Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet social service administration alumna Maureen Dee

Hispanic Heritage Month takes place each year from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Throughout the month, The Daily will highlight members of the university community who are of Hispanic heritage to celebrate their accomplishments and shed light on their experiences at CWRU.

Photo of Maureen Dee

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology and social welfare from a small Ohio university, Maureen Dee took a job as a bilingual foster care worker in New York City. The position required her to travel to all five boroughs on the subway to facilitate home visits with Hispanic foster families and birth parents, and arrange visitation between children and their families.

At the time, there was a heroin epidemic and many children were being placed in foster homes as a result of their parents’ addictions—and there was little in the way of effective drug treatment. That left Dee wanting to learn more about substance abuse and alcoholism—and how she could be a part of the solution.  

Dee, who was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, began her search for social work and behavioral health graduate programs. It just so happened that the School of Applied Social Sciences (now the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences) at Case Western Reserve University had just brought on faculty member Lenore Kola, who had the exact expertise Dee hoped to gain. 

Dee enrolled at the university, going on to earn her master’s in social service administration with a focus on planning and program development, and then an MBA from Cleveland State University. She later gravitated toward environments and work where she could connect with the Hispanic community through social work.

“There were very few Spanish-speaking therapists and still, to this day, our community lacks trained workers who are bilingual in this field,” she explained. “My work morphed into becoming a supervisor, and eventually a director, where I started several alcohol and drug treatment programs, and helped support them through grant writing, a skill I first learned while at CWRU.” 

Though she graduated from CWRU in 1978, Dee remains connected to the university—and committed to its recruitment of Hispanic students, who are in high demand in various professions, including social work. She serves on the Mandel School Visiting Committee, and she’s a mentor to a student in the school’s leadership development program. 

Because of her tireless work as a bilingual social worker and her reputation as a longtime advocate for the Hispanic community, Dee received a Distinguished Alumni Award from CWRU, and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County for her service and dedication to helping those living with mental illness and addiction.

“It’s important for me to advocate for the Hispanic community and their needs, and to role model ways of engaging and serving the community,” Dee noted. “This is also why Hispanic Heritage Month is so important.”

Learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month at Case Western Reserve.