Women of Distinction


Alice Lieberman

Alice Lieberman


  • Co-Principal Investigator, Generations Project, 2010-‘15
  • Principal Investigator, Kansas Workforce Initiative, 2008-‘13
  • Kansas Safe and Stable Families Project, 2006-‘11
  • Author, co-author, or editor of several books, including Women in Social Work Who Have Changed the World (Lyceum 2010).
  • HOPE Award in 1997
  • Currently co-editing a book celebrating the centennial year of the U.S. Children’s Bureau
  • Through the grants and contracts that my colleague, Michelle Levy, and I have worked on, we have provided education funding to hundreds of social work students in Kansas, many of whom might not have been able to finish their college educations otherwise.

How I became interested in my area field:

I originally was interested in health and mental health issues. But my husband, Tom McDonald, was so passionate about the field of child welfare, and once we became parents, I was able to see why!

An honor, achievement or accomplishment that is most meaningful to me:

I won the HOPE Award, an award voted on by students. And it is this characteristic of that award—the fact that it is completely a student decision--that made it so meaningful. It was quite awhile ago, but that plaque is most proudly displayed in my office.

Someone who has been a role model for me and why:

So many! My mother, who took care of my chronically ill father for fifty years; my late colleague, Liane V. Davis, who never backed down from a good fight; my friends Lynne Green, the Founder and Executive Director of Van Go, Inc. here in Lawrence, who has made a huge difference in so many at-risk kids’ lives; Michel Loomis, who has taught at Central Junior High School for 35 years, and who is the most universally loved junior high teacher I have ever seen; Harriet Lerner, an expert on relationships who values and cherishes hers, through all their good times and bad; and my best students over the years—Melinda Lewis, Amy Khare, Samantha Finke, Erika Nutt Donner, and many, many others, who have gone on to make huge differences in their communities.

Someone who has been influential or had a significant impact on my life:

All of my role models! Especially, for obvious reasons, my mother, and my husband, who is the most outstanding person and parent. And, I think she would be shocked to hear this, but Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett has had a very significant impact on my life. In every way, she “gets” the obligation to pay it forward, in whatever way you can, which she does every day. Hang around her and you will ALWAYS know you could be doing more!

My favorite KU memory:

I had a student who had the most difficult life I had seen at KU. She was the oldest of five children from four different fathers. Her own father died of AIDS. Her mother cleaned motel rooms, and relied on her to send money home to help with the other children. She worked full-time at Wal-Mart her entire KU career, where she was a first-generation college student. When she graduated, with a scholarship to grad school at Columbia University in hand, I was beyond the moon.

An important life lesson I have learned:

The path to success is not about being academically smart all the time. It’s about luck, emotional intelligence, passion, karma, resilience, etc.etc. This explains why the kids you knew in high school who everyone thought would be so astonishing as adults often were not, and the “sleepers”—the ones who did not get much attention--were the ones who prevailed.

If I had a sister just entering college, I would want her to know…

that she should take advantage of all opportunities the University offers to travel to foreign countries! I wish I had done this. My own children did, and it has opened the world to them.

A favorite quote or saying and why it is meaningful to me:

Well, I was never big on aphorisms, for some reason. But I do remember Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying that the teachings of John Wesley were very influential to her:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

And I thought, how can anyone argue with that? Of course, her political opponents found plenty wrong with it, but I never have, and I have always remembered it.