John Oliver, director of the Social Work Department at CSULB, received a 2007 Lifetime Achievement in Social Work Award from the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).
The award is given to NASW members who demonstrate social work values and accomplishments over a broad time frame. Recipients must have significant professional social work experience and demonstrated leadership, outstanding creativity, have achieved recognition beyond the social work profession and made contributions of lasting impact.
“In many ways, the whole notion that I had been nominated for a lifetime achievement award was in and of itself an honor. To actually receive the award is a very humbling experience,” said Oliver, who has been at CSULB since 1988 and director of the Department of Social Work since 1998. “Receiving this award means that, over a long period, I have contributed to the growth and development of the profession. It also means a great deal to me that professional peers not only acknowledged my contributions, they also deemed them to be of value.
“When someone gives you an award in recognition of the body of work characterizing your career, that recognition is somewhat different from other awards that you get,” Oliver added. “It strikes you in a different fashion, resonating equally within your mind, heart, and spirit.”
Oliver began his social work career four decades ago as a child welfare worker for the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services. Since then he has worked as a psychiatric social worker, community organizer, program evaluator and policy analyst, human services consultant, university professor and administrator.
Today, as director of the CSULB Department of Social Work, he is the leader of the largest accredited social work program west of the Mississippi. The department has more than 85 faculty and staff members and more than 800 undergraduate and graduate students.
“It has been said that the definition of a leader is someone who has a vision and can articulate the vision, and who has dignity, integrity and authority. All of those characteristics are in place for the leadership that Dr. Oliver provides for our profession,” wrote Eileen Mayers Pasztor, assistant director and coordinator of field education for the CSULB Department of Social Work. “Dr. Oliver is recognized by students, colleagues, and community members alike for his professional presence.”
The words are a fitting tribute to Oliver and an example of a life coming full circle as he has had several “mentors”– his father and university professors – who drew him to the profession of social work. Oliver's father was a Baptist minister and a moderator in the Baptist church. As the head of a district with about 30 churches, his father always emphasized the importance of personal sacrifice and community service. Oliver stated that, “My father firmly believed that service to others was a prerequisite for personal growth and a primary means of contributing to the common good.”
Oliver indicated that a number of professors had encouraged him to consider the profession of social work. “I have been fortunate to be mentored by some of the leading scholars in our profession, such as Professor Nathan Horowitz of California State University, Los Angeles; Dean Nathan Cohen, Professors Harry Wasserman and Douglas Glasgow of UCLA; and, from Brandeis University, Dean Arnold Gurin and Professors Davis Gil and Robert Morris. These mentors challenged, nurtured and encouraged me to consider higher education as a career.”
After receiving his Ph.D. from the Florence Heller School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare at Brandeis, Oliver pursued a career as an academic.
“I have been fortunate to be a professor and administrator at three universities – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, State University of New York at Albany, and California State University, Long Beach. While I benefited from my association with each institution, I am perhaps most proud of the fact that I have received the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award from each of these universities,” Oliver said as he pointed to the awards hanging on the wall in his office.
Oliver’s recent contributions and service to the profession include chairing and providing leadership to conceptualize and produce the jointly authored Master Plan For California Social Work Education, commissioned by the California Assembly; and chairing the Curriculum Committee of the California Social Work Education Centers during the development and adoption of Child Welfare, Mental Health, and Aging curriculum competencies by California's accredited social work program.
Also, with the cooperation of departmental colleagues, Oliver’s efforts helped CSULB secure the designation as California's primary social work distance education provider; developed the infrastructure for four recently accredited CSU master's-level social work programs; and secured more than $50 million in grant funding supporting research and training, and providing student stipends.
Even with all he has accomplished, Oliver is quick to give credit where he believes it is due. “I do not believe that anyone ever accomplished anything significant independently. Major accomplishments are the result of the collective efforts of many people,” he explained. “I am the recipient of this award, but it was actually earned by my faculty, staff, students and all of the people who have mentored me, such as my circle of friends and my family. All of these people contributed to me being recognized for this award. I consider the award to belong equally to all of them.
“The most important thing for me is that I have developed a meaningful career by engaging in activities that help to promote equity and social justice,” Oliver continued. “I hope that the receipt of this award provides compelling evidence that there is value in dedicating your life to being of service to others.”
Oliver received his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Cal Sate Los Angeles in 1967, a master of social work degree from UCLA in 1969 and a Ph.D. in social planning/policy development from Brandeis University in 1973. His dissertation topic was innovative research on the education of Black Americans.