A conversation with Dr. Nancy Meyer-Adams

October 1, 2023

Dr. Nancy Meyer-Adams began her journey to pursue a career in social work when her son entered residential treatment for drugs and alcohol when he was 16. The social workers and psychologists saved their lives, and helped them see different paths that they could take from the ones they were on. Nancy was a teen mother of two—she had her daughter at 16 and her son at 17—and a high school dropout. At 37, she earned her GED and graduated from Broward Community College in 1994. She went on to Florida International University (FIU) to earn her BASW in 1997 and her Advanced Standing MSW in 1998, and then to the University of Tennessee for her PhD in Social Work—all in a span of 10 years. Nancy is the current Director of the School of Social Work at California State University, Long Beach.

Where did you grow up and can you describe your journey and motivation to pursue a career in social work?

I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana until I was 21 years old and then moved around a bit. I spent many years of my adult life in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

My story is a bit unconventional. I was a teen mother of two—I had my daughter at 16 and my son at 17—and a high school dropout until I was 37 years old. I supported my children by being a waitress and bartender. At 37, I earned my GED and graduated from Broward Community College in 1994. I went on to Florida International University (FIU) to earn my BASW in 1997 and my Advanced Standing MSW in 1998, and then to the University of Tennessee for my PhD in Social Work—all in a span of 10 years.

My motivation for social work was mainly because of my life experiences but probably the most profound was when my son entered residential treatment for drugs and alcohol when he was 16. Our family was helped by social workers and psychologists during that time that saved our lives and helped us all see different paths that we could take from the ones we were on.

My son is now a full professor of psychology at Colorado State University and the Director of the Addiction Counseling Program with a BA, MA and PhD from UCLA and my daughter is a MSW and doctor of Chinese Medicine who owns her own clinic and provides holistic services to her clients.

I tell my story to incoming MSW students without divulging that I am the biological mother in the story until the end. I use this to show that there is hope to the families they will be working with, that it is important to listen to people’s stories, that they will never know all the people that they touch or how they turn out, and that I could hide behind my white privilege and all the letters I now have behind my name but my story is what got me here to be the Director of the CSULB School of Social Work. I feel it is important for them to know.

Who was your biggest influence or inspiration?

I have been lucky to have a few great mentors in my school careers—my biggest inspiration is Dr. Karen Sowers who was the Director of the FIU School of Social Work when I started there as a BASW student. Karen saw potential in me from our first meeting and she encouraged me to keep going on this journey to my PhD. She encouraged me to apply for my doctorate program once she moved to the University of Tennessee. She never gave up on me. I am a professor and university administrator and leader because of Karen Sowers.

More recently, I have had the honor of being mentored by Dr. John Oliver, former Director of the CSULB School of Social Work. John was the Director here when I was hired and he immediately became my mentor on many levels. I have been lucky enough to follow in his footsteps of being the director here for the past 9 years, being CADD president and serving CalSWEC in many roles. Karen and John continue to inspire me to be the best I can be every day to serve our students.

What were your professional goals when you started your career and how have your professional goals evolved over time?

I wanted to be a teacher. I loved teaching and never dreamed I could be a university professor someday. I pursued my PhD so that I could be a professor. Teaching is truly my first love in this career. I have been honored with many teaching awards over the years from all three universities where I have worked. I am most proud of that.

I loved being in a classroom with students pursuing their social work degrees and watching them succeed on their journeys. Now serving as director for the past 9 years I think my goals are still with the students and wanting to be sure they have the opportunities they need to be successful but on a much different level. My goals include working with folks on all levels to achieve their goals including faculty, staff, students and alumni.

What populations, issues, and settings has your work focused on to date?

My focus as an MSW and PhD was school social work practice. I practiced in elementary and middle schools. Working with school age children and their families in Florida, Tennessee, and California brought lots of different challenges to my focus including behavioral health issues, food and housing insecurity, homelessness and child welfare and safety challenges.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your role at CSU Long Beach?

The most rewarding aspects of my job as director of one of the largest MSW programs in the state of California is being able to watch our students, most of them first generation undergrad and graduate, being accepted into our program, being successful while here and graduating and going on to a career in social work. I am also honored to be able to work with an amazing faculty and staff. We work together as a team very well and our goals are centered around student success.

One of the most challenging aspects currently is the large number of faculty retirements we are experiencing. The number of faculty who are retiring or making the choice to leave academia is taking a huge toll on our school. Not only are we short staffed but we are losing folks who hold the historical knowledge of the school, the university and the community.

As President of the California Social Work Education Center’s (CalSWEC’s) Advisory Board, what are your priorities and what do you hope to accomplish while in office?

I hope to continue to collaborate and work closely with Kimberly Mayer and the CalSWEC staff to reach the goals of CalSWEC. I am excited to be coming in as President as we focus on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Belonging in all aspects of our work together. This is an exciting time with all the movement to train and hire social workers across the continuum of services in the state of California.

How has COVID-19 impacted your work, and how are you coping with those impacts?

In some ways the pandemic has impacted everything we do in this somewhat post-pandemic world. Many students, faculty and staff are still affected directly or indirectly by this pandemic. Our clients continued to be impacted in many ways so we need to adjust to this new world. For instance, the move to telehealth as a delivery of services in all areas of social work practice, the new way of working whether fully or partially remote for many staff and the effects of long-term COVID on many. All of this brings different challenges every day in our practice and educational settings.

What kinds of self-care are important to you as a social worker? What do you do to take care of yourself?

Self-care is vital to all of us as social workers and social work educators—without it we can’t serve those who seek and need our assistance. I practice yoga weekly and have incorporated acupuncture into my weekly routine. I also love to travel and try to do it as often as my schedule permits.

Do you have any advice for MSW students who are entering the social work field?

I think my words of advice would be that this is a wonderful time to be entering this rewarding field. The need is great and the opportunities are endless. Keep an open mind to all the opportunities that come your way, listen carefully to the individuals you are working with and stay inquisitive—you never know who can help or where they might present themselves.

What do you hope to do next?

I am excited to be starting my fourth 3-year term as Director of the CSULB School of Social Work in August 2023. We will be starting our next CSWE reaffirmation process soon so my focus will be on leading us through a successful process. I look forward to retiring and traveling when this term ends in 2026.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Any interests or hobbies?

Yoga, travel, Broadway shows and spending time with my children and grandchildren.

Thank you for sharing your story, Nancy!

Nancy Meyer-Adams

Dr. Nancy Meyer-Adams
Director of the CSULB School of Social Work