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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Lann E. Thompson, EdD, MSSW
Lann E. Thompson

Pioneering Contributions

Lann E. Thompson, EdD, MSSW, has been a leader in the social work profession in the field of child welfare, developmental disabilities, and maternal health throughout his long and illustrious career, spanning nearly five decades. His initial interest in child welfare, maternal health and children with disabilities informed his decision to pursue a doctoral degree. Using these additional clinical and macro skills, he used his knowledge to pioneer programs and methods to help medically fragile children and those with special needs at a time when this highly specialized area was much less known. His research led to publications designed to inform a broader professional audience about the challenges and frameworks for successful outcomes with special needs children and their families. Steeped in the advocacy traditions of the social work profession, Thompson has continuously developed and expanded networks of interdisciplinary collaboration to build new approaches to care of special needs and developmentally disabled children and their families. 

His extensive research into the anxiety surrounding death and the process of grief culminated in his doctoral dissertation, “Attitudes Toward Death and Dying:  An Education Intervention for Reduction of Death Anxiety”. Building upon the framework of death education as a part of his dissertation led to development of an elective graduate course that he continuously taught for 32 years at the Indiana University School of Social Work. His courses at Indiana University and social work practicums at Riley Hospital were highly sought and valued by social work students. Over the years he has been an inspiring mentor, clinical field instructor and teacher for hundreds of students and trainees. In recognition of his service to Indiana Unversity—Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and the School of Social Work, he was presented in 2006 with the “Outstanding Social Work Field Instructor” award, and in the same year was honored as an inductee with a Service Award by the IUPUI Quarter Century Club. 

Career Highlights

Thompson’s career began while at Yankton State Hospital in South Dakota as a psychiatric technician in1967. After graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of South Dakota in 1970, his work in child welfare began as he held progressively responsible leadership positions in the Department of Social Services in Yankton, South Dakota until 1975. His work continued to serve children, with a specific emphasis on those with disabilities, in the six years he was employed at the Center for Developmental Disabilities-UAF at the University of South Dakota. During this same period, Thompson also served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Work and Assistant Professor of Allied Health, both programs located at the University of South Dakota.

After relocating to Indiana, Thompson joined IUPUI School of Social Work for 35 years from 1982-2017. During this time, he served as Director of Social Work until his retirement in 2013 and also simultaneously served as Associate Director for Program Development and Director of Interdisciplinary Training at Riley Hospital from 1990-2013. He completed 43 years of service to persons with disabilities and their families in Indiana, South Dakota, and Wisconsin when he retired in 2013 as Associate Director for the Riley Hospital Child Development Center LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) Program, Indiana University School of Medicine. 

Since his retirement from Riley Hospital, Thompson has remained active and involved in his private practice, 3 Cs- Coaching, Counseling and Consulting, and in the community. In addition to his private practice, he also provides nursing facility, assisted living and home-based services to the elderly through Greenhouse Mental Health Services. He continues to provide grant reviews for multiple Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) / Maternal Child Health Bureau (MCHB) solicitations and was the chair for several federal grant review panels.

In addition to his tireless work in maternal health and child development, Thompson continues to be active in multiple leadership roles within NASW. He served as the Indiana Chapter President from1990-1992, was elected six times to the Delegate Assembly between 1990-2008, and was the Region VII Representative to the national board from 2006-2009. He also served on the National Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity while on the NASW National Board. 
Biographic Data

Thompson is a native of Columbus, Nebraska, born to M. E. “Tommy” and Bernice E. Thompson (both deceased). He is one of five children: two brothers, Clark and Todd, and two sisters, Julie and Marti (both deceased). He graduated from Columbus High School in Columbus, Nebraska in1965. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Yankton, South Dakota where Thompson began his career in social services as a psychiatric technician at Yankton State Hospital in1967.

His career dedicated to working with children with disabilities was sparked by a cousin who was totally deaf with whom he had a close relationship. As a result of discrimination and lack of resources for the disabled community in the 1950s and 1960s, at a young age Thompson became an advocate for his cousin to access education, vocational rehabilitation, and meaningful employment. On his father’s side of the family, Thompson has Native American (Eastern Band Cherokee) heritage. His heritage is a source of pride for him and he has been involved in Native organizations and events most of his life. The cultural values and traditions found within Native culture inform his life. He has presented at numerous conferences and workshops on Native culture and teachings. 

Thompson has two sons, Christopher, and Matthew, from his marriage to Cate Thompson, and a stepson, Andrew Burd, with his current wife, Marsha with whom he has been married since 1992. He is proud grandfather of six granddaughters and one grandson. He has a love and appreciation for music, inspired in no small manner by his son, Matthew, who is a professional musician. Thompson and wife, Marsha, are deeply involved in the community, and are congregants at St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Indianapolis. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Central Indiana Friends of Jung and American Indian Center of Indiana Inc.  

Significant Achievements and Awards

In recognition of his extensive leadership in social work, specifically the fields of child development and social work education, Thompson has been honored by the following organizations:

  • 1970—Magna cum laude, Yankton College
  • 1981—Service Award, CDD/UAF Division of Allied Health Sciences, University of South Dakota
  • 1986—Certificate of Appreciation, Lowes Syndrome Association
  • Certificate of Appreciation, Central Conference of University Training Programs in Developmental Disabilities
  • 1982—1984,1988-present, Central Media Exchange
  • 1992 —NASW Distinguished Service Award
  • 1992—Indiana Region 7 Social Worker of the Year
  • 1992—Indiana State Social Worker of the Year
  • 1997—CASPER Award, Community Service Council of United Way of Central Indiana
  • 1997—World of Difference Award, Indiana Health Industry Forum
  • 2005—Good Egg Award, Moriarty Media
  • 2006—Outstanding SW Field Instructor, IUSSW 
  • 2006—IUPUI Quarter Century Club Inductee, Service Award

Significant Publications

Thompson has published several articles on subjects ranging from ethics of caring for medically fragile infants and children to integration of primary health and social work in educational settings. A list of his significant publications includes:

  • Thompson, Lann E. “Ethical Issues in the Care of Infants and Children Who are Medically Fragile” in Children at Risk:  Challenges for Public Health Social Work.  C. Jean Morton, Deborah Wilkinson, and Debra Patterson (eds). 1991:  University of California, Berkely, California.
  • Thompson, Lann E., “Developmental Disabilities in Children and Incidence of Child Abuse”. In Indiana Cares:  Prevention of Child Abuse. April 1991:  Indianapolis, Indiana, Indiana Chapter for Prevention of Child Abuse.
  • Thompson, Lann E. and Anderson, Clara. “Case Management in Prenatal Care”. In Public Health Social Work and Primary Health Care: A Case Management Approach, Gerald C. St. Denis and Kenneth J. Jaros (eds). November 1990:  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Thompson, Lann E. and Hess, Howard H. “The Integration of Primary Health Care and Social Work in the Educational Setting”. Book chapter in Social Work in Primary Health Care:  Matthew L. Henk (ed). May 1989.  Beverly Hills, California; Sage Publications.
  • Thompson, Lann E., and Morris, E.J. “Case Management for Children with Special Health Care Needs:  An Old, New Social Work Frontier for the Eighties” in Implementing A Forward Plan:  A Public Health Social Work Challenge. Gerald C. St. Denis (ed). November 1987. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Thompson, Lann E. “ A Rationale for Death Education for Children” in the Arkansas Bear Study Guide, Dorothy Webb (ed). September 1986.  Indianapolis, Indiana,  IUPUI.
  • Thompson, Lann E. and Ludeman, Phil. “Psychosocial Factors Affecting Shared Decision Making with Families:  A Model of Reciprocal Choice in Moral, Ethical and Legal Health Care Dilemmas” in Social Factors in the Health of Families:  A Public Health Social Work Responsibility. Gerald C. St. Denis (ed). September 1986.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:  University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Thompson, Lann E. “Attitudes Toward Death and Dying:  An Education Intervention for Reduction of Death Anxiety” an abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International, 1983.

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.