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2 ASU emeritus professors recognized as Social Work Pioneers

Brown mentored Indigenous social workers; Leighninger made mark researching profession's history


Photos of Eddie Brown and Leslie Leighninger pasted side by side.

Eddie Brown (left) and Leslie Leighninger, ASU School of Social Work emeritus professors, were named as Social Work Pioneers by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation in October 2023. Courtesy photos

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November 01, 2023

Two Arizona State University School of Social Work emeritus professors are among the newest members of the Social Work Pioneers of the National Association of Social Workers Foundation, which honored them for their significant contributions to the profession.

Eddie F. Brown and Leslie Leighninger are among 25 social workers inducted Oct. 14 by the foundation, which created the honor in 1995. Today more than 900 Pioneers have been named. About one-third of them are still living.

The foundation said the Social Work Pioneers “are role models for future generations of social workers. Their contributions are reflected in every aspect of the profession, as well as in the establishment of social policies and human services programs. They have accomplished this through practice, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, advocacy, legislation and election to public office.”

Eddie F. Brown

The foundation noted that Brown is an Indigenous elder who has served in top administrative positions in federal, state and tribal governments, as well as at universities and in social work education.

Clinical Assistant Professor Christopher Sharp, director of the school’s Office of American Indian Projects, said he has known Brown for most of his life. Sharp said Brown was the office's first director, having a major role in establishing the office in 1977 and directing it before going to work for the Arizona Department of Economic Security two years later.

After retiring from ASU, Brown served as co-chair of the National Congress of American Indians National Research Center Advisory Board and on the board of directors of Tohono O'odham Nation’s gaming enterprise.

“His work has had an impact on not only the Office of American Indian Projects, but for all Indigenous and tribal peoples,” Sharp said. “When Eddie left ASU, he maintained his connection to the School of Social Work by providing a site for field practicum for students going into macro practice focused on tribal issues.”

“Beyond Eddie’s service at ASU, to have a male, Indigenous social worker as a role model in the social work profession has been important to me personally and something I've been fortunate to have throughout my lifetime,” Sharp said.

Leslie Leighninger

The foundation praised Leighninger’s “seminal work to share knowledge about the social work profession and about social welfare historical developments. Her efforts resulted in an improved understanding of historical developments for other social workers as well as historians.”

Her textbook titled “Social Work, Social Welfare and American Society,” co-written with Philip Popple, gave students “an understanding of social welfare debates in both historical and contemporary contexts,” the foundation said.

Associate Professor Judy Krysik, the school’s associate director for academic affairs, remembered Leighninger as a former director of the school, an early female scholar and a leader in the social work profession.

“Her specialties were in the unique area of the history of the social work profession, as well as social welfare policy. Her textbook with Dr. Philip Popple, ‘Social Work, Social Welfare and American Society,’ made it through 14 editions,” Krysik said. “Dr. Leighninger was also a co-founder of the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, along with her husband, Dr. Robert Leighninger.”

Krysik said the journal had its home with the Leighningers at ASU for many years, and both of them were often seen tabling at national social work conferences to promote it.

Krysik remembered that conversations with Leighninger frequently involved many historical, research and writing projects she was working on at the time.  

“Beyond all of Dr. Leighninger’s notoriety, she was a kind and professional director and colleague, and is a loving parent and grandparent,” Krysik said. “I cannot think of anyone more deserving to be named an NASW Pioneer — it is wonderful to see her receive this recognition.”

The School of Social Work is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

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