Leading with Purpose: Dr. Yvonne Elder Chase

yvonne chase Dr. Yvonne Elder Chase was elected as President Elect by the NASW membership in May 2022. She assumed the office of NASW’s President on July 1, 2023, and will serve until June 30, 2026. Dr. Chase follows the late President Dr. Mildred “Mit” Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW, whose term as NASW’s President ended June 30, 2023.

With more than five decades of NASW involvement and extensive leadership experience, Yvonne Elder Chase, PhD, LCSW, ACSW, MSW, the new President of NASW, radiates a passion for the profession and the organization that has fueled her journey of service and leadership.

In addition to her new volunteer role as NASW President, Chase also serves as a professor and chair of the Department of Human Services at the University of Alaska, Anchorage and is a contributing faculty member for Walden University's master's and doctoral social work programs.

Recently, we met with Chase to delve deeper into her journey and find out more about people and experiences that have shaped her personally and professionally.

A Catalyst for a Lifetime of Impact

Chase's connection with NASW took root during her time as a graduate student at Howard University, when she first joined NASW. It was at Howard that she encountered an influential figure who would help direct her path—professor Mark Battle, former executive director of NASW. Battle's mentorship and encouragement helped fuel Chase's decision to commit her life to the profession as well as to become a part of her professional association.

As she embarked on her career, Chase became involved with NASW and recalls a pivotal moment in the late 1980s when she was appointed to a committee by then-NASW President Suzanne Dworak-Peck. This allowed her to contribute to the task at hand but also deepened her understanding of the social work profession.

Looking back, Chase says she also recognizes that Dworak-Peck was not only filling a position but was actively fostering leadership potential she saw in Chase. Likewise, today, Chase feels a powerful drive to give back to the profession and pay it forward—something she hopes she can do on an even larger scale during her tenure as NASW president.

"Through that committee appointment, I gained leadership experience. But I also came to understand the power of social work and realize we can make significant changes,” explains Chase. “At the same time, I recognized that it takes massive effort. Without a large organization to lead the way, driving change is very difficult."

But Chase points out, making big changes requires a commitment from social workers in the field, too, who must evaluate individual circumstances firsthand and make choices.

Insights Into Unique Challenges Social Workers Face

Chase has called Alaska home for the past 30 years. But prior to that, she lived and worked in geographies spanning from Washington, D.C. to Washington State, giving her a unique vantage point into many aspects of the profession, including regional challenges social workers face.

“Although there are not huge differences in the issues states face, how we proceed and what we can do for our clients differs,” she explains. “Here in Alaska, there are many remote villages, so, for us, lack of transport is a major issue. In other states, the politics, policies and funding are completely different. State differences have also contributed to pay inequity. During my tenure, I also want to help bring this issue to the forefront.”

Supporting the next generation of social workers is also a priority for Chase—something she has done for decades in her role as a professor and now will continue to keep top of mind in her newest role as NASW president.

“They will face a new world of change and challenges. Technology is one. Yes, it will give us advantages, but we also need to look at the other side. Social media, for instance, can reinforce oppression. Social workers will need to add an additional lens to their camera. Training and schools will need to evolve.”

Supporting this new generation of social workers also requires more paid internships and employment-based field placements.

It’s also important to actively seek out and encourage passionate young people to consider the profession, she says, by promoting the full range of opportunities within social work that go beyond the public’s understanding of child welfare and private practice.

“Another looming issue is the licensing exam,” says Chase. “There is work to be done. And it’s not just focusing on the exam itself but looking at the whole process.”

Forging Lasting Connections

Chase took a final moment to reflect on the profound personal benefits that her NASW involvement has brought into her life. Beyond the professional growth and leadership opportunities, she points to the invaluable connections and enduring friendships she has cultivated within the social work community.

"Through NASW, I have had the privilege of collaborating with social workers from across the country," Chase shares with a sense of gratitude. "These collaborations have not only enriched my professional development but have also forged lifelong friendships that have helped support and sustain me in my journey."

Learn more about Dr. Yvonne Chase at SocialWorkers.org/News-Releases and listen to her on the Social Work Talks podcast.

Distress and Rescue

Coast Guard ship

When NASW President Chase steps away from her professional commitments, her dedication to serving others always remains. One notable way she gives back, along with her husband, is through volunteering in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

As dedicated volunteers for 40 years, they have participated in numerous search and rescue missions, which often means entering treacherous Alaskan waters to help respond to distress calls from boaters and other individuals facing water-related emergencies.

Chase’s skills as a social worker also come to the forefront during the crucial moments after individuals are rescued from the freezing waters. With a deep understanding of not only the physical but the emotional toll such traumatic experiences can inflict, she can provide critical support.

Today, Chase and her husband continue to volunteer, but primarily focus their efforts on land-based water safety education initiatives.