Spotlight (April 2014)

Maria CancianIn February, President Obama announced Maria Cancian as his nominee for Assistant Secretary for Children and Families (Family Support) in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Cancian is professor of public affairs and social work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work and an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Center for Demography and Ecology.

Cancian’s expertise on children, families and income inequality policies prepares her for the leadership role at ACF, according to a statement released by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Cancian has served as associate dean for fiscal initiatives at UW’s College of Letters and Science since 2012 and as associate dean for social sciences since 2011. She has been a professor at UW’s La Follette School of Public Affairs and School of Social Work since 1993, and served as the director of the university’s Institute for Research on Poverty from 2004 to 2008. Cancian also was a W.T. Grant Foundation Distinguished Fellow in residence at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

Gretchen AlkemaSocial worker Gretchen Alkema has been accepted as a member of the National Academy for Social Insurance. Alkema is vice president of policy and communications for The SCAN Foundation.

Academy members are recognized experts in Social Security and retirement security, Medicare and health coverage, workers’ compensation, private employee benefits, unemployment insurance, and related social assistance programs. Those selected for membership have distinguished themselves by improving the quality of research, administration, or policymaking in one or more of these areas, according to SCAN.

“Members are the core of the Academy,” academy President Larry Atkins said in a statement. “Our new members bring us a wealth of expertise, experience and public policy engagement in issues that affect every person and family in America. We look forward to recognizing their contributions to social insurance policy and engaging their expertise and enthusiasm in the work of the Academy.”

Mark D. SmithIowa House Democrats chose Rep. Mark D. Smith as their new leader in a rare midterm leadership election last year.

According to an article posted on, Smith, an NASW member, is a seven-term representative from Marshalltown, and until his election had served as one of four assistant minority leaders in the chamber.

“I’m humbled and honored to be chosen by my colleagues to lead Democrats in the Iowa House,” Smith said in a statement. “We are united as a caucus and ready to win back the majority and rebuild the middle class.”

An Iowa House Democrats press release noted that Smith is a graduate of Graceland College in Lamoni and earned his MSW from the University of Iowa. He is the director of Special Projects at the Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa.