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The University of Tennessee College of Social Work Celebrates 75th Anniversary by Honoring 75 Social Workers Whose Efforts Advance the 12 Challenges for Social Work

The Council on Social Work Education has identified 12 Challenge areas for Social Work that are critical to the advancement of the profession. Our graduates, faculty and staff have been involved in creating significant and lasting change in these areas since our initial class of 1942. This year we will be celebrating 75 of them by changing our spotlight every few days to highlight the impact that we have had on the social work profession, its trends and leading-edge education. Join us in learning more about our college, our alumni that are doing amazing work in the field, our faculty, staff, and others related to the college who are advancing the ideals and work of the grand challenges. Join us in celebrating these successes!

The Grand Challenges for Social Work represent a dynamic social agenda, focused on improving individual and family well-being, strengthening the social fabric, and helping create a more just society. Explore each of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work below as described by the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare:

  1. Ensure healthy development for all youth
  2. Close the health gap
  3. Stop family violence
  4. Advance long and productive lives
  5. Eradicate social isolation
  6. End homelessness
  7. Create social responses to a changing environment
  8. Harness technology for social good
  9. Promote smart decarceration
  10. Reduce extreme economic inequality
  11. Build financial capability for all
  12. Achieve equal opportunity and justice

Dr. Teri Abrams is Named Honoree #56 for Grand Challenge #8: "Harness technology for social good"

Dr. Teri AbramsOur 56th Grand Challenger is Dr. Teri Abrams. Dr. Abrams is an assistant professor of social work at the Nashville Campus of the College. Her research focuses on burn trauma patients and their recovery. In April she received the Success in Multidisciplinary Research Award at the Chancellor's Honors Banquet for her work in the development of an app called the Bridge, with the goal of helping burn patients in recovery. The app includes instructional videos for range of motion exercise and dressing changes, mental health support, medication monitoring, positive cognitive behavioral messages, exercises in self-efficacy, recipes for a high-protein high-calorie diet, and links to websites that provide additional burn support.

The Success in Multidisciplinary Research Award is given to faculty members working with other academic colleges who have succeeded in gaining major external resources and recognition for multidisciplinary research. Abrams, along with an entire multidisciplinary team, are using innovative applications of new digital technology to develop opportunities for social and human services that bring a wider array of assistance to more individuals and communities.

The project is personal for Abrams: When she was six years old, she was burned while playing with her older siblings. “I recognize many of the challenges and needs of burn patients after leaving the hospital,” she said. “I have spent the majority of my adult life trying to improve the outcomes for burn patients in one way or another.”

Recently, Dr. Abrams has been awarded two $10,000 grants including the STIR grant from Office of Research and Engagement and another from the UT Research Foundation. Soon to be published are articles titled, "The Bridge: A mobile application for burned patients" in "BURNS: International Journal for Burn Injuries," and "Strengthening Recovery: A Burn Injury-Focused Mobile App to Improve Outcomes" in "Health & Social Work."


Sunshine Parker is Named Honoree #55 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensure healthy development for all youth.”

Sunshine ParkerOur 55th Grand Challenger is Sunshine Parker, whose work addresses the 1st Grand Challenge, "Ensure healthy development for all youth." Ms. Parker has earned three degrees at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville: BSSW and MSSW (Social Work; 2004, 2006), and Juris Doctor (Law, 2014). She is a member of the North Carolina State Bar, and currently serves as Director of Human Services within the Public Health and Human Services Division for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) located in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Barbara Parker, known to most people as “Sunshine,” an enrolled member of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, was born in the sovereign Cherokee nation within the Qualla Boundary, which is surrounded by the State of North Carolina. At an early age Sunshine knew that she wanted to accomplish two things: earn a college education and use that education to improve the lives of others. After enrolling in the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, she sought ways to gain the skills needed to accomplish her personal vision. It became clear that Social Work was the discipline that offered the best professional training to support her goals. During a master’s-level field placement at Legal Aid of East Tennessee, she worked as a community organizer and assisted the Rural Task Force, African American Task Force, and Latino Task Force in applying for grants, developing their organizations and planning events related to their goals. After earning her MSSW degree and becoming a Licensed Master Social Worker, Ms. Parker spent five years working at Knoxville Community Connections. In that role, she supervised case managers who worked with families and children, and she frequently advised attorneys who were arguing TennCare appeal cases. Sunshine was inspired to add legal training to her social work skills and earned a Juris Doctor from the UTK College of Law in 2014.

When the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians decided to establish its own Division of Public Health and Human Services. Sunshine Parker was hired to come home and fulfill her vision of improving the lives of others. Ms. Parker’s first role was to use her keen understanding of child safety needs to draft the legal and social service infrastructure of a foster care system. During 2015 and 2016 she was employed by both the new Public Health and Human Services Division and the Attorney General’s Office to develop a Family Safety Program and to serve as a Family Safety Attorney. In 2016 at age 33, Sunshine was appointed as an Associate Attorney General for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

By 2017, the scope of the Family Safety Program had grown to the point that her social work leadership skills were needed, and she was moved into the role of Interim Manager to supervise a staff of 30 social service workers. Ms. Parker has led the creation of a multi-program Human Services Department that is now staffed with 70 social service professionals. Currently, as Director of the Department, she oversees the Family Safety Program, and its growing network of certified foster care homes, a Domestic Violence Shelter Program, a Child Advocacy Center, and a Juvenile Services Program for juvenile offenders. These programs seamlessly integrate behavioral health, legal, medical, and other social services to promote the best possible outcomes for tribal members.


Courtney Cronley is Named Honoree #54 for Grand Challenge #6: "Ending Homelessness"

Courtney CronleyOur 54th Grand Challenger is Dr. Courtney Cronley (an alumna of both the MSSW and PhD programs at the College), whose work addresses the 6th Grand Challenge, "Ending Homelessness."

Dr. Cronley recently presented an overview of her work on homelessness to faculty and staff of the college. The presentation entitled "Women and Children Experiencing Homelessness: Trauma, Resilience, and the Built Environment" looked at a number of studies conducted by Dr. Cronley over the course of the last years in the areas of homelessness, childhood adversity, health disparities, and resilience.

Cronley worked with Dr. David Patterson on the Knoxville Homeless Management Information System project while a PhD student in Knoxville. Since that time she has completed post-doctoral work at Rutgers Center for Alcohol Studies. Since 2011 she has worked as an Assistant/Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. She describes herself as a community-engaged researcher who promotes housing justice, especially for women and children, using mixed-methods that are grounded in social-science theory. She sees her work as actively addressing the 6th Social Work Grand Challenge, "Ending Homelessness."

