Ana Leon

Professor, School of Social Work 2016 Womens History Month

What is your current job title and responsibilities (please make sure we know your College, Department, etc.)?
School of Social Work
College of Health & Public Affairs

What is your history at UCF and before UCF? (past job titles, responsibilities)
I am a full Professor in the School of Social Work and have been with the university since 1994 full time and several years before that served as an adjunct instructor. I have been in the field of social work for 38 years and have worked as a child therapist and administrator in diverse agency settings, hospitals and social work roles with young children and families, both in New York City and in Orlando. I also worked in several Orlando hospitals including serving as Executive Director of Psychiatry at Winter Park Memorial Hospital. At UCF, I have served in various roles that include Faculty Senator, Chair of the University Senate Personnel Committee, Vice-Chair of the university’s Institutional Review Board, Social Work Honors in the Major Coordinator, Faculty Support Coordinator for Part Time Faculty in Social Work, and University specialist to newspaper media on issues related to children and families. I teach primarily courses in clinical practice and mental health, children’s issues, infant mental health, trauma and research. I feel passionate about my teaching, especially in the area of children’s mental health. I have strong community-agency partnerships within the Central Florida area that have supported several of my major university-community partnerships that have benefited UCF students in learning about and solving ‘real world’ mental health problems.  I have served as a Commissioner on the Orange County Mayor’s Youth Mental Health Commission and I continue to work with Orange County on improving mental health services for children, youth and families.  I also served as a Celebrity Reader for Orange County Early Learning Coalition.

My research, training and clinical work focuses on child health and mental health with an emphasis on Infant Mental Health. Since 2000, my research grants/contracts have totaled over   $3,615,000. My scholarly work includes over 23 articles, co-author of one book, numerous other publications and state, national and international presentations. I am serving as Chair of the National Association of Social Workers Child Welfare Specialty Practice Section, and am a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social Service Research and a Consulting Editor for Families in Society. I developed a guidebook, Babies & toddlers in a new country: A developmental guide for parents new to the United States for immigrant and refugee families served by Catholic Charities. In 2010, I received the University of Central Florida Women Making History: The Faculty Women Prominence Project award. I was invited in February 2016 to speak on Chronic Illness Trauma at the National Kidney Foundation Conference.

What is your academic background?
I am a proud graduate of New York University where I received my Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees. I loved going to school at NYU, surrounded by the diversity of Greenwich Village in NYC.

What is your favorite UCF memory?
I am an animal lover and actually cherish the simple moments in life. My favorite memory at UCF occurred about 15 years ago when I was walking the campus after lunch and realized how beautiful a campus we have. What made it special for me on that bright and sunny (and cool) day, was my sitting on a bench facing the reflection pond feeding the squirrels who were quite eager to get the nuts I had for them. It was at that moment that I realized that I was a part of a great campus where learning and innovation occurs, while I also have the opportunity to observe some of nature’s gifts-truly peaceful and special!

If you could change one thing at UCF, what would it be? ($ and time no object)
I would focus on creating intimate learning environments for students and faculty by developing smaller class sizes where faculty could make use of innovative teaching strategies to engage students in creative activities to enhance critical thinking and skill application. These experiences would also include ‘real world’ application of skills learned in the classroom and focus on utilizing them in work places throughout the community.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with your colleagues?
Being an academic and working independently can have its advantages. However, it is important to stay grounded, to establish those cross-disciplinary relationships that will nurture you as you move through your academic career. And it’s even more important to consider my motto ‘life is too short’, whenever you interact with students, staff and faculty—in other words, there’s lots to do that’s positive, so don’t get caught up in the negatives.

If UCF was going to name something in your honor, what would you like it to be and why?
I would like it to be a children’s research center. My passion is in improving the health and mental health of very young children and helping parents understand the ‘treasures’ they have been blessed with and the responsibility to help those little ones develop to their maximum potential. Continued research is needed to improve the lives of children under the age of five years.

If you could have lunch with anyone at UCF (who you do not normally eat lunch with), who would you choose and why?
I would like to have lunch with a faculty member from Philosophy and spend time discussing the core questions on the meaning of life and spirituality.

Who at UCF would you like to thank for your success?
When I was in my third year at UCF, I met a colleague in Social Work who has been a supportive and wonderful colleague and friend. Dr. Sophia Dziegielewski has given generously of her friendship, time, support and ‘ear’ throughout the years since 1997. She shared her academic ‘tips’ with me when I first entered UCF and made my transition from hospital administrator to educator and researcher so much easier.

Name and describe a teacher or researcher from your past who truly inspired you and why.
My dissertation committee chairperson, Dr. Lucretia Phillips from NYU was truly a major influence in my personal and academic life. I had the privilege of knowing her from my Bachelor days and discovered she was a true advocate, friend and supporter. She encouraged me to succeed and validated me when I did! She treated me with respect and as an equal even prior to my getting my PhD and invited me to present with her. When she died a few years ago, it was truly a loss.

What undergraduate or graduate class/program/experience inspired you the most and why?
One of the most inspiring courses that I teach is my Infant Mental Health course titled: Clinical Practice with Children from Birth to Five Years of Age and Their Families. That course brings out my passion for improving the lives of very young children and allows me to inspire my students to work with this population. Each Spring semester, the students in this course engage in discussions about child development and also participate in creative assignments. For example, a couple of years ago, in partnership with Catholic Charities’ Immigrant and Refugee program, the students helped me create a parenting guide on the development of children under the age of 5 for refugee and immigrant parents from Burma, Haiti, and Cuba. Catholic Charities distributed that guidebook.

What is your favorite restaurant or food?
I love the spicy flavors of Thai food and my favorite Thai place is on Park Avenue in Winter Park.

What is your favorite movie, book or music?
My favorite music is light classical for its ability to soothe and relax me when I need some ‘down time’.

What is your favorite vacation destination?
While I have loved my trips to Russia, Scotland, Greece and Paris, my favorite local vacation destination is Flagler Beach. There I can totally let go of things, enjoy the sun, the sounds of the ocean and the simplicity of nature.

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Phone: 407-823-4240

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