Nancy Fitzsimons, Professor I MSW Program Director
Of all the core social work values, Social Justice is the value that guides Nancy’s work as a social work professor.
Dr. Nancy Fitzsimons got inspired to become a social worker when she was in high school. Her interest in psychology, sociology, and government led her to choose social work as her major when she was a first-generation college student at Mankato State University.
Upon earning her Bachelor of Science in social work degree, Nancy moved to the Chicago area where she lived and practice social work for 15 years. She got her first social work job in the family services division of Ada S. McKinley. Many years later, Nancy discovered that Ada S. McKinley was a social reformer who founded the agency as a settlement house to assist black World War I veterans and families moving to the city from the south. Nancy’s early work centered on supporting, predominantly African American, families with children with developmental disabilities. It was through her first social work job that Nancy began her lifelong career working, volunteering, and engaging in scholarship connected to disabled folk of all ages.
Dr. Fitzsimons earned her MSW and PhD in social work form the University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work. Her studies combined her interest in social work practice with people with disabilities and their families and social welfare policy, including policies connected to disability services, advocacy, and human and civil rights. Her doctoral studies were supplemented by a fellowship at the Institute on Disability and Human Development (UIC) and later employment as a project director and research assistant professor. Nancy’s work at the Institute included directing a 5-year longitudinal study of the closure of a state-operated developmental center. While working at the Institute, Nancy jumped at the opportunity to take on the leadership of the Abuse and People with Disability Prevention Initiative. To this day, Nancy’s scholarship largely centers on reframing our understanding of interpersonal violence experienced by people with intellectual/developmental and other disabilities.
Nancy is a native of Minnesota, having been born and raised in St. Paul. Her deep roots in Minnesota and at Minnesota State University, Mankato led her back to her alma mater in 2001 when she joined the social work faculty. She served as the inaugural MSW program director for 7 years (2005 – 2012), once again returning to this role in the fall of 2022 and for the 2023-24 academic year. Nancy holds the LISW licensure in Minnesota and considers herself an Advanced Generalist. She primarily teaches MSW courses focused on social welfare policy and services, task group practice (mezzo) and policy, organization, and community practice (macro). In the last few years, she has discovered the joy of teaching the next generation about social work in the undergraduate course: Introduction to Social Work. Nancy’s mission as a social work educator is to help students understand the macro-context of their social work practice. One of her greatest joys is helping students discover how they can fulfill the dual role of social work: “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable oppressed and living in poverty” (NASW Code of Ethics, 2020), regardless of the path their career takes. Nancy also works to center the diversity of disability in her teaching as a way to help student not think of “disability” as a field of practice, but rather as human diversity.
Nancy has a long track-record of community service, with much of it connected to disability advocacy. Nancy was appointed by two Minnesota Governors, Dayton and Walz, to serve on the Minnesota Council on Disability, including in the role of Chair. Since 2018, Nancy has served on the Arc Minnesota Board of Directors, including as the Public Policy co-Chair. Nancy is proud of her involvement with an organization that is increasing centering the lived experiences and leadership of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in its work to promote and protect the human rights of people I/DD. In June 2023, Nancy will begin a 1-year term as the co-Chair of the Board.
Dr. Fitzsimons’ scholarship largely focuses on interpersonal and institutional violence and abuse perpetrated against people with disabilities. Her publications include Combating Violence and Abuse: A Call to Action. She was instrumental in the development of Minnesota’s Comprehensive Plan to Prevent Abuse and Neglect of People with Disabilities. In 2022, Nancy was recognized as a Minnesota State University Distinguished Faculty Scholar.