Dr. Sandra Butler named the 2024 UMaine Distinguished Professor

Butler named 2024 UMaine Distinguished Professor A portrait of Sandy Butler

A long-time educator and leader in social work, whose research and advocacy influenced state and federal policy, has been named the 2024 Distinguished Maine Professor, the University of Maine’s most prestigious faculty accolade.

Sandra Butler, professor and director of the School of Social Work, will be honored at the Alumni Achievement Awards Dinner and Celebration, alongside other alumni award honorees, on Friday, April 26 at Wells Conference Center. 

I am profoundly honored to receive this award, especially at this stage of my career at the University of Maine. The award resonates as validation of my research about and advocacy for low-income individuals and families in Maine and of my focus on preparing social work students to be agents of change toward a more economically, socially, racially and environmentally just world,” Butler said. 

The annual Distinguished Maine Professor Award honors a UMaine professor who exemplifies the highest qualities of teaching, research and public service. It is sponsored by the UMaine classes of 1942 and 2002, and administered by the University of Maine Alumni Association. Diane Rowland, dean of the College of Earth, Life and Health Sciences, nominated Butler for this year’s award. 

“Dr. Butler embodies the best of what UMaine values in our faculty — an inspiring educator, an impactful researcher and a change maker for the betterment of society,” Rowland wrote in her nomination letter. “Dr. Butler has achieved all this while being a champion for the most fragile populations of our state and nation. Our college is especially proud of Dr. Sandy Butler’s dedication to helping others through all aspects of her work.”

Butler joined UMaine as an assistant professor in 1991, and has played many critical roles in the School of Social Work over the years. 

In 2020, Butler became director of the school after intermittently serving as interim or acting director for several years. She became the coordinator of the Masters of Social Work at UMaine in 2006 — the same year she was promoted to professor — and has served as its coordinator ever since. The program has become one of the largest graduate programs the university offers. Butler has also participated in several service and research projects as a resident scholar and associate with the university’s Center on Aging since its inception in 2001. During her tenure, she has served on numerous committees for the school; the College of Earth, Life and Health Sciences; the university and the University of Maine System. 

While Butler has taught many undergraduate- and graduate-level courses over the years, she primarily focuses on instruction related to social welfare policy. As UMaine’s lead educator in this field, Butler also provides guidance to other instructors and works with them on updating course content. 

Butler said her teaching philosophy “is strengths-based and inclusive.” She provides prompt and extensive feedback on students’ work, is attentive to their concerns and suggestions and demonstrates her strong passion for the field. 

“Sandy is the reason I am a licensed social worker today, and she was the most significant factor in my decision to pursue both MSW (Masters in Social Work) and doctoral studies at the University of Maine,” wrote Amy Frankel, who is now a lecturer in social work at UMaine, in her letter of support for Butler’s nomination. “I am grateful to have this wonderful professor and scholar as a role model in my life and for all of us to have her as an example of the kind of compassionate greatness that universities rarely celebrate in appropriate measure.”

Over the past 32 years, Butler has authored more than 100 scholarly articles, books, book chapters, policy briefs, legislative testimonies and newspaper op-eds pertaining to the health needs and social welfare experiences of low-income individuals and particularly women of all ages. 

Her scholarly publications focus on poverty, direct care workers, public assistance, older workers, rural aging, the impact of higher education for low-income mothers, LGBTQ+ aging, lesbian health, homelessness, teen parenting and pregnancy and policy practice. Her ability to research issues related to aging expanded when she served as a Hartford Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholar from 2001-2003. In 2010, she became a Hartford Faculty Research Mentor. 

“She exudes as a quintessential social work professional speaking clearly in her words and deeds in keeping with the core values of the profession of social work and leading research with over 30 years of scholarship in areas of financial insecurity and elevating the voices of low-income populations and older adults,” wrote Noell Rowan, professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, in her  letter of support. “This volume of research speaks to her unwavering commitment and devotion to rigorous scholarship about too often hidden voices in society.”

Dedicated to equity and justice, Butler has used her research and expertise to advocate for social welfare policy changes in Augusta, Maine and Washington, D.C. 

She has worked in collaboration with the Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine Equal Justice for years by researching the impact of state policy on low-income populations. Her research on families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children in the early 1990s contributed to the launch of a statewide Parents as Scholars program (PaS), which helps low-income parents afford college degrees. With her University of Southern Maine colleague, Dr. Luisa Deprez, she carried out a longitudinal study about the experiences of student parents in PaS from 1999 through 2006. Her research has also focused on the impact of time limits for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and recently, again with Dr. Deprez, the effects for low-income student parents of receiving unrestricted cash assistance for financial emergencies through the Build Hope Fund. Her research on aging has included a longitudinal study examining recruitment and retention of home care workers in Maine. 

Her service also includes advising state and national groups that advocate for social welfare policy changes, particularly as a member of their boards. She is affiliated with the American Society on Aging and the Gerontological Society of America, where she is a fellow. She has served on the Maine Women’s Lobby and Policy Center Advisory Boards, the Maine Center for Economic Policy’s Advisory Board and Development Committee, the Maine Long-term Care Ombudsman Advisory Committee, the Family Connections Advisory Committee, the Spruce Run Steering Committee and the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center Board of Directors. 