Dr. Cronley talked about some of her key research projects with the following essential articles and findings:

  1. Entering sex work in adolescence: Youth homelessness predicts earlier entry into prostitution. (Finding: The association between sexual trauma and childhood homelessness.)
  2. Reproductive health rights and survival: The voices of mothers experiencing homelessness. (Finding: The association between reproductive health risks and homelessness; resilience.)
  3. A community of singers: Employing exploratory cluster analysis to reveal profiles of psychosocial characteristics among members of a street choir for homeless and formerly homeless individuals. (Finding: Resilience as it relates to music among individuals experiencing homelessness.)
  4. I run inside buildings”: Adolescents’ perspectives of healthy living and nature in family emergency shelters. (Finding: The association between built environment and health among homeless youth.)
  5. Investigating divergent transportation inequities between environmental justice populations with varying health risks using data collected via innovative app technologies. (Finding: App-technology data collection methods feasible with transient populations; transportation and food access.)

The College is proud to see the important work being done by Dr. Cronley in this area of social work


Sukyung Yoon is Named Honoree #53 for Grand Challenge #4: “Advancing Long and Productive Lives.”

Sukyung Yoon and Dr. Sherry CummingsOur 53rd Grand Challenger is Sukyung Yoon (pictured on right), a PhD student in the College of Social Work whose work addresses the 4th Grand Challenge, “Advancing Long and Productive Lives.” Yoon’s research work is already being recognized as she has had an article accepted by the Journal of Gerontological Social Work. She is the first author of the paper and worked with Associate Dean of Academics, Dr. Sherry Cummings (pictured on left), second author.

The paper is titled, "Factors Protecting against Suicidal Ideation in South Korean Community-Dwelling Older Adults: A Systematic Literature Review." Sukyung describes the study, saying, "This systematic literature review investigates protective factors against suicidal ideation among community-dwelling older adults in South Korea. Existing research focuses on risk factors for suicidal thoughts among older adults living in the community, but research on protective factors for this population is rare. This study illuminates interventions among multiple levels of protective factors against suicidal ideation: individual, family, community and macro-level factors."

In addition to this paper, Sukyung Yoon’s research focuses on the public health dimensions of gerontological mental and physical health both in the U.S. and South Korea. She is interested in identifying pathways that reduce or prevent the accumulative and negative impact of adversity over the lifespan and in the empowerment of older adults as vital members of their communities.

Yoon anticipates the completion of her doctorate in May of 2019 with a PhD in Social Work and a minor in Statistics. Her Master of Social Welfare was completed at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. Learn more about Sukyung Yoon and her work at:


Kim Page is Named Honoree #52 for Grand Challenge #3: "Stopping Domestic Violence"

Kim PageOur 52nd Grand Challenger is Kim Page who is a crisis counselor and licensed therapist with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Domestic Violence Division, offering crisis intervention, counseling, and court support for victims of domestic violence and any non-perpetrating family members. As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are pleased to recognize that Kim is the 2018 recipient of Outstanding Advocate of the Year award from the Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Kim received her MSSW in Social Work from University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee. She was licensed as a clinical social worker in 2000.

Kim has worked for the MPD's Domestic Violence Division for over 16 years, during which time, she has worked to address the goals of Grand Challenge #3: "Stopping Domestic Violence". She serves as a field instructor for the University Of Tennessee College Of Social Work, Nashville campus. She also provides LCSW supervision for master's level social workers who are pursuing licensure in social work. Page has trained with International Critical Stress Foundation, Inc. to offer assistance to victims which include a wide range of crisis intervention services including pre and post incident crisis education, significant other support services, on-scene support services, crisis intervention for individuals, demobilizations after large scale traumatic incidents, small group defusings and the group intervention known as Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD).

This outstanding alumna is the author of the book "Repair, Restore, Refine." Kim Page regularly presents information to educate the community on domestic violence and trauma reactions of children and adults.


Darris Upton is Named Honoree #51 for Challenge #12: "Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice"

Darius UptonOur 51st Grand Challenger is Darris Upton, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a College of Social Work alumnus of both the BSSW program (2017) and the MSSW program (2018). His father was an ironworker who helped build the City County Building. Upton has been named Knox County's new Manager of Diversity Development, one of two new positions created by incoming Knox Co. Mayor Glenn Jacobs.

The Diversity Development Manager will work to create equal economic opportunities for small, minority-owned, women-owned as well as veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. Upton has previously worked in community relations with the City of Knoxville's Office of Neighborhoods, as well as a student intern for the Knoxville Community Action Committee.

“If there are groups out there that are doing certain things, and those things are successful, there’s an opportunity for Knox County to say, how can we as a county be of help?” Upton said. “How can we can take that and maybe make it better?”

While a student in the College of Social Work, Darris was a leader in both the Bachelor's Social Work Organization (BSWO) and the Master of Social Work Student Organization (MSWO). In addition, he has worked with college faculty member Dr. Shandra Forrest-Bank (pictured with Upton above) developing a Social Justice Innovation Initiative project designed to encourage voter registration in Knoxville communities.

Congratulations and best wishes Darris!


Kate Chaffin is Named Honoree #50 for Grand Challenge #8: "Harness Technology for Social Good"

Kate ChaffinLast year the College celebrated its 75th anniversary and we instituted our 75 Challengers series. This year, in that spirit, we continue the series in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Online MSSW Program.

Our 50th Grand Challenger is Kate Chaffin, LAPSW, Director of the MSSW Nashville and MSSW Online Programs and Associate Professor of Practice, whose work addressing the goals of Grand Challenge #8 - Harness Technology for Social Good, has impacted the UT College of Social Work Online MSSW Program over the course of its 10 year history. She has carried out the goals of this grand challenge, finding innovative ways to apply digital technology and making it possible for students of social and human services to reach more people with greater impact on our most vexing social problems. The College is grateful for the leadership of Kate Chaffin.

Dr. Sherry Cummings, Associate Dean for Academics states, “Since the UT College of Social Work Online MSSW program began 10 years ago, I have had the privilege of working with Kate Chaffin. It has been exciting to see her lead this program with excellence and creativity. As the program has grown under her leadership, she has met our many challenges and has helped us to become one of the premiere online social work programs in the nation.”

