Doreen Klee joined the Social Welfare department as a field work consultant after many successful years working in fields of gerontology and aging. Honored with numerous awards, Mrs. Klee practiced professionally at Home-SAFE Child Care of Vista del Mar, Gateways Hospital Westside Geriatric Center (a mental health outpatient treatment center), Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the Aged and, for the last 17 years, at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.
Question: What drew you to your areas of expertise, namely aging and gerontology?
Answer: Originally, I intended to work with children and families. I even received an elementary teaching credential at UCLA in 1971. After having children, however, I chose to stay at home for the next 20 years. I returned to school, at age 42, to begin a masters degree program in social work, still certain that I wanted to work with families and children – the population with which I felt comfortable. So, of course, I was placed at a senior center. (It is standard practice to place 1st year MSW students with a population with which they have no experience!) For two weeks I felt misplaced and miserable. But as I got to know my clients, I realized that older adults are the link to our shared past, and they hold wisdom that only comes with aging. I fell in love with the population and spent the next 20 years in various positions in the field of aging.
Q: With your background working with senior citizens, what have you found to be the most pressing issues facing this community in Los Angeles?
A: Most seniors want to remain in their own home in the community, but in Los Angeles it can be hard to remain independent as you age. Because LA is so vast, older adults who can no longer drive have a difficult time finding convenient and easily accessible transportation. Housing is prohibitively expensive for seniors who are retired and on a fixed income. And, for older adults who are not computer savvy or who do not have family to help, finding appropriate medical, psychological, financial and/or social resources can feel frustrating and overwhelming.
Q: What have been the biggest differences between your previous work and working at a university?
A: Although I supervised many MSW students during my 20 year tenure at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), my responsibilities to the agency did not allow me to provide the kind of in-depth support and commitment that I am able to give our UCLA MSW students. Working with multiple placement sites and multiple students, I am amazed and gratified to watch the students grow and flourish as they put the knowledge that they learn in class into practice in the field.
Q: An an undergrad, you studied dance and psychology. How did you go from those areas of study to knowing you wanted to be a social worker?
A: The fields are not as far apart as you might think. Dancing requires creativity, skill development, and the willingness to risk, just as quality social work asks us to use “out of the box” thinking to imagine interventions that might help our clients improve the quality of their life. And psychology requires that we observe and listen, test and evaluate to understand the emotional problems of another. Social work also asks us to step into another’s world – to observe and listen to our clients – so that we can understand their viewpoint, shine a light on their strengths, and empower them to solve their life problems.
Q: What excites you about teaching at UCLA Luskin?
A: Because our MSW students are part of the larger UCLA family, they can expand their learning to the other Luskin departments and even to the other schools in the university system. It has been wonderful to see how the students take advantage of the opportunities at the university. And it is also amazing to watch how the second year MSW students are guiding the first year cohort. Because there are only about 200 students in the Social Welfare Department, I am getting to know much of the class and I am able to provide individualized guidance and instruction. Secretly, over the next few years, it is my goal to double the number of students who want to work with the elderly!
Q: How has your previous experience prepared you for this opportunity?
A: One of the wonderful things about geriatric practice is how fluid and open your career can be. As a practitioner I not only worked directly with older adult clients and their families, but I learned to navigate all of the systems of care that serve older adults. Over the years I was also able to develop, run, and evaluate programs, to lead an entire senior center, and to train and supervise others. It is so satisfying to be able to impart to our students all of the learning that I have gleaned from these experiences.
Q: What is the best part of your job as member of the field faculty?
A: As a member of the Field Faculty, I am working alongside caring and knowledgeable colleagues. I regularly visit with, and monitor the progress of, students at their field placements, I meet with a wide array of outstanding practitioners in a variety of areas of social work, and I teach second year students about advanced practice with older adults. The best part of my job is ALL of it!
Q: In your profile it lists many major awards that you’ve received. Are you particularly proud of a specific one?
A: I think that my proudest award was the Heart of Social Work award given by the Council on Social Work Education. I did not know that I had been nominated and was surprised and delighted to be recognized by my peers.
Q: You and your husband were middle school sweethearts—how did you meet and when did you know this was the man you’d marry?
A: I met Ken (who is a Professor in the Law School) in the seventh grade at Palms Junior High. We initially hated each other. But we were tracked together throughout Junior and Senior High and, in the 11th grade, we started UCLA together. (This was the precursor to Advanced Placement.) At 17 we decided to give dating a try and the rest is history! We have now been married for 41 years. He is truly my best friend.