The award recognizes a career of applied research innovations, major contributions to social work knowledge.
On Saturday, January 14, 2023, the Society for Social Work and Research honored Michael Sherraden with the 2023 Distinguished Career Achievement Award. Sherraden is the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Codirector of the university’s Next Age Institute, and Founding Director of the Center for Social Development (CSD) in Washington University’s Brown School.
“The award recognizes your outstanding scholarship, rigorous approach to social work research, innovation, impact on the profession, and major contributions to the social work knowledge development,” said Society for Social Work and Research President Sean Joe in informing Sherraden of the award. Joe is the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development in Washington University’s Brown School and a CSD Faculty Director.
The award is given annually to an individual whose contributions have advanced the state of social work research. Joe presented the award during the society’s annual conference, held in Phoenix, Arizona.
As news of the new award spread, colleagues around the world offered congratulations.
“Michael Sherraden has done more to pull more people out of poverty around the world than anyone I am aware of,” said John F. McDonnell, former CEO and retired Chairman of the Board of McDonnell Douglas Corporation.
John Gal, Full Professor and former Dean in the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said, “I can think of no one in social work who is more deserving of this recognition.”
“So well deserved,” said Mathieu Despard, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Faculty Associate with the Center for Social Development. He added that Sherraden’s work is “a model for research informing policy,” illustrating what it means to have “the courage and insight to advance new ideas.”
In accepting the award, Sherraden told the audience, “An academic career is not built by an individual, but by a team. The research team at the Center for Social Development at Washington University, along with many research partners, deserve this award. I gratefully accept it on behalf of all my colleagues.”
He added, “My former doctoral students are defining new directions in social change and building substantial bodies of research evidence. They are leaders in social work education. I would not be here without them.”
Sherraden shared the stage with one former student. Sicong (Summer) Sun, Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, received the society’s 2022 Outstanding Social Work Doctoral Dissertation Award for “Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Relationship Between Wealth and Health.” Sherraden chaired Sun’s dissertation committee.
This was not Sherraden’s first accolade. The Society for Social Work and Research invited him to give the Aaron Rosen Lecture in 2008, named him a fellow of the society in 2017, and honored him with the Social Policy Researcher Award in 2018.
In addition, he is a recipient of the James Billups International Social Development Leadership Award from the International Consortium for Social Development and the Career Achievement Award from the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration. A fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, Sherraden holds numerous honorary degrees and was a Fulbright Research Fellow. Time Magazine named to the Time 100 list in 2010.
Looking to the future
Awards of this sort offer occasion to look back, but Sherraden always has his eye on the future. The four papers he coauthored for the conference are being developed for publication, and additional projects are planned or already underway in mainland China, Singapore, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Uganda, and several other nations.
In December, Sherraden delivered a keynote address before the annual gathering of China’s Financial Social Work Commission, which devoted a plenary session to papers he and other CSD researchers coauthored on Child Development Accounts. Two new research projects in mainland China have recently secured funding.
“We can take [these developments] as an indicator of potential going forward in mainland China,” he recently told colleagues, adding, “It is very possible that China will one day have more CDAs—maybe far more—than any other country.”
Sherraden also has his eye on developments in the United States, especially on policy conversations at the federal level and the progress of youth in the SEED for Oklahoma Kids experiment.
Having entered the experiment as infants, those youth are turning 16 this year. They will soon begin to make decisions about education after high school. Sherraden has followed their progress since 2007 and is eager to see what comes next for those who received Child Development Accounts. Findings from the experiment continue to inform policy discussions with federal and state policymakers.
At the award ceremony, Sherraden shared a glimpse of the future by evoking the past.
“Grace Abbott, social work scholar and architect of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, once observed that social work is ‘uphill all the way,’” he said. “Along with Abbott and other social work leaders across more than a century, we also can cheerfully lace up our boots and keep going.”
“There are unfinished social innovations ahead. We can help to define, inform, and create them.”