After receiving her MSSW from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2004 (Nashville campus), Professor Chaffin gradually moved into the role of Clinical Director at the Davidson County Mental Health Court. The purpose of this court was to assist criminal defendants with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness, Addictions, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Intellectual Disabilities successfully navigate the court system and get their lives on the right track. In addition to her time with the Court, Professor Chaffin also served as adjunct faculty with Tennessee Technological University teaching courses in criminal justice, sociology, and social work. She also served as a child therapist for children and adolescents suffering with autism, anxiety and depression.

In 2008, Professor Chaffin joined the College of Social Work in order to develop the Online MSSW program. This online program is nationally ranked and she is recognized as a leader in distance education. She serves as director of the Online and Nashville MSSW programs. Professor Chaffin currently teaches courses in both the MSSW program and PhD program. An individualized approach to students is a huge part of Professor Chaffin's success and is a great part of her leadership philosophy. Her current course load includes Social Welfare Policy and Practice, Leadership in Social Service Agencies, and Social Work Pedagogy in Online Environments. Her research interest currently lies within best practices in online teaching. She is a faculty advisor for the Vanderbilt University Inter-professional Learning Program, and she was the project director for the HRSA TIPS training grant, which educated students on social work in integrated health care settings. She also completed the Program Directors Leadership Academy through the Council on Social Work Education.

Professor Chaffin believes strongly in the NASW Code of Ethics and the need for strong policies to support individuals, groups and communities. Equality for all is a platform that she holds dear and is something that she strives for daily in both her professional and personal life.


Bethany Jones is Named Honoree #49 for Challenge #4: "Advancing Long and Productive Lives"

Bethany JonesOur 49th Grand Challenger is Bethany Jones, LMSW, a medical social worker at Blount Memorial Hospital. serving in the Palliative Care and Hospice Services Department. During her career, she has worked to address the goals of Grand Challenge #4: "Advancing Long and Productive Lives".

As a Medical Social Worker, Jones evaluates the social, emotional, financial, safety, and community needs of the patient and family. Jones provides education on various topics including grief, disease progression, and signs/symptoms of death and dying to the patient and family. Jones also assists the families as they identify and make final arrangements for patients. Following the death of a patient, Jones, along with volunteers, follows up with the bereaved to ensure they are moving through their grief process safely and appropriately.

Bethany Jones graduated in 2014 from the University of Tennessee with her Bachelors of Social Work degree. "My time at the university has played a large role in my success in the Social Work field," states Jones. "I learned valuable skills that enabled me to advocate for my clients/patients successfully, and also challenged me to continually think outside of the box when needing to solve an issue. The College of Social Work provided me with enormous amounts of knowledge from my professors and gave me realistic expectations of what to expect once I was really working in the field."

Following her years at UT, she completed her Masters of Social Worker degree from The Ohio State University. Jones started her career providing in home therapy to children ages 5-17, while also facilitating alcohol and drug groups for adolescents and adults before leaving to attend graduate school. While obtaining her Masters degree at Ohio State, Jones worked in private practice providing psychotherapy to college aged students as a Licensed Social Worker in the state. Following graduation from Ohio State, Jones returned to Knoxville and became a foster care case manager with the Department of Children’s Services providing for the needs of the children and families she served.

Jones hopes to apply for candidacy in the doctoral program at the College in the Fall of 2019. She plans to specialize in Gerontology and the needs of the continually growing population.


Lisa Reyes Mason is Named Honoree #48 for Grand Challenge #7: "Create social responses to a changing environment."

Dr. Lisa Reyes MasonOur 48th Grand Challenger is Dr. Lisa Reyes Mason, Assistant Professor at the UT College of Social Work. Dr. Mason has recently been named Director of the College PhD Program. During her career, she has worked to address the goals of Grand Challenge #7: Create social responses to a changing environment. Dr. Mason is a national network co-leader for this challenge and has been active in developing the website that has recently opened and is dedicated to Challenge #7 at

Dr. Mason received her PhD and MSW from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and her BA from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research examines social vulnerability and adaptation to problems at the nexus of society and the environment such as climate change, water security, urban pollution, and severe weather. Dr. Mason's research is multidisciplinary and community engaged. She collaborates regularly with colleagues in Engineering and Geography. Dr. Mason is funded by the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment. She has published in major social work, health, and climate journals. Dr. Mason also directs the Environment and Social Development initiative at the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.

One of the major projects that she has developed in concert with Dr. Kelsey Ellis of the Department of Geography at UT relates to Tennessee Tornado Safety. Part of staying safe is understanding your risk to tornadoes, when to act during a tornadic event, and what measures you can take to ensure your safety. This is especially true for tornadoes at night, which are twice as likely to have a fatality as a tornado in the day. About half of Tennessee tornadoes occur at night, when people are less likely to receive warnings that are issued by the National Weather Service. Dr. Mason and Dr. Ellis participated in the National Weather Service media workshops across the state to discuss weather topics with community stakeholders and to develop ways that all can work together to communicate with the public.

As Dr. Mason looks forward to a new challenge of leading the College's PhD program, she states, “Pursuing a PhD is a unique time in someone’s life and career. I’m excited to work with each of our students as they become the next generation of social work scholars, educators, and leaders. Our program gives students the hands-on, advanced research training that they need to create new knowledge that can change lives, and in a supportive environment with rich mentoring from our faculty. In the coming weeks, we’ll roll out a new statistics ‘boot camp’ for our incoming students to help ease them in, plus new professional development events for all and supports for students heading out on the academic job market. We have a great program, and I couldn’t be more excited to help lead it to even greater heights.”


Bruce Guillaume is Named Honoree #47 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensure Healthy Development for All" and Grand Challenge#7: "Create Social Responses to a Changing Environment"

Bruce GuillaumeOur 47th Grand Challenger is Bruce Guillaume, founder of “Mountain Challenge”, the region’s premiere outdoor adventure provider, located at Maryville College in Maryville, TN, and director of Crawford House (its headquarters), a leader in energy and environmental design.  During his career, he has worked to address the goals of Grand Challenge #1: Ensure healthy development for all youth and Challenge #7: Create social responses to a changing environment.

Bruce is a graduate of Maryville College with a B.A. in psychology. He received his MSSW degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Bruce is experienced in corporate education and has conducted hundreds of seminars and programs for a variety of companies. He has led numerous outdoor experiences all over the country and internationally.

Personally, Bruce has run for more than 40 years, bicycled for more than 30 years, cross country skied for more than 25 years and paddled and surfed in the ocean for more than 25 years. He has 1 daughter, Emily, currently working on both a graduate and law degree at Indiana University. He lives in Friendsville, TN with his wife Wendy.

