NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Peter C.Y. Lee, DSW
Peter C.Y. Lee*

Specific Pioneering Contributions

Peter C.Y. Lee, DSW, was a true pioneer for international social work education. He led the effort to broaden the social work curriculum at the San José State University (SJSU) School of Social Work to address the newly recognized needs of Vietnamese refugees in San Jose, California. Lee brought an international perspective to SJSU by engaging in groundbreaking inter-university connections with universities in Asia and beyond. As an important campus leader in his final role at SJSU as Assistant Vice President, Faculty Affairs, he oversaw the Retention/Tenure/Promotion process for the University and served as an important voice in the increasing diversification of the faculty.

In addition to his duties at SJSU, Lee served as Secretary General of the Inter-University Consortium for International Social Development (now known as ICSD). ICSD is an international organization of institutions (the institutional memberships are predominately Schools of Social Work), practitioners, scholars, and students focused on economic and social development through capacity building. The organization seeks to develop conceptual frameworks and effective intervention strategies geared to influencing local, national and international systems. It is committed to creating peaceful solutions to the problems of survival at the local, national, and global levels.

As Secretary General, Lee handled the administrative and financial management of their biennial symposiums, worked closely with symposium chairs, managed a scholarship fund for members from least developed countries to support their symposium attendance, oversaw membership services, and was the board liaison for the journal. During his 18 years as the primary administrative officer of ICSD, he traveled widely on behalf of the organization. Shortly before he passed away, Lee was named as one of three finalists for the position of President of the University of Guam. He had an early understanding of the importance of international education for the profession of social work and beyond and worked tirelessly to bring that goal to fruition.  

Career Highlights

Lee spent his career as an academic social worker, starting out as a research assistant/file manager for Neil Gilbert and Harry Specht at the University of California, Berkeley while they were preparing their book, “Planning for Social Welfare: Issues, Models and Tasks,” and as a program evaluator and counselor serving children with developmental disabilities. By the time he had completed his doctorate, Lee was already an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at SJSU.

Arriving at the time of significant primary and secondary migration of several waves of refugees from Vietnam, he came to SJSU when critical curricular decisions were being hotly debated. The School, founded on a mission of service to Spanish-speaking populations, was challenged by the newest arrivals to the area who spoke yet another language. Lee, as Chair of the Curriculum committee, navigated major curriculum changes to broaden and deepen the vision of the School and the curriculum to cross-cultural and transcultural practice in service to marginalized, oppressed and disadvantaged populations. All incoming MSW students at SJSU had a requirement to demonstrate proficiency in Spanish, including those who were Vietnamese speakers. Under Lee’s leadership, the Spanish language requirement was changed to an optional certification exam, in recognition of the language diversity of the surrounding community and state.

As the first Director of the Joint Center for Human Services Research and Development at SJSU, Lee embarked on a series of projects that focused on developmentally disabled adults, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Spanish-speaking users of mental health services, and the elderly. While building his career at SJSU, he expanded his international work by consulting in Taiwan, and from 1986-1988, while on sabbatical, he served as the Dean of the School of Social Work at Tunghai University, his undergraduate alma mater. Lee embarked on a series of trips to China and Taiwan with the goal of opening student-faculty collaborations and exchanges between SJSU, the CSU and Chinese and Taiwanese educational and governmental organizations. The continuing relationships between SJSU and the collaborating universities and organizations in China and Taiwan, based on the Memorandums of Understanding signed while on those travels, remained vital and active long after his death. 

Biographical Data

Lee was born in Taiwan on July 25, 1947. He received his BA Degree in Sociology from Tunghai University in Taiwan in 1971. He left Taiwan to study for his MSW Degree at the University of Hawaii (UH), and he received his MSW in 1974 from UH with a focus on psychiatric social work, behavior modification, and community mental health. From Hawaii, Lee moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the University of California, Berkeley (UCB).  Lee was awarded an MPH Degree in 1977, and a DSW Degree in 1980, both from UCB. Lee was married to Tria Lee for 25 years and has two adult children, Jennifer and Stephen. Lee passed away on October 13, 2004, surrounded by his family, while still actively employed at SJSU. 

Significant Achievements and Awards

  • Exceptional Merit Service Award, SJSU, 1984;
  • Outstanding Volunteer of the Year, County of Santa Clara, Junior League of San Jose, Inc., and Volunteer Center of Santa Clara County;
  • Distinguished Service Award, American Cancer Society, 1978 and 1982;
  • Listed in Who’s Who in the West and Who’s Who in America; and,
  • President’s Award, Tunghai University, Taiwan, 1980.

Significant Publications

  • “Sinicization of Social Welfare Policy Analysis: An Alternative Model,” In Sinicization of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Y. M. Tsai and Michael H.H. Hsiao (Eds.) Chapter 10 (in press in 1985).
  • “Toward the Development of Community Mental Health in Taiwan: A Social Welfare Perspective,” In Sino-British Perspectives in Social Welfare, Peter Kaim-Caudle and Jane Keithley (Eds.) London: Oxford University Press (in press in 1985).
  • “Group Work Practice with Asian Clients: A Sociocultural Approach,” Social Work with Groups: A Journal of Community and Clinical Practice, 7:3 (Fall 1984), 37-49. 
  • “Reflections on the Sino-American Exchange on Social Welfare Development” (with John A. Brown), In Toward Comparative Social Welfare, Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Co., 1984. 
  • Proceedings of the Sino-American Conference on Social Welfare Development, Taichung, Taiwan: Tunghai University Press, 1982.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.