Alumni Spotlight: Dee Manatowa, MSW

Dee Manatowa, Student, MSW programYou could say it’s in her DNA. An Oklahoma Sauk Native, Dee Manatowa inherited her passion for social work along with a devotion to environmental justice. Her father—the late Chief Elmer Manatowa Jr. of the Sac and Fox Nation in Stroud, Oklahoma—instilled in her a love for all people and the Earth.

As a tribal member, Dee knows all too well the intergenerational trauma that comes with finding your place in a society that is not your own. “I was born into a world that was foreign to me,” she explains. To add to the emotional burden, she says, “I’m not full blood, so I was rejected by both my tribe and greater society.”

Like her father, Dee turned to higher education in pursuit of healing, solace, and strength. “I chose social work because its values and standards lined up with my personal beliefs,” she says. In 2014, Dee graduated from Northeastern State University with a BSW, specializing in child welfare. Her goal: to help members of her tribe and amplify Native Americans’ voice for social and environmental justice.

Online advantages

When a classmate told Dee about UNE’s online MSW program, she liked what she heard. The flexibility appealed to her, as did the work-life balance that self-paced learning offered. She was also drawn to networking with students and faculty from around the world and deepening her understanding of globalization and social work. Even better, online learning meant no commute—and minimal environmental impact.

For her graduate degree, Dee chose to focus on macro social work, specifically community practice. Her own experience as a marginalized individual facing institutional and social barriers informed her direction. The need for large-scale change sealed the deal.

“Facilitating change in an individual is commendable,” she says, “but helping to change an entire world—now that is something!”

And Dee thrived in her online studies. “The MSW online program at UNE allows students to take charge of their learning,” she says, “and decreases the stress of meeting class deadlines.”

During her practicum—a centerpiece of the program—Dee gained first-hand experience of macro change at work. As an environmental justice fellow at Creation Justice Ministries, she witnessed how a faith-based approach can help people put aside personal biases and come together for a cause. She also brought her own perspective to the D.C.-based organization’s preservation campaigns.

Throughout, Dee honed her skills in leadership, team participation, networking, and more. “Networking is critical,” she says. She advises students to “make strong connections with peers and colleagues. We can all learn something from one another.”

Lasting legacies

Since graduating in August, Dee has accepted a position as a Case Management Social Worker at Hillcrest Hospital, in Cushing, OK, in the hometown where she grew up. And she is currently generating interest in forming a local coalition to address macro healthcare reform. She especially enjoys blog writing, educating the public, and getting op-eds about environmental justice issues published.

Beyond that, she’s keeping her options open—and taking her own advice: “Actively seek out opportunities,” she says. “Don’t wait for them.”

In a couple of years, she plans to return to UNE to mentor students as a field instructor. Eventually, Dee says, she would like to teach, either in public secondary schools or at the college level. “Education is the key to success in society today.”

Ultimately, Dee Manatowa, BSW, MSW, hopes to set an example for her grandchildren. “I started my education as a young adult but had to put it on hold,” she explains. “I want my grandkids to know it’s never too late to get a college degree.”

Even more important, Dee says, “I want to leave a legacy of stewardship and cultural humility for my grandchildren.” Just like her father left for her.


If you are interested in pursuing your Master’s in Social Work, or even if you’re simply interested in discussing the program, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (207) 221-4143 or via email at socialworkonline@une.edu.

Interested in applying to UNE Online? The sooner you apply, the sooner you hear back. Fill out an online application today at online.une.edu/gateway-portal-page – we look forward to hearing from you!

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