Bruce describes the development of his programs: 

Mountain Challenge
“Early on I realized sports not only kept me physically fit, but mentally fit as well. Combining physical elements into my work life began immediately after graduate school. During the early 1980s, this meant using exercise prescriptions with many of my clients. During the winter of 1985, I learned some valuable lessons using the wilderness with some work at the North Carolina Outward Bound School. By the fall of 1986, I wanted to do more work with groups and the wilderness without the long commute to North Carolina.  Thus began Mountain Challenge.

“The president of Maryville College asked what it would take to move Mountain Challenge to the College campus (where I was already working part-time). Following a ropes course for his supervisors, a plant manager for Sea Ray Boats asked what I’d like to have for my business. I told him that a ropes course on the College campus would be ideal. With his help we obtained a grant from the Brunswick Foundation and had our own ropes course planned, built, and operational by the spring of 1988.  We moved from serving 1,000 people in 1990 to over 6,000 in 1999.  In 1993, we added an Alpine Tower that has since grown into one of our signature events.  The new millennium found us serving 10,000 participants by 2005 and questioning the amount of growth that for us would be sustainable.  At the time of its 25th Anniversary Celebration, Mountain Challenge had served over 150,000 clients.”

Crawford House
“Awareness of and attention to environmental sustainability has long been imperative to us. Hence, our commitments to reducing our environmental impact are earnest, notably bookmarked with our LEED® Gold certified headquarters, Crawford House.  We are also pursuing a number of other initiatives and projects, including a Sustainability Tour of the Maryville College campus that showcases the college’s environmentally friendly features as well as participation in a food hub study conducted in partnership with the University of Tennessee, College of Agriculture to increase the college’s use of local food.”

The College of Social Work is proud of Bruce Guillaume and the work he has done over the years to ensure healthy development of youth and for the social responses that he has developed to a changing environment.


S. Elizabeth Waters is Named Honoree #46 for Grand Challenge #3: "Stopping Family Violence" and Challenge #2: "Closing the healthcare gap"

S. Elizabeth WatersOur 46th Grand Challenger is S. Elizabeth Waters. During her career she has worked to address the goals of Grand Challenge #3: Stopping Family Violence (especially when it leads to traumatic injury) and Challenge #2: Closing the healthcare gap.

S. Elizabeth Waters, LAPSW, is the Development Coordinator for the UT Medical Center Trauma Survivor Network (TSN). Waters is an alumna of the Universisty of Tennessee (BSSW in 2004 and MSSW in 2006) and has been a LAPSW since 2011. Throughout her career, Elizabeth has been aware of the need for organizations to see the importance of social workers. She is pleased to be working at the TSN because it is an organization in the region that wants to not only take care of patients medically, but emotionally.

The Trauma Survivors Network (TSN) is a community of patients and families who are looking to connect with one another and rebuild their lives after a traumatic injury. Joining this community can help ease the anxiety and frustration often experienced following a traumatic injury. Most of us have little experience with traumatic injuries, the accompanying hospitalization and resulting recovery that can be filled with uncertainty, anxiety and frustration. Elizabeth states, "Trauma is not an accident. No one plans to have a motor vehicle or motor cycle crash. Our geriatric population does not plan to have a fall that can cause serious injury. Sometimes these injuries lead to amputation, paraplegia or quadriplegia. Patients who have had a life altering event due to an injury have PTSD, anxiety, are overwhelmed, can be alone, and need information or resources for next steps. TSN acts as a liaison for trauma patients and their families to take some of the worry off of them. We provide initial and follow up visits, resources and information on injuries, a monthly support group and a weekly family group."

In addition to her other responsibilities, Elizabeth Waters serves the UT College of Social Work as a field instructor and field liaison. She observes that students are assets to the programs as they "have the opportunity to work with patients and families on the trauma step-down floors (not the critical care/intensive care units), co-facilitate support groups, learn about resources, goal setting, empowerment of clients, SELFCARE and being a part of a multidisciplinary team."

Rebecca Jackson, Director of Field and International Education at the College states, "Elizabeth Waters is an excellent and dedicated field instructor and also serves on our field advisory committee. We are very grateful that she is helping to guide and educate our students in the field as they serve as part of the team at the Trauma Survivor Network."

As the TSN Development Coordinator, Elizabeth is part of the organizational leadership and has developed foundation, local, and state funding proposals that have been funded to expand TSN and its Trauma Services Programs for community outreach and to provide resource and referral information for substance abuse treatment. She is a founding participant in the University of Tennessee Medical Center's Emergency & Trauma Advisory Council and she is a member of the National Trauma Survivor Network Advisory Committee.


Commissioner Marie Williams is Named Honoree #45 for Grand Challenge # 6: "Ending homelessness," Challenge #11: "Building financial capability for all," and Challenge #2: "Closing the healthcare gap"

Marie WilliamsOur 45th Grand Challenger is Marie Williams, the first LCSW to ever be appointed as the Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in Tennessee. That provides, plans for, and promotes a comprehensive array of quality prevention, early intervention, treatment, habilitation and recovery support services for Tennesseans with mental illness and substance abuse issues. During her career Ms. Williams has worked to address the goals of Grand Challenge #6: Ending homelessness, Challenge #11: Building financial capability for all, and Challenge #2: Closing the healthcare gap.

Marie Williams is a MSSW graduate of the College of Social Work. She also currently serves as a member of the college's Board of Visitors. Prior to assuming the role of Commissioner, Ms. Williams, LCSW, served as the TDMHSAS Deputy Commissioner, and worked on the prescription drug abuse epidemic facing our state participating in the creation of the Prescription for Success initiative, a multi-faceted strategy to address the prescription drug problem in Tennessee. She also worked collaboratively to expand consumer-based recovery services focused on special populations, supports, employment, housing, transportation planning, consumer affairs, and crisis services.

Her division oversaw the statewide planning process as well as the successful implementation of the behavioral health safety net program, which provides services through community mental health agencies for persons who were disenrolled from TennCare. Working with Elisabeth Rukeyser, former Commissioner of the department, Marie helped develop Creating Homes Initiative (CHI) to make available 13,592 supportive housing options along a continuum that allows for persons diagnosed with mental illness and co-occurring disorders to live in, thrive in, and contribute to their communities in the least-restrictive settings that are consistent with their needs and choices.

