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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Wendy Sherman
Wendy R. Sherman

Pioneering Contributions

Wendy R. Sherman began her career after graduating with her MSW from the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Since then she has been engaged at the highest levels of state, national, and international efforts to make the world safer, expand the roles of women, and to pursue fairness and justice. She most recently served as the first female Undersecretary for Political Affairs (the number three position in the U.S. Department of State) from 2011 to 2015, where her duties included serving as the lead negotiator for the Iran Nuclear Deal. During this time, Sherman oversaw offices for Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, the Near East, South and Central Asia, the Western Hemisphere, and International Organizations.

She also was the head of the U.S. negotiation team and was integral to the achievement of reaching a conclusion on the Iran nuclear deal. In recognition of her diplomatic accomplishments, she was awarded the National Security Medal by President Barack Obama. Sherman was acting Deputy Secretary of State from November 2014 to January 2015. At her nomination hearing for the Undersecretary position, Senator Barbara Mikulski highlighted how Sherman uses the “social change strategies” that she learned at the University of Maryland School of Social Work to do her work. In fact, one of the key roles that she has taken on with the multi-lateral talks is as a negotiator – an important macro social work skill that she has honed throughout her career. 

Career Highlights

Sherman served as the Executive Director of Emily’s List, a political action committee formed to promote pro-choice Democratic women running for office at the local, state, federal and levels. She served as Director of the Office of Child Welfare for the State of Maryland from 1980 to 1982. Her early work was in community mental health. She spent several years as Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski’s Chief of Staff, and then went on to chair Mikulski’s successful 1986 campaign for the United States Senate, becoming the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right and recently retiring as the longest serving senator. Sherman also highlighted how she and Mikulski’s shared education at the University of Maryland School of Social Work (although about a decade apart) helped form a bond between them.

She moved onto the national stage beginning in 1988 when she directed the Washington effort of the Dukakis presidential campaign. Sherman’s experience on Capitol Hill and the many bipartisan relationships she had developed made her a strong candidate to be nominated by President Clinton to be the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. She served as an ambassador-level Special Advisor to Secretary Madeline Albright in the second Clinton Administration. During her tenure as Special Advisor, Sherman used her child welfare knowledge and experience to successfully negotiate the return of Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba and also was key in negotiations related to North Korea’s use of nuclear weapons. She left the administration in 2001 to form the Albright Group with Secretary Albright (now Albright Stonebridge Group), a global consulting firm where she served as a Principal and Vice Chair before returning to government service in 2011. 

Sherman credits her social work and community organizing roots with bringing her to lead the Iran Nuclear negotiations and to bring them to a successful conclusion. Her ability to work with others, lead a team from many different cabinet departments, and work with allied countries and the Republic of Iran reinforces how she continues to use her social work and community organizing skills and knowledge on the world stage. Sherman is a sought after commentator on TV, radio, and newspapers, authoring cogent opinion pieces, and being seen frequently on PBS, MSNBC, and CNN.

She is a valued speaker, having spoken at the 2016 graduation ceremonies of both the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, demonstrating the breadth of perspective and expertise for which she is known. At these ceremonies Sherman encouraged the graduates to be open to possibilities that are presented to them, and that you are never sure what paths might be presented to you by the connections you make and the relationships that you develop. She is currently a Senior Counselor at the Albright Stonebridge Group and a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.  

Biographic Data

Throughout her career, Sherman has highlighted the importance of human caring and developing strong personal relations and starting where the client is, even when the client might be another country or another world leader. These characteristics came from her family, growing up in Baltimore and being very involved in the fight for integration. Her father, a realtor, helped Frank Robinson, then the Baltimore Orioles first black player, find a house in a white neighborhood, causing her family to be threatened. She learned early that there are some changes you need to fight for, even when there are risks. Sherman received a BA Degree from Boston University and received her MSW Degree from the University of Maryland in 1976. She is married to journalist Bruce Stokes and has a daughter who, as an immigration lawyer, is carrying on the family tradition of activism and a seeker of social justice. Sherman has been involved with NASW throughout her career, including being the recipient of the Margaret Adams internship. She was placed at NASW where she was involved in creating NASW’s Board-mandated National Commission on Women’s Issues. 

Significant Achievements and Awards

  • International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award, from the NASW Foundation, 2016;
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore – Honorary Doctorate for Public Service;
  • University of Maryland School of Social Work – 50 Heroes for Social Justice;
  • National Security Medal – Presented by President Barack Obama;
  • #5 on the Jerusalem Post’s 50 Most Influential Jews; and,
  • Congressionally appointed member of the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Mass Destruction and Terrorism 2008-2009.

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.