Faculty spotlight: Dr. Joanne León

Julia Wnuk

“I didn’t know this was a profession until I was a freshman in college,” says Dr. Joanne León, associate professor and chair of the Social Work Department. “I was brought up on being part of your community and doing service. And I just felt like, ‘This is the job for that. I can actually do this.’”

After emigrating from Puerto Rico as a teenager, Dr. León received both a bachelor’s and master's degree in Social Work. She eventually became a full-time professor here at CCSU, where she’s been for more than 10 years.

“We are very much a field-based major,” León notes. “Our students complete almost 700 hours of field experience, which sets us apart from other programs. A lot of our students, because of the experience they gain as an undergraduate, can go on to a master’s program or go into the workforce.”

With the forthcoming launch of the Master’s in Social Work at CCSU, León works to make that journey even easier for her students.

“It will be not only cost effective, but we’re centrally located. We already have long-standing partnerships with community agencies,” she says. “And we will be providing even more social workers that are highly needed in many areas. I’d love to see a cohort in Fall 2024. If not, then definitely Summer 2025.”

That’s not the only way León helps her community. In addition to teaching the next generation of social workers, León has a private practice where she offers therapy to those struggling with their mental health.

“Providing access to mental health, normalizing mental health for our community, and being able to provide Spanish-speaking services — these have always been things I’ve focused on,” León says.

León is also sure to block off time for self-care. Whether that includes spending time with family, gardening, or going on evening walks with her dog, she practices what she preaches.

“The work we do,” she explains with a sigh, “can take a toll. It’s imperative to have boundaries where students understand that they also need to schedule time for themselves. You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

While it’s far from easy, León is proud of the important work her students are doing.

“I think, particularly post-pandemic, people realize there is a huge need for social workers,” she says. “Our students are placed in so many towns and agencies, serving the most vulnerable populations, which I think goes sometimes unnoticed. They’re great leaders in our communities, and they’re examples for many.”