Prior to her work with the state, Ms. Williams worked for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). There she received Secretary Andrew Cuomo's Best Practices recognition. Early in her career, she worked with the homeless population through Midtown Mental Health Services in Memphis and later as Director of Homeless Services for Catholic Charities of Memphis, where she developed and administered operations for treatment programs at three sites for persons diagnosed with mental illness or co-occurring disorders.

She co-authored the Out of Poverty curriculum with Dr. Larry Lambert, a group-based peer and mentor training program designed to help people move from dependence to self-sufficiency. This curriculum is being implemented in communities across the country.


Sukey Steckel is Named Honoree #44 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensure Healthy Development for All"

Sukey Steckel, Sukey SteckelAssistant Professor of Practice at the Nashville Campus of the UT College of Social Work, is our 44th Grand Challenger, recognized for her work addressing the goals of Grand Challenge #1-- Ensuring healthy development for all youth. Her professional interests include NEAR science (neurophysiology/epigenetics/adverse childhood experiences/resilience), children's mental health policy, trauma-informed care, infant mental health and early childhood development, interagency collaboration and organizational management, and improving systems that serve vulnerable populations.

The State of Tennessee has been engaged in the Building Strong Brains Initiative for the last few years. Sponsored by the Governor's Children's Cabinet, this initiative strives to increase awareness of the importance of preventing and mitigating Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in order to promote healthy development for all of Tennessee's children. Ms. Steckel has been working with faculty across the College to integrate ACEs related information throughout both the MSSW and BSSW programs in order to better prepare students to be competitive in an ever-changing practice environment. Ms. Steckel has also participated in training by the Frameworks Institute to ensure that students not only learn the science behind ACEs, but also how to apply strategies from the field of communications science to effectively engage clients and stakeholders across all levels of social work practice. Ms. Steckel has presented on her ACEs related work at the Council on Social Work Education for the last two years.

In April, a team led by Ms. Steckel submitted an application for a Building Strong Brains Programs, Projects, and Activities grant through the Department of Children's Services (DCS). The purpose of the Building Strong Brains Tennessee funding is to prevent, mitigate or help persons recover from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and promote the health and prosperity of Tennessee. Research shows that providing safe, stable and nurturing relationships early in life can buffer the damaging effects of childhood adversity. Building Strong Brains grants are expected to address the unique features of a community and/or demonstrate that widespread adoption of best practices will contribute to the health and well-being of children and families… and contribute to a larger body of knowledge about how to move the state forward through collective ingenuity in addressing ACEs.

Upon submitting the grant, Ms. Steckel said, "I have never seen a grant come together so quickly, which would not have been possible without the dedication of our ACE Nashville partners, the College's Business Manager, Ashley Howdeshell, our two Organizational Leadership students, Adriane Matherne and Shanty Luna, and Dr. Ragan Schriver. I would especially like to thank Dr. David Dupper and Dr. Sherry Cummings for supporting the submission of this proposal and its long term sustainability within the College."

This month Ms. Steckel received the notification that the grant entitled "Resilient Tennessee: Sustaining Resilient Organizations for Success (Resilient Tennessee)" has been funded. Described in the Resilient Tennessee proposal, this project will support the work of the statewide Building Strong Brains (BSB) Initiative.

The Resilient Tennessee grant project is based on a partnership between the College and All Children Excel Nashville (ACE Nashville) and is poised to influence Tennessee's non-profit and public social service sectors. ACE Nashville is a collective impact initiative working to prevent and mitigate ACEs in Davidson County. The College will leverage its existing online learning management infrastructure to expand and sustain ACE Nashville's "Templates for Resilient Organizations" completed under a 2017 Building Strong Brains grant award. Through the development of an online learning portal, the new grant will increase the opportunity for wide scale adoption of trauma-informed policies and practices across Tennessee's social services provider networks.

The ultimate goal of Resilient Tennessee is to create a comprehensive statewide network of trauma-informed and resilient human service organizations. By creating a provider network that is grounded in trauma informed policies and practices, Tennessee will have a workforce that uses evidence-based science to maximize the physical and psychological safety of both clients and staff, facilitate recovery of the child and family, support individual, family and community resilience, and ultimately prevent and mitigate ACEs in communities throughout Tennessee. The new online trauma-informed care learning management system is scheduled to launch in June 2019.


Jacqlyn Telfer is Named Honoree #43 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth"

Jacqlyn RelferOur 43rd Grand Challenger is Jacqlyn Telfer, an MSSW student whose work is already making an impact in our state related to Grand Challenge #1, "Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth." Jacqlyn Telfer is a current student at the Nashville campus of the College and the Graduate Intern and Administrative Coordinator at National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Tennessee Chapter. Her work with NASW has focused on a research and advocacy effort on expanding school social work services and improving the lives of children and youth throughout Tennessee. Jacqlyn is pictured (center) with Representative Joe Pitts (left) who co-sponsored bill to support social workers in schools and NASW-TN Executive Director, Karen Franklin (right).

The NASW, TN Chapter has used Jacqlyn's research in meetings with state legislators to advocate on behalf of the school social work profession. SB2196/ HB2272, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (D) and Sen. Art Swann (R), was introduced in the 2018 legislative session. As originally written, the bill would require one school social worker in every K-12 public school across the state. Telfer's research was referenced by Representative Pitts in committee as an ammendment for this bill was being developed. (Note: SB2196/ HB2272 passed the Tennessee General Assembly in 2018.)

Jacqlyn said, of her work, "I have been compiling research on the need for more school social work services in public schools across the state for the past 9 months and working with key groups and legislators since the beginning of the legislative session to advocate for one school social worker in every K-12 public school across the state. Especially with the current political climate surrounding school safety and school violence, the need for more preventive services is so crucial." To read Jacqlyn's research, click here (PDF).

In addition to her policy advocacy work, she also had the opportunity to assist in the planning and coordination of the largest Day on the Hill event for social work students in Tennessee. 2018 Social Work Day on the Hill attendees had the opportunity to view advocacy and policy practice in action by attending the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee hearing where HB2272 was being reviewed and put to a vote. During the hearing, House sponsor Rep. Joe Pitts mentioned Jacqlyn Telfer by name for the important research she has put together on the need for more social workers in Tennessee schools.

Jacqlyn Telfer received her BSW from the Texas State University and will graduate from the MSSW program of the College in May. She also works with Renewal House supporting women struggling with addiction and their children to find hope and healing. She has collaborated with Renewal House to assist in grant writing and funding for a new recovery facility. Her previous experience includes youth development and empowerment, domestic violence advocacy, healthy relationships education, and supporting female adolescents in the juvenile justice system.


