Devoted to changing the face of social work in Northern California
Recognizing unique and unmet social welfare needs in rural counties in Northern California, Janice Kay O’Donnell worked tirelessly to ensure access to professional social work education in that part of the state. She created collaborations from across the region to generate support for the development of an MSW program at California State University, Chico, and coordinated efforts with the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) to develop the opportunity for aspiring social workers in the area to secure an advanced degree in social work.
O’Donnell grew up in a rural mining town in Michigan of only 2,000 people. A high school teacher, determined to expose O’Donnell’s graduating class of 22 students to the social justice issues affecting the world, had a profound influence on her life. After a field trip to an impoverished area and a class presentation from a social worker, O’Donnell was inspired to join the profession. She received her BA in Social Science from Michigan State University and went on to earn her MSW in 1969.
O’Donnell’s dedication and leadership began with her direct practice with the Department of Social Welfare working with families affected by poverty, abuse and neglect. This led to her work with the developmentally disabled population where she became aware of the social justice issues unique to Northern California and of the educational focus that social workers need to help families in the region.
O’Donnell began working in education in 1974 where her leadership within CSU Chico developed. She served as professor, advisor, committee chair, grant writer, BSW director and MSW director, ultimately becoming department chair/director of the School of Social Work in 1983. During her tenure, O’Donnell actively participated in the delivery of social work courses in the school and guided the school through several transitions and four accreditation cycles. She expanded the undergraduate program and proved to state and federal governments the region’s need for an MSW program, which she established in 2001. She worked diligently to develop partnerships between agencies in the region and CSU Chico to better serve the needs of the community and students.
O’Donnell supported the expansion of curricula to include underserved populations in the region, such as older adults. She also made substantial contributions to social programs through enhanced educational curricula with developmental disabilities, mental health and child welfare.
In addition to her teaching and administrative duties, O’Donnell served on various child welfare agency advisory boards and for the Child Development Program on campus. She created and organized local chapter meetings for the National Association of Social Workers and was actively involved with numerous regional social service agency directors’ organizations as well as the Baccalaureate Program Directors and the Council on Social Work Education. Through hard work and dedication, she has changed the face of social work in Northern California.