Distinguished Alumni

The School of Social Work awards an annual Distinguished Alumni Award to an outstanding graduate of the School. Selected alumni have made significant contributions to social work, social policy, and/or the community.

Nominations are collected for Distinguished Alumni Award each year, and the annual award is presented in the spring. Please email alumni@socwork.wisc.edu with questions about the nomination process.


Ben Schumaker, BS '03, MSW '06

Director, Memory Project

Ben Schumaker is the Director of the Memory Project – a charitable nonprofit organization that he started while studying psychology and social work at the UW. The Memory Project invites art teachers and their students to create and donate portraits to youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as violence, disasters, extreme poverty, neglect, and loss of parents.

Humanitarian aid agencies provide the Memory Project with photographs and names of the children to be portrayed. The photographs are given to participating art teachers who work with their students to create the portraits. Once the portraits are finished, Memory Project staff visit the children in residential homes, schools, care centers, and refugee camps around the world to present them with the finished portraits. Several portraits are presented for each child, created by different art students and based on different poses.

The portraits are meant to help children feel valued and important, to know that people care about their well being, and to act as meaningful pieces of personal history in the future. For the art students, it is an opportunity to practice kindness and global awareness through their art.

Since 2004, the Memory Project has created more than 100,000 portraits for children in 43 countries.



Dorothy Pearson, MSSW '60, PhD '73

Professor Emerita of Social Work, Howard University

Dr. Pearson had a remarkable career in social work practice and education and left an enduring mark on several institutions and with countless students. She began her career as a psychiatric social worker at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Center, became a social work educator and UW-Milwaukee, and spent 24 years on the faculty at Howard University where her leadership led to the creation of a Doctoral of Social Work program which at the time was the only one in existence that served primarily students of color.  Dr. Pearson was also a founding member of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work. 

She has been recognized by Southern University, her undergraduate alma mater, with the outstanding alumnus award; was acknowledged by the Council on Social Work Education for her leadership in the establishment of the of Carl A. Scott Memorial Fund; and in 1999, the National Association of Social Workers designated Dr. Pearson as a social work pioneer.To publicly honor her legacy at retirement, Howard University commissioned a portrait in her honor which hangs on campus today.

Dr. Pearson has given generously of her time and money to the School--creating both the Dorothy Pearson Lecture in Equity and Social Justcie as well as the Dorothy Pearson Graduatie Fellowship. Dr. Pearson has also provided guidance informed by her years of experience as an inaugural member of our Board of Visitors. She is now our first, emeritus board member. 


Richard Tolman, Phd '84

Sheldon D Rose Collegiate Professor of Social Work, and Research Professor, Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan

Dr. Tolman has distinguished himself through his scholarship, service, teaching, and mentoring. He has been a member of the faculty at the University of Michigan School of Social Work for more than 20 years and is nationally and internationally recognized for his work. His research on violence prevention, including efforts to engage men as allies to prevent violence against women, has been path-breaking. He is the creator of the Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory, a scale for use in research on abuse that has been translated into many languages and is widely used in research around the world. His many peer-reviewed journal articles have been published in a wide range of journals (including social work, medical, psychology and policy journals), and are widely cited.

Professor Tolman's work focuses on the effectiveness of interventions designed to change violent and abusive behavior, and the impact of violence on the physical, psychological, and economic well-being of victims. He began his work in this area as a practitioner working with men who batter in 1980. His current projects include research on the impact of and prevention of abuse during pregnancy and involvement of men and boys as allies to end men's violence against women. He is currently Co-director of the Global Research Program on Mobilizing Men for Violence Prevention, a collaborative project between the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota.


Martha N. Ozawa, MSSW '66, PhD '69

Emeritus Professor Washington University, George Warren Brown School of Social Work

After receiving her B.A. in Economics in 1956 from Ayoma Gakuin University in Tokyo, Professor Ozawa, knowing that UW-Madison and Wisconsin played a pivotal role in crafting the U.S. Social Security Act, came to UW-Madison and completed her doctoral research on the background of U.S. income maintenance programs.

Most of her career was spent at The George Warren Brown School of Social Work, in St. Louis, where she remained until her recent retirement. In 2005, Professor Ozawa became the Director of the Martha N. Ozawa Center for Social Policy Studies at George Warren Brown. Professor Ozawa built an extraordinary record of scholarship based on empirical studies of the effects of income security, health, long-term care, disability and other public benefit programs. Much of her work has had an international focus.

Over her illustrious career, she published more than 150 peer reviewed journal articles, authored three major books, and 28 book chapters. The recipient of many awards, she received the 2007 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Social Work and Research.