Nikki Jones is Named Honoree #42 for Grand Challenge #2: "Closing the Health Gap"

Nikki Jones with Dr. Frieda HerronDr. V. Nikki Jones, LCSW, LMFT, a 2017 graduate of the College's DSW program, works full-time as a faculty member at Middle Tennessee State University and part-time in private practice. Dr. Jones has provided direct services to couples and families in private practice and community mental health settings. She is our 42nd grand challenger, being recognize for her work in addressing the goals of Grand Challenge #2, Closing the Health Gap.

More than 60 million Americans experience devastating one-two punches to their health they have inadequate access to basic health care while also enduring the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. Innovative and evidence-based social strategies can improve health care and lead to broad gains in the health of our entire society.

Dr. Jones' research and publication interests are applied psychometric theory and scale development focused on minority stress and the association between sleep deprivation and maladaptive behavior. This kind of research has great potential for impacting treatment for those who endure the effects described above. In addition to this work, Nikki Jones had a paper accepted for publication with the Journal of Behavioral and Social Science. This paper emerged from her DSW capstone II research. Her manuscript titled, "Discrimination, Stress, Variability: What Affords Black Gay Women Protection?," was accepted and is slated for publication in September/October 2019.

The co-authors of this paper are individuals who served on her capstone committee, Robert M. Mindrup, Freida Herron, David A. Patterson, and Laneshia Conner. The purpose of the study was to determine whether age, net worth, education, and employment offer African American gay women protection from contextualized stress related to lifetime exposure to discriminatory events. Although bivariate and multivariate associations between the social demographic variables and contextualized stress were not supported, the study's results are consistent with prior research that show social status does not mitigate stress African American women. Despite having a post-secondary education, professional identity, and positive net worth, upwardly mobile African American gay women continue to report psychologically deleterious experiences with discrimination.

In addition to this work, Dr. Jones recently co-published an article in Youth Today, "Sleep Deprivation May Hurt Low-income Youth of Color More, With Myriad Effects" and has written two novels (i.e., The Space Our Love Demands and Lyric & Blake).


Kristen Rector is Named Honoree #41 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth."

Kristen RectorKristen Rector, LAPSW, a 2005 alumnus of the College's MSSW program (Nashville), is the President and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT). With the mission of preventing the abuse and neglect of Tennessee's children, PCAT is a statewide, non-profit organization working to create opportunities for every child to have a safe, stable, and nurturing childhood. She is our 41st Grand Challenger, recognized for her work addressing the goals of  Grand Challenge #1-- Ensuring healthy development for all youth.

Rector was recently named as one of the 2018 Women of Influence winners by the Nashville Business Journal. The program recognizes women who are shaping their companies, improving our business community and paving the way for the next generation of influential female leaders.

Rector believes in the vision of great childhoods. As the organization's CEO, Kristen leads the agency's strategic management, finance, and administrative needs while also serving as a fierce advocate for Tennessee families. She has been instrumental in PCAT's growth from a staff of three to more than 50 team members in three offices across the state.  Kristen expressed her passion for this work, saying, "At PCAT, we rely on everyone to create safe and healthy communities for kids.  The challenge of our work is getting everyone to believe in the power of their role in the community.  Many people feel like this is out of reach for them personally.  We tell people they may not think they are involved in the prevention of abuse and neglect, but every time they donate to an organization that serves families or children, every time they volunteer to work with children in their faith community or at an after school program, or when they spend time mentoring a child, they ARE."

Kristen has provided trainings and workshops regarding the prevention of child maltreatment by reducing adversity and promoting community resilience at a variety of professional events, including the Connecting for Children's Justice Conference, The International Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Conference, Tennessee Conference for Social Work, and the National Association of Service Coordinator's Conference.  She has played a key role in the creation of statewide Adverse Childhood Experiences initiatives, most notably as one of the founding members of All Children Excel (ACE) Nashville.  She has also been an instrumental member in the Governor's efforts to promote mitigation of ACEs throughout the state, the Building Strong Brains Initiative.

Kristen serves as an appointed member of the Joint Task Force on Children's Justice and Child Sexual Abuse and the Commissioner's Children's Advisory Council. 

Kristen has a spirit for service. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Nashville and is a tireless volunteer with her church. She lives in Nashville with her husband and two children, and most weekends can be found at hiking at Warner Park.


Bruce Marshall is Named Honoree #40 for Grand Challenge #5: "Eradicating Social Isolation"

Bruce MarshallBruce Marshall, an alumnus of the MSSW program (online), is Director of Oak Ridge based Contact CARE Line. He is our 40th Grand Challenger, recognized for his work in addressing the goals of Grand Challenge #5, Eradicating Social Isolation.

Marshall spent 27 years as a Chaplain in the United States Air Force from which he retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel. While on his sixth deployment in Southwest Asia, in 2011, he completed his MSSW degree through the college's online program. As a chaplain, Marshall led a team of chaplains to provide counseling, pastoral car, and worship for all the personnel on his base. He also served as a licensed mental health clinician.

Currently he is Director of Contact CARE Line. This organization is East Tennessee's oldest crisis hotline, answering crisis and other calls for help 365 days a year. Founded to address the need for immediate access telephone crisis services, their goal is to provide round-the-clock access for people in need. Through services that emphasize confidential, non-judgmental, and compassionate listening, CONTACT's trained volunteers alleviate despair, isolation, distress, and suicidal feelings in callers from East Tennessee and beyond.

As an experienced executive director, Marshall has a demonstrated history of working with individuals and families in the non-profit setting. His focus has been in crisis intervention as well as program evaluation, case management, and psychological assessment. His Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) focused in Clinical/Interpersonal Practice from University of Tennessee-Knoxville has prepared him well for his responsibilities at Contact CARE Line.

According to Kate McClernon Chaffin, Director of the College's Online MSSW Program, "Bruce is . . one of my most memorable students. Words that come to mind when I hear his name are love, empathy, and compassion. He has remarkable clinical skills and he is a wonderful social worker. His presence is a calming voice of reason and is just what a hurting person most needs when they go see a therapist. His service to this Country and God makes him an especially ideal candidate for any job as he is an impeccable combination of the best things that make up a great person!"

According to Marshall, "Each [helping] role has allowed [me] the wondrous privilege of walking alongside others on the life's path, listening to their stories, and hopefully helping them find balance, purpose, and healing in their lives."


