Richard A. Reed, a graduate of the Indiana University School of Social Work and former Special Assistant to the President of the United States, has been awarded the IU Distinguished Alumni Service Award.


Richard A. Reed, a graduate of the Indiana University School of Social Work and former Special Assistant to the President of the United States, has been awarded the IU Distinguished Alumni Service Award.

Mr. Reed spent nearly six years working at the White House, where he was the Senior Director for Resilience Policy for President Obama. His stint at the White House capped a 20-year career serving in a number of high-ranking positions within the federal government. He oversaw the country’s response to natural disasters, such as flooding and forest fires, to a possible flu pandemic, to the earthquake in Hatti.

After leaving the White House, Mr. Reed served as Vice President for Disaster Cycle Services for the American Red Cross. While with the Red Cross, Mr. Reed returned to the White House at the request of the President Obama on several occasions, most recently to work on the country’s response to the Ebola outbreak in the U.S. and other countries.

Mr. Reed now is the Head of Crisis and Continuity with Saudi Aramco, considered to be the world’s largest integrated energy enterprise that employs nearly 62,000 people.

If Mr. Reed’s life were to have a motto, it might well read, “We are only limited by our imagination.”  It was the approach he took in a career of public service, be it trying help homeless veterans along the banks of White River in Indianapolis, to serving as a Special Assistant to Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama.

Mr. Reed would be the first to tell you that when he first enrolled in college becoming a Special Advisor to the President one day was hardly one of his goals. In fact, he was so unfocused on what he wanted to do with his life, he turned to his father for advice. “You need some discipline in your life,” his father suggested. Mr. Reed agreed and joined the Army where he served as an Army Ranger. “That was exactly what I needed. The Rangers was a character challenge as much as it was a physical challenge. It got me ready to come back to the rest of the world.”

After leaving the Army, Mr. Reed enrolled at IUPUI, but was still undecided about a major. As part of the curriculum, he took an elective course, a class on social work, taught by an adjunct professor. “He was somebody who had a real job in the real world with real people and he said things that just resonated with me,” Mr. Reed has said. He realized he liked the idea of helping people, being someone who is making a difference.       

He received his Bachelor of Social Work and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 1995 and his Master of Social Work degree in 1996. After graduating with his MSW degree, Mr. Reed immediately plunged into his first job as a clinical social worker for the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. As far as he was concerned it was a dream job, one that would allow him to do everything he hoped to do after hearing the adjunct professor describe social work and help others. As a veteran, he was thrilled about the idea of helping homeless veterans find a better life.

After working several years at the VA, fate intervened and changed the course of Mr. Reed’s career. As he walked into a homeless center in Indianapolis, he accidently bumped into a man leaving who had just been kicked out. The man was angry and shoved Mr. Reed out of the way. As a result of the incident, Mr. Reed was asked to take a course on how to manage disruptive behavior. After taking the course, the instructor asked Mr. Reed if he would help teach it in the future. He not only taught the course but was named the head of work place training for the VA’s 200,000 employees.

From there, he went on to serve in other federal departments, including the Department of Homeland Security.

As Mr. Reed notes, his social work degrees from IU allowed him to do things many federal employees couldn’t even fathom. He had the ability not to become overwhelmed by problems, but to focus on a solution. Plus, he was able to get people from independent and autonomous agencies to work together.

What is most remarkable about Mr. Reed is that no matter what level of endeavor he is engaged in, the basic interest that motivated him to become a social worker holds true today – to find a way to improve the human condition. As Mr. Reed says, “What more of a noble cause could there be?”

Rob Schneider