Steven P. Segal, PhD '72

Milton Florence Krenz Mack Distinguished Professor of Social Welfare, University of California-Berkeley

Professor Segal is internationally renowned for his research in the area of mental health policy and practice.  He has published over 125 articles and 4 books on community-based care, homelessness, the mental health self-help movement, outpatient mental health civil commitment, and health and mental health services integration. 

While the scope of Professor Segal’s research in the area of mental health has been enormously broad, he seeks to answer one central question – how can social work research help to identify those policies and practices that enhance the quality of life of persons with severe mental illness.  His research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health for over 25 years. He has received support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Center for Health Services Research, and NARSAD among others including groundbreaking studies on the reintegration of persons with severe mental illness back into the community, research on the self-help movement, psychiatric emergency assessment, and the role of civil commitment in enabling social integration and a healthy life. His recent work with the Mack Center on Mental Health and Social Conflict seeks to enable people with mental health issues to better cope with life in areas of world conflict, under service, and pervasive threat of exploitation and violence. 

His book, “The Mentally Ill in Community-Based Sheltered Care: A Study of Community Care and Social Integration,” which describes the importance of creating housing that provides consumers the opportunity to be equal partners in their care decisions, has become a classic in the mental health field.

Professor Segal earned his undergraduate degree from Hunter College, his MSW from the University of Michigan, and then completed his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work.  He has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards throughout his career.

Professor Segal is also known as an incredibly generous mentor of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and has mentored hundreds of students, many of whom have gone on to make major contributions to the mental health field.


Roberta Gassman, MSSW '71

Senior Fellow, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work

From 2011 and until returning to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work as a Senior Fellow in 2013, Roberta Gassman served in the administration of President Barack Obama as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training in the United States Department of Labor. Gassman represented the Department and Administration before diverse national audiences and oversaw major national programs and Senior Executive Service administrators within the Department’s Employment and Training Administration. The programs she led included two first started in Wisconsin, Unemployment Insurance and Registered Apprenticeship.

Gassman is also Wisconsin’s longest serving labor secretary, having served in the Cabinet of Governor Jim Doyle as the Secretary of Workforce Development from 2003 through the beginning of 2011.  In that role she led over 1600 employees in strengthening Wisconsin’s workforce, providing training, employment and dislocated worker services, working with employers to fill jobs, enforcing workers’ rights, and administering Unemployment Insurance, Registered Apprenticeship and Worker’s Compensation.

Gassman has worked as a social worker with the elderly and teens and has held additional top leadership positions in state, city and county government and in the private sector.  She has served with two Wisconsin governors, a mayor, a county executive, as a senior bank vice president and as the president of her own public affairs and communications firm. 

She earned her B.A. in social work, with distinction, and her MSSW from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has won many Wisconsin public service and professional awards, including being honored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work with its "2010 Distinguished Alumni Award", which includes the establishment of the "Roberta Gassman School of Social Work Opportunities Fund" and the "Roberta Gassman Distinguished Lecture Series.” She has been named a "Woman of Distinction" by the YWCA and among "Madison's 25 Most Influential" and "Madison's Top 100 Women" by Madison Magazine. Gassman has held numerous national and state professional and community leadership roles and is an elected member of the National Academy of Social Insurance, the Overture Center Foundation Board of Directors, the Edgewood College Board of Trustees and the Madison Community Foundation Board of Governors.  She is also a member of the Downtown Rotary Club of Madison and TEMPO.


Nancy Feldman, MSSW '74

President and Chief Executive Officer of UCare Minnesota

Nancy Feldman is President and Chief Executive Officer of UCare. Before joining UCare in September 1995, she was Director of State Public Programs for Medica, another Minnesota-based health plan. Prior to that, she held a number of management and health-related positions with Minnesota state government. She served as Assistant Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, where she was responsible for a variety of programs including long term care and managed care policy and regulation, community health services, and maternal and child health.

Before that, she was in charge of budget development and oversight for the state’s health and human services agencies at the Minnesota Department of Finance. She also worked at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, where she was responsible for many aspects of the state’s Medical Assistance Program, including development of Minnesota’s Medicaid managed care program.

Ms. Feldman currently serves on the boards of the Center for the Victims of Torture, Volunteers of America National Services, the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, and the Alliance of Community Health Plans. She is also a member of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota Advisory Board, the Women's Health Leadership Trust, and United Way's Health and Independence Committee. In 2008 and 2012, Ms. Feldman was named one of Minnesota’s 100 Influential Health Care Leaders by Minnesota Physician. In 2010, she received the Trusted Senior Leader Award from the Women's Health Leadership Trust and was named one of 25 Women Industry Leaders by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. In 2011, Ms. Feldman presented the keynote address at the Minnesota Business Ethics Awards luncheon.