UC Clermont social work grads touch local lives

Program alumni find purpose, help others in Clermont County

Eric Dean thought his future was on the stage. But as the former opera major neared the end of his four-year degree, he began to feel pulled out of the spotlight.  

“Music is self-focused,” Dean said. “I had always focused on others and the concerns that friends had. I realized that I wanted a degree that was more in line with those skills.”

Dean soon found himself at the University of Cincinnati Clermont College to complete general studies courses. Sitting in a psychology class, a student next to him shared that he worked at St. Joseph’s Orphanage (now New Path Child and Family Solutions in Sharonville, Ohio) and offered Dean a job as a therapeutic service provider, working with teens with anger management and sexual behavior concerns.

UC Clermont social work alumnus Eric Dean

Eric Dean

Dean was hooked. The Glen Este, Ohio, native changed his major to social work, earning an associate degree from UC Clermont in 2011 and earning the college’s Spirit of Community award for his contributions to the campus in 2012. Dean then transferred to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences.

He now serves as social work lead and acting social services manager at Mercy Health Clermont’s Behavioral Health Institute, interacting with psychiatric patients daily.

“We see patients at their worst. They’re as close to rock bottom as many of them will ever come,” Dean said. “But we help them reintegrate back into their lives. It’s an honor to be a part of that and see someone battle through and engage with their families and communities again.”

Dean is just one successful alumnus on a long list from UC Clermont’s social work program who now directly serve the local community. The associate degree prepares students for careers in the field by positioning them to transition seamlessly to further education — and required licensure — at UC’s Uptown campus.

I’ve lived here my entire life and serving this community is important to me.

Mallory Mahaffey UC Clermont social work alumna; counselor, Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health

Professor Jill Gomez, PhD, said demand for qualified social workers is high. The reason is twofold: Baby Boomers who have worked in the field for decades are retiring; and the Affordable Care Act now requires insurance companies to cover mental health services, increasing the number of patients who seek care. Many of her graduates are hired by the local organizations where they intern during the UC Clermont program.

“There are not enough social workers to fill the roles,” said Gomez. “I’ve never had a graduate say they couldn’t find a job. A lot of students want to work with patients — as a child therapist, for example — but don’t think about choosing the social work path, which offers the quickest path to seeing patients because of the ability to earn a license at the bachelor level.”

One of the deterrents, Gomez said, is a preconceived notion that social workers are low paid. On the contrary, she noted that the average starting salary for mental health and substance abuse social workers in the United States is $51,670. And graduates can start earning after obtaining their bachelor’s degree and license, then receive pay increases — up to $15,000 — if they complete their master’s and doctorate studies, respectively.

UC Clermont Professor Jill Gomez in front of her classroom

Professor Jill Gomez, PhD. Photo/Danny Kidd

And in a field defined by hands-on work, UC Clermont’s program also offers practical experience early on; students are required to complete a 16-hour-per-week internship course with local social services in their second year.

For Mallory Mahaffey, an internship arranged by Gomez at Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services turned into a full-time position in prevention, teaching middle schoolers in Brown and Clermont counties healthy life and relationship skills. The Western Brown native has earned her bachelor’s degree as well and is thrilled to help her home region.

“I’ve lived here my entire life and serving this community is important to me,” said Mahaffey, who hadn’t considered a career in prevention before her UC Clermont internship. “I love connecting with kids and watching them grow.”

Gomez, also a military veteran, knows there is no substitute for working with patients firsthand; she spent two decades as a social worker prior to teaching, including as a case manager at the Clermont County Recovery Center. Gomez earned her social work degrees at UC — beginning at UC Clermont. She returned to teach and serve as program director at the college in 2007.

I love my job. It’s the ability to affect change on the micro level — for individuals and families — but also at a higher level through programs.

Denny Moell UC Clermont social work alumnus; associate director for the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board

“I love people,” Gomez said. “I love helping people become their best selves. I’ve always loved going to work and have had so many opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives, whether patients or students.”

That passion for people is also the driving force behind the success of alum Denny Moell, now associate director for the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board. Moell worked in manufacturing for 15 years, creating precision optical lenses at 3M before his job was outsourced overseas.

With support from the Trade Adjustment Act and his wife, Moell returned to school at affordable and nearby UC Clermont. His mother had struggled with mental illness, and he wanted to choose a new career path to better understand her experience. In an early class, Gomez turned Moell from considering a degree in addiction studies to social work — and never looked back.

UC Clermont social work alum Denny Moell

Denny Moell

Today, Moell helps distribute government funding for behavioral health services to Clermont County residents, including mental health and substance abuse services. He also provides oversight for crisis services guidance and clinical programs throughout the county. Prior to his current role, Moell spent three years providing support for health care workers dealing with traumatic stress — a much-needed resource during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I love my job. It’s the ability to affect change on the micro level — for individuals and families — but also at a higher level through programs,” said Moell, who also completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UC. “I love being able to make change happen for more people and within the system. The constraints can be frustrating, but it’s very rewarding.” 

Learn more about UC Clermont’s social work program.

Featured image at top: UC Clermont social work alumna Mallory Mahaffey in the college's Student Lounge. Mahaffey now works with students in local schools through Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health. Photo/Danny Kidd

About UC Clermont

UC Clermont College is in the center of Clermont County on 91 beautifully wooded acres in Batavia Township. The college is an accredited, open-access institution offering more than 60 programs and degrees. UC Clermont is part of the nationally recognized University of Cincinnati. For more information, call 513-556-5400 or visit www.ucclermont.edu.

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