Ellen Zinkiewicz is Named Honoree #39 for Grand Challenge #4: "Advancing Long and Productive Lives"

Ellen ZinkiewiczEllen Zinkiewicz, an alumna of the MSSW program (Nashville campus), is Director of Opportunity NOW and Youth Services for the Nashville Career Advancement Center. She is our 39th Grand Challenger, recognized for her work in addressing the goals of Grand Challenge #4, Advancing Long and Productive Lives.

As Nashville Career Advancement Center's director of youth services, Ellen Zinkiewicz has, for years, witnessed the challenges youth face in finding employment. Businesses can be reticent to hire teenagers because of labor laws, and young people often do not know how to access the jobs that are available.

"We see a lot of young people who want to work, but they simply don't know about the mechanics of finding that job," said Zinkiewicz, who is leading Opportunity NOW. "They also don't know who might hire them. If you think about the jobs young people see around them, they may not see jobs in their community they can do, but those jobs may be there."

Opportunity NOW provides young people with real chances to learn skills that stimulate the next generation of growth in our economy ? benefitting our youth, our businesses, and our city. This initiative supports Nashville's next generation (ages 14-24) as they develop valuable life skills and confidence needed to excel in the workplace.

Opportunity NOW provides young people with real chances to learn skills that stimulate the next generation of growth in our economy ? benefitting our youth, our businesses, and our city. This initiative supports Nashville's next generation (ages 14-24) as they develop valuable life skills and confidence needed to excel in the workplace.

"Coming to work at 8 o'clock means 7:50, not 8:15," Zinkiewicz said. Young people "have to have good communication skills, decent customer service skills. We hear from employers across the spectrum, across the region, consistently, that the workforce is missing those skills. Those are learn-to-work skills, and you learn to work by working."

See Ellen talk about the work of Opportunity Now at:


Rachel Freeman is Named Honoree #38 for Grand Challenge #3: "Stopping Family Violence"

Rachel Freeman Rachel C. Freeman, a 2002 graduate of the College's MSSW program (Nashville campus), is our 38th Challenger. She is being recognized for her work in addressing the goals of Grand Challenge #3, Stopping Family Violence.

Rachel Freeman, has been named the new president and CEO of the Nashville Sexual Assault Center. Beginning at the center as a clinical therapist in 2002, Freeman assumed the position of Clinical Director in 2007, and then Vice President of Programs in 2011. Her new role with this organization began in January 2018.

Family violence is an American tragedy, but proven interventions can prevent abuse, identify abuse sooner, and help families survive and thrive by breaking the cycle of violence or finding safe alternatives. The mission of the Sexual Assault Center is to provide healing for children, adults and families affected by sexual assault and to end sexual violence through counseling, education, and advocacy.

Speaking about her education and work, Freeman stated, "My social work education and internship experiences significantly prepared me for my various roles at the Sexual Assault Center and our focus on providing compassionate, trauma-informed care to individuals and families impacted by sexual assault, and working to end sexual violence through prevention, outreach, and advocacy efforts. The core values and principles of the social work profession are ever-present and guide my daily work; they are at the heart of the work I am privileged to do at the Sexual Assault Center."

Freeman is a frequent speaker at professional conferences and a contributing author to academic and clinical publications in the field of sexual abuse. Awarded the 2015 Visionary Voice Award in Tennessee from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Freeman was also a nominee for the Nashville Business Journal's "40 Under 40" award for outstanding community leaders under the age of 40 with exceptional business acumen, strong ties to the community, and a willingness to go the extra mile in all they do.

Rachel Freeman and her husband, Bob Freeman, are the proud parents of Katie, Grace, and Will Freeman and live in Nashville.


Camille Hall is Named Honoree #37 for Grand Challenge #12: "Achieving Equal Opportunity and Justice"

Dr. Camille HallDr. J. Camille Hall, Associate Professor at the UT College of Social Work, is our 37th Challenger for her work in addressing the goals of Grand Challenge #12, Achieving Equal Opportunity and Justice.

In describing this Challenge the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare explains that in the United States, some groups of people have long been consigned to society's margins. Historic and current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment. Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices, and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge.

Dr. Hall has spent her career teaching students the importance of these ideas. A PhD graduate of Smith College in Massachusetts, Dr. Hall points out that Smith College is known for its emphasis on social justice and its college-wide antiracism commitment. In that spirit, she has worked, since coming to UT in 2004, to help students foster respect for diverse worldviews and stand against systems of privilege, inequality, and oppression.

"I have taught Understanding Diversity in a Global Society for many years now and have developed an evidence-based course where as students grow in their awareness and knowledge their skills develop also. I want our students to look at the cultural and socioeconomic factors that affect lives." Under her mentorship seven sets of students applied for and received UT Ready for the World grants from 2011 to 2014 to accomplish such things as a diversity festival, global connections learning community, and a diversity in mental health symposium. (Students received funds totaling over $28,000.) This evidence-based course model has been replicated at 25+ universities and/or colleges.

Recently, Dr. Hall has made six conference presentations and published five articles on the subject of diversity. Her research includes such topics as: Black womens' experience, colorist microaggressions and skin color stratification, multicultural competence and cross-cultural clinical supervision. "My research and course instruction" states Dr. Hall, "focuses on preparing culturally competent social workers who are equipped to help individuals achieve equal opportunity and justice."

For three years she has served as chair of the university's Commission for Blacks and STRIDE (Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence) committee, and has been appointed by Dr. Joe DiPietro to serve on the University System's Diversity Advisory Council. In addition to her work at the university, Camille Hall is a Clinical Social work Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.

During this year's Spring Break from March 10 to 18, Camille Hall will be leading an intense group service trip for four students who will join her in traveling to the heart of San Jose, Costa Rica. This group includes social work students as well as a chancellor's honors student and a graduate student. She looks forward to this educational and service experience.


Amber Hampton is Named Honoree #36 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensuring the Healthy Development of All Youth" and Grand Challenge #6: "Ending Homelessness"

Amber HamptonAmber Hampton, LMSW, is one of the College of Social Work's amazing alumni: she graduated in 2015 from the College of Social Work with her Master's degree (Evidence Based Interpersonal Practice concentration) and earned a graduate certificate in the Treatment of Trauma. Ms. Hampton is currently the Director of Survivor Care at End Slavery Tennessee.

Ms. Hampton has shown a commitment to the goal of Grand Challenge #1, ensuring healthy and safe development for all youth. Her work also focuses on reducing extreme economic inequality and achieving equal opportunity and justice. The mission of End Slavery Tennessee is "to promote healing of human trafficking survivors and to strategically confront slavery in our state". Amber began her work with End Slavery as a Care Coordinator and moved to Director of Survivor Care shortly after. Ms. Hampton stated "End Slavery is a single point of contact for human trafficking survivors in Middle Tennessee... We have three safe houses, and I think we served upwards of 190 survivors this year that we work with. We work with minors and adults."

