Portrait of Karen Lee

In Memoriam: Karen Lee, Former Field Faculty Member A co-founder of a national consortium focusing on geriatric social work, she educated and mentored hundreds of students during 12 years at UCLA

Former UCLA faculty member Karen Lee died of cancer Jan. 25 at her home in Eugene, Oregon. 

Lee’s tenure at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare began in 2002 as a member of the field education faculty, and she later served as associate director of the Master of Social Welfare program. She retired in 2014.

Known for fostering student interest in geriatric social work, Lee represented UCLA as a founding member of the Geriatric Social Work Education Consortium, or GSWEC. Twenty years later, the consortium continues to flourish, and the partnership of universities and centers of excellence has expanded. 

Lee is fondly remembered for her passion and guidance by many, including her former colleagues in Social Welfare.     

“I truly considered her a role model in the way she interacted with students and taught in the classroom,” Laura Alongi Brinderson said. “Her sweet smile and infectious laughter will not be forgotten.”

Michelle Talley recalled being assigned to work with Lee when she first arrived at UCLA, shadowing her and learning how to teach and manage a classroom. “It really helped me to understand the role,” Talley said.    

“Karen Lee will be missed by our Social Welfare community at UCLA and beyond,” said former colleague Gerry Laviña, director of field faculty at UCLA Luskin.

Laviña recalled that the “Advanced Practice in Aging” course taught by Lee was highly evaluated, and she was known to be a readily accessible field liaison who touched the lives of many students.

As news of Lee’s death spread on social media, several alumni and friends posted remembrances on the Social Welfare alumni page on Facebook saying they viewed her as a pivotal mentor during their time as MSW students and as someone who continued to make an impact in their personal and professional lives well after graduation.   

“She was more than a teacher — she was friend, mentor, cheerleader, and all around mensch,” wrote Charlie Padow MSW ’07. “I am not alone. She touched countless lives as an educator and a friend.”

Jean Dorsky wrote: “As a gerontology specialist, Karen was pivotal in my career choice. I will always remember her as being honest, fair, and funny and insightful.”

“This is such a surprise. … Karen was a mentor in more ways than one,” wrote Brittany Leigh, who continued to say that Lee cared not only “about what we did at school, but really cared about me as an individual.”

She is survived by her husband, Joseph “Joe” Lee, and sister, Eileen. The family has requested that donations in her name be made to Food for Lane County, a nonprofit food bank near their home. 

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