In Honor of Professor Emerita Sheila H. Akabas

November 27, 2023

It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the passing of Dr. Sheila H. (“Shelley”) Akabas, Professor Emerita of Social Work, this past month.

Dr. Akabas was known worldwide as a leader in the specialization known as “the world of work.” She began her tenure at CSSW in 1969 as research director for the Center for Social Policy and Practice in the Workplace, and in 1975 she became director of the Workplace Center and a faculty member at the school. Dr. Akabas also headed the World of Work as a Field of Practice and Social Enterprise Administration as a Method of Practice.

Dr. Akabas pursued a broad array of interests. As one remarkable example, she was instrumental in helping the NYC Fire Department to hire and integrate women into their workforce. She was deeply invested in issues of disability, leading her to serve in different capacities that promoted the employment of individuals with disabilities. She served on the Executive Committee of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, and also provided consultation on disability and labor market policy to the United Nations, the World Rehabilitation Fund, and myriad organizations in Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, and Sweden. Her expertise was also sought out by corporations, non-profit agencies, and trade unions across the United States. Dr. Akabas devoted significant attention to the issue of social justice for people with mental health conditions, and served on the Statewide Educational Advisory Board of the New York State Office of Mental Health and the Advisory Board of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

Dr. Akabas wrote extensively about workers and work organizations, offering invaluable insights into the innovative ways in which workplace management, labor organizations, government, and social workers can better respond to the needs of workers, their families, and communities – including the expansion of services to working people, and to the many under-resourced and disadvantaged individuals who seek entry into the world of work.

A mentor to countless students at CSSW known as “Shelley’s kids,” Dr. Akabas formed lifelong relationships with many, providing invaluable guidance and friendship through the years.

Educator, author, mentor, colleague, and friend are just a few of the words that can describe Dr. Shelley Akabas. Her commitment to the profession, the school, and working people worldwide was lifelong and her legacy will endure. We are honored and proud that she was a member of the CSSW community.


Melissa Begg