people who have earned special recognition from the Vatican. At the 2005 International Conference on World Peace and Social Work Education the Mahatma Gandhi University awarded Harris the “ponnada,” ( a gold-laced shawl) in recognition of his dedication to social work. The Maryland General Assembly and the Governor honored Dr. Harris for the scope of his accomplishments and the prudent leadership of his school. He has been a member of NASW since 1971 and was named NASW Social Work Pioneer® in 1998.

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.