Distinguished Aluimni

The Sandra Rosenbaum 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.

Photo of Ada Deer
Ada Deer

Ada Deer, BSW ‘57

Ada Deer was born in Keshena, WI as a member of the Menominee Tribe. Throughout her life she has been a strong advocate for Native American rights. She was the first Menominee to earn an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin. In 1961, she was the first Native American to receive an MSW from the Columbia University School of Social Work. Her work on behalf of the Menominee led to the Menominee Restoration Act of 1972, which officially returned the Menominee Reservation to federally recognized status. Because of this accomplishment, Deer became the first woman to chair the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin. Her political activism has included running for Wisconsin secretary of state in 1978 and again in 1982. In 1992, she became the first Native American woman in Wisconsin to run for U.S. Congress. In 1993, Deer was appointed assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She was the first Native American woman to hold that position. While in office, she helped set federal policy for more than 550 federally recognized tribes. As an educator and social worker, she taught classes at the UW-Madison School of Social Work and, in 2000, she became director of the American Indian Studies Program. Her book Making a Difference: My Fight for Native American Rights and Social Justice, was published by the University of Oklahoma Press, 2019 and was selected as our school’s community read. Ada has received countless awards and honors for her work.

Jeffrey Edleson,  MSSW ’75, PhD ’79

Professor Jeffrey Edleson recently retired as the Dean of the University of California-Berkeley School of Social Welfare where he served for seven years and will remain on the faculty as the Harry & Riva Specht Chair Emeritus in Publicly Supported Social Services. Prior to joining Berkeley, he was a professor of social work at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work for 29 years and was the founding director of the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse.

Dr. Edleson is a leading authority on children exposed to domestic violence. He has published over 130 articles and 12 books focusing on domestic violence, groupwork and program evaluation. His work also focuses on international parental abduction in cases of domestic violence and the evaluation of interventions and policies on family violence.

He was named one of the dozen highest impact scholars in social work in a 2016 study by Hodge, Kremer & Vaughn published in Research on Social Work Practice. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

He has conducted intervention research and provided technical assistance to programs across North America as well as in numerous countries including Australia, Argentina, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, and Singapore. He was a member of the U.S. National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women and of the Institute of Medicine’s Forum on Global Violence Prevention workshop planning committee. He was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Panel on Research on Violence Against Women and served as a consultant to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judge and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Professor Edleson is an Associate Editor of the journal Violence Against Women and has served on numerous editorial boards. He is Co-Editor of the Oxford University Press book series on Interpersonal Violence and the Sage book series on Violence Against Women.

Celena Roldán, BSW ’98, MSW ’00

Celena Roldán is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross of Illinois. This is the second largest Red Cross region in the country, annually serving 12 million people and responding to more than 1,600 disasters annually and collecting more than 100,000 lifesaving units of blood. Prior to joining the Red Cross, Celena served as the Executive Director of the five locations of the Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago, which was founded in 1870 to strengthen low-income, primarily Latino families through skill-building, access to critical resources, advocacy, and collaborative action.

In addition to her leadership of the Illinois Region Red Cross, Celena, who was named one of Chicago’s “Most Powerful Latinos,” by Crain’s Chicago Business, has extensive and significant community development experience at the city, state, and national level. She was Co-chair for the City of Chicago’s Universal Basic Income Task Force, a member of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Early Childhood Task Force and served on the Illinois Human Service Commission. Currently, Celena is a member of the national board of UnidosUS, which partners with 300 affiliates across the country to serve millions of Latinos in the areas of civic engagement, civil rights and immigration, education, workforce and the economy, health, and housing.

That Celena chose social work as a profession is not surprising. Her mother, Dr. Ida Roldan, is on the faculty of the Institute for Clinical Social Work in Chicago and maintains a private practice. A trained disaster mental health worker, Ida and Celena have responded to Red Cross disasters together in her beloved Puerto Rico and across the United States.

Reflecting on her education and experience at the School of Social Work, Celena explains, “Over the recent past, the Red Cross has responded to one of the busiest disaster seasons in history and we are all living through a pandemic unlike any our world experienced in more than 100 years. Through these monumental changes and challenges, I have often thought about the training that I received through the School of Social Work. I have relied greatly on the compassion, reflective listening and learning, and leadership development, that I learned through this program. This recognition means so much to me, particularly during this momentous time in our history. Social workers are needed now more than ever, and I am appreciative of the strong foundation I received.”

Rabbi Morris Allen, BSW ’76, MSSW ’77

Rabbi Emeritus, Beth Jacob Congregation, Mendota Heights, Minnesota

Rabbi Morris Allen was the spiritual leader of Beth Jacob Congregation for 32 years, retiring in 2018. Drawing on his spiritual and social work education towards social justice and social change, Rabbi Morris Allen has over the years made significant contributions on a local, national, and international basis particularly regarding immigrants, labor, and environmental practices.

Though his advocacy and social justice efforts are many, one is particularly notable. In 2008, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided Agriprocessors, Inc., a kosher slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, resulting in nearly 400 arrests of immigrant workers, 300 of whom were convicted on document fraud charges within four days. The raid raised many disturbing issues – one of which was concern about how immigrant workers in the Kosher meat packing industry were being treated.

Rabbi Allen took a controversial national leadership role in advocating for a “justice certification standard” – one that combines the rabbinic tradition of Torah with values of social justice, assuring consumers and retailers that kosher food products have been produced in keeping with exemplary ethics in the area of labor concerns, animal welfare, environmental impact, consumer issues and corporate integrity. In 2011, Allen initiated a program called Magen Tzedek — designed to provide ethical certification to food products, evaluating companies for their labor and environmental practices — which attracted national attention.

Recognizing his contributions Rabbi Allen has received many honors. He was named one of America’s 50 most significant Jewish leaders by The Forward Newspaper and was personally invited to by Israeli President Shimon Peres to celebrate Israel’s 60th Anniversary in 2008.

Lynn Green, BSW ’68, MSSW ‘76

Director, Dane County Department of Human Services (DCDHS) in Madison, WI (retired)

As Director of DCDHS, Lynn Green championed client-centered, community-based programs to address the current needs of individuals and families, their long-term stability and success, and the root causes of the challenges some Dane County residents face. She oversaw the development and implementation of several initiatives that have improved the lives of children and families, including the Children Come First (CCF) initiative, Joining Forces for Families (JFF), Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) programs, and the school-based mental-health initiative. Ron Chance, lecturer at the School and Community Program Manager at DCDHS writes, “Lynn is the epitome of a dedicated public servant. She buffers her staff doing work in incredibly challenging circumstances. She has overseen the development of some incredibly innovative human services. She has done all of this behind the scenes not calling attention to herself – the antithesis of our current celebrity culture.”Always a strong supporter of the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work, Lynn and DCDHS have provided field placements and excellent supervision to more than 500 hundred social work students. In addition, many of our alumni have had long, gratifying careers there. Upon her retirement, Lynn and the school created the Lynn Green Scholarship for Public Service.

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 at 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 Justice as well as the Dorothy Pearson Graduate 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.