- Fulbright Award (2007)
- President's Award for Distinguished Teaching (1997)
In 1973, Needleman, a professor in California, was in Chile in the months preceding the military overthrow of the government. The injustices she witnessed there inspired her to work outside academia for several years. Then she found the job of her dreams at IU Northwest, "to teach workers to stand up for themselves on the job, to understand their workplace and history, and to develop skills to be more effective representatives of their peers." In 1992, Needleman began to create Swingshift College, working with education coordinators at area steel mills.