Butler is not only a tireless advocate, but also an educator who encourages her students to fight inequity and help those who are underserved and underrepresented.

“As a former policy maker, I want to relay that Sandy Butler’s work was imperative for lawmakers to successfully do their work and to lift families up. We simply cannot make policy without data and research,” wrote former Maine House Speaker and State Rep. Sara Gideon in her letter of support for Butler’s nomination. “Professor Sandy Butler is so incredibly skilled in doing this.”

The instruction, research and community service Butler has provided over the years have earned her several honors and accolades. They include receiving the Leadership Award from the Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work, being named a Fulbright specialist, earning the Influencing State Policy of Council on Social Work Education Faculty Award and being given the Feminist Scholarship Award by the Council of Social Work. She received a Rising Tide Career Award from the UMaine Rising Tide Center in 2015.

“Dr. Butler is an extremely effective and productive scholar,” wrote Sue Steiner, a professor with the California State University Chico School of Social Work, in her letter of support. “Her work is well-respected and influential within and beyond social work.” 

Contact: Shelby Hartin, shelby.hartin@maine.edu


The UMaine School of Social Work is seeking nominations for the 2024 Outstanding Alumni Award.
The University of Maine School of Social Work Outstanding Alumni Award is intended to recognize both accomplishments and leadership in the field of social work by alumni at the BSW or MSW level of practice. The contribution(s) do not need to be publicly renowned but should show a clear history of service to the field of social work. Nominees should be viewed as a positive role model in the community who consistently go above and beyond in their roles as administrators, clinicians, educators, coordinators, case managers and/or support providers and demonstrate enthusiasm and dedication to the field of social work.
Please consider nominating a colleague in the field for the award. Self nominations are also encouraged! Award nominations are submitted via this Google form.  If your nominee is selected for the award, you will be contacted to provide more information about the nominee.
Please submit your nomination byMarch 7, 2024. If you have questions about the award or the nomination process, please contact Jennifer Crittenden, MSW(’05) at jennifer.crittenden@maine.edu or 207.581.2495

Dr. Judith Josiah-Martin delivered the keynote address at the 2024 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebratory Breakfast on January 15, 2024.

Her powerful presentation was picked up by WABI:

NASW Support

NASW is providing leadership and advocacy concerning the disparities in the social work licensing exams developed by ASWB.  On February 3rd, they released a strong statement against the exams, and in it they address the impact of this position on their support of the Interstate Compact Legislation and their commitment to efforts about licensing going forward.  

Our School of Social Work at the University of Maine is supportive of this position and continues to participate in efforts to address these problems and harm that has been caused to social workers of color, older adult social workers and social workers who have a language other than English as their first language.

If you are interested in joining the related advocacy work, please contact Christopher McLaughlin, the email cmclaughlin.naswme@socialworkers.org for more information.

NASW Supports Efforts to Promote Diversity within the Profession by opposing Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Social Work Exams

February 3, 2023

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) declares opposition to ASWB social work licensing exams after reviewing ASWB data showing significant disparities in pass rates for prospective social workers of color, older adults, and those who speak English as a second language. NASW is prepared to oppose the Social Work Interstate Compact Legislation being developed by the Council of State Governments (CSG) if the bill is not substantially improved, including the removal of provisions which codify the ASWB exams. NASW is eager to work with CSG to develop multi-state social work practice legislation.

 In an August 2022 statement after the release of the ASWB data, NASW committed to working closely with its partners to propose innovative solutions that reduce harm and increase diverse representation at all levels of social work practice. These efforts will initially target removal of non-independent social work practice exams which may be biased, and support efforts to strengthen competency measures. NASW looks forward to working with its partners to implement these strategic initiatives and to promoting the diversity and well-being of the social work profession, and the health and well-being of the populations social workers serve.

Social Work Licensing
This program will prepare students to be eligible for licensure within the State of Maine. Visit the UMS State Authorization & Licensure page to learn more about the licensure requirements in other states and territories, in addition to the contact information needed to inquire further into the licensure requirements associated with this program. 

Important Note to Graduates

It appears that graduates of our program with student debt are eligible to apply for the recently announced Maine Health Care Provider Load Repayment Pilot Program.  We area not sure how many awards will be available, but do know the competition will be open to a number of health professionals.  Applications are due September 1, 2022.  Please follow this link for more information about the program and the application process.


The School plans to partner with NASW and other Schools of Social Work in the upcoming year to work on expanding the opportunities for loan forgiveness.

Interested in beginning your social work education at the University of Maine? We want to hear from you today!

Request information from the School of Social Work

At the University of Maine School of Social Work, we prepare proficient and ethical social work professionals committed to social change in a variety of organizations, specializations, and professional roles.

We provide the highest quality education for both beginning and Male Student and Faculty Member in a one-on-one sessionadvanced professional social work practice. We educate at the Baccalaureate and Master’s level in an atmosphere of individualized learning, respect for individual rights, and a celebration of diversity.

Graduates from the School of Social Work go on to serve as social work clinicians, program planners, administrators, and community change agents in a wide range of public and private settings and systems. As a member of our diverse and dedicated community of students, faculty, field instructors, and alumni, you will transform your commitment to improving the quality of life for people into professional knowledge and skills. You will be poised for a successful and personally rewarding career promoting social change by providing services to individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations.

UMaine Crest Logocswe logo