Ms. Hampton is also committed to ending homelessness, the goal of Grand Challenge #6. She co-leads Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, a community organization dedicated to working directly to find solutions and build relationships with those experiencing homelessness. She began her work with the homeless population in Murfreesboro by serving breakfast once a week and says that Cold Patrol formed pretty organically as other folks doing similar work starting meeting together, trying to look out for their homeless friends. “We weren’t doing anything big or fancy. It was literally just hanging out with people, because you can’t help people if you don’t know them,” Ms. Hampton explains. She went back to school to study social work in response to her work with these people and wanting to gain the skills necessary to be a real resource. Read more about Ms. Hampton's work with Cold Patrol in this article from the Murfreesboro Post. https://tiny.utk.ed/ArSxg

Ms. Hampton's motivation for her work is personal and simple. She explains, “You’re not going to let your friend stay there in the middle of an addiction and not do anything about it. You’re just not. You’re not going to let your friend be exploited and abused and not say anything. So if you legitimately love and you legitimately care about people, you’re going to do something to stop that.” Ms. Hampton also shares this wisdom about poverty. "There's something wonderfully beautiful that comes from having nothing or being nothing. In every beautiful moment I have out on the streets, I remember this picture. I will never, ever get tired of spending time with beautifully broken people. I'm one of them, broken... They forever remind me that someone might look some type of fancy on the outside but if they are a terrible human it really doesn't mean a whole lot. Honestly looking at yourself is the gift brokenness gives you."

"I'm proud to be an alumna of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville," states Ms. Hampton, "Their program is amazing!" The College of Social Work is proud of this gradaute and wishes her continued success in her work.


Lisa Primm is Named Honoree #35 for Grand Challenge #5: "Eradicating Social Isolation" and #12: "Achieving Equal Opportunity and Justice"

Lisa PrimmLisa Primm has pursued social justice for oppressed and disenfranchised populations throughout her career, focusing primarily on client advocacy, health care policy, mental health treatment, and civil legal services. She holds a Master's Degree in Social Work from the UT College of Social Work's Nashville campus (1998) and a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Alma College in Michigan (1989). She has been a Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker since 2010.

Ms. Primm joined Disability Rights Tennessee as the Executive Director in December 2012. This organization concentrates its work in three strategic areas: freedom from harm, freedom from discrimination, and freedom to participate in the community, guided by principles of inclusion, integration, self-determination, productivity, and independence. Prior to her work with Disability Rights Tennessee, she served for four years as Policy Director for the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, and before that she was employed for over ten years as Director of the TennCare Partners Advocacy Program.

When asked to explain her passion for social work, Ms. Primm stated, "I am an enthusiastic practitioner of macro level social work and a passionate advocate for the profession. Macro level social work is the only career path solely dedicated to ending oppression. In my current role I have the opportunity to advance the movement of equality, inclusion, and justice for people with disabilities. It is an honor and a privilege to do this work."

In October of 2017, Ms. Primm represented Disability Rights Tennessee as a recipient of the Compassionate Care Award from The Healing Trust at the Center for Nonprofit Management's Salute to Excellence nonprofit awards event. This award recognizes a nonprofit where love and compassion characterize not only its delivery of service to those in need, but also in the ways team members care for and support each other. According to Ms. Primm, "My coworkers are curers -- they are restorers of justice -- they are givers of hope and life, and their strength and perseverance is critical to the people we serve. It is a joy to create a culture of compassion."


Sarah Buchanan is Named Honoree #34 for Grand Challenge #6: "Ending Homelessness" and #9: "Promoting Smart Decarceration"

Sarah BuchananSarah Buchanan is the Director of Social Services at the Knox County Public Defender's Community Law Office (CLO). She has been in this position since July 2016. She has shown a committment to the goal of Grand Challenges #6 and #9, ending homelessness and promoting smart decarceration. Her work also focuses on reducing extreme economic inequality and achieving equal opportunity and justice.

Ms. Buchanan has recently completed an article for the journal Social Work that explores how her work at the Community Law Office clearly impacts these areas of social work practice. Her article, written with Roger Nooe, professor emeritis at the College of Social Work, is entitled, Defining Social Work within Holistic Public Defense: Challenges and Implications for Practice. The abstract of the published paper states: "Social work has a history of forensic practice, but social work as an integral component of the holistic model of public defense is new and is creating a demand for better de?nition of roles and services. The intent of this article is to contribute to and encourage dialogue surrounding social work practice within the holistic public defense model. A brief overview of the indigent criminal defense system and its emerging models of defense practice is provided. Models of practice established by the Knox County Public Defender's Community Law Office are offered."

Ms. Buchanan received her BSSW from the University of Tennessee and MSW from the University of Michigan. Currently a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she worked in community mental health before joining the CLO staff as Forensic Social Worker in 2012. Sarah will graduate from the PhD program of the UT College of Social Work in December 2017. In October she successfully presented her dissertation. Her research interests broadly include forensic social work and specifically include the integration of social workers into public defense systems.

Ms. Buchanan believes that practice standards should be identified for social workers in criminal justice settings serving a population of clients with whom the profession has long claimed allegiance. As the nation struggles with the problem of mass incarceration, it's essential that the profession demonstrates its value and its commitment to evidence-based practice. She will be participating as a panelist during a session at the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia next month. I'll be sharing dissertation findings at SSWR in January. She has also been invited to speak at the "State of the South" conference at Georgia State University College of Law in February.


Bella Cunningham is Named Honoree #33 for Grand Challenge #10: "Reducing Extreme Economic Inequality"

Bella CunninghamBella Cunningham is a senior BSSW student who has already shown a committment to the goal of Grand Challenge #10, Reducing Extreme Economic Inequality, by choosing to work in India for a semester with an organization serving the needs of young orphaned children.

The College of Social Work encourages students to consider study abroad as one way of expanding their understanding of the world and different cultures. Studying abroad is often one of the highlights of a student's university career. Students can have wonderful and challenging experiences that will allow growth both academically and personally and prepare them to compete in today's globalizing world.

Miss Cunningham explored study in a different culture last semester in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. Bangalore, also known as Bengaluru, is an IT Hub in India and is the capital city of the state of Karnataka, so it is an active city economically. She studied at Christ University there in the Social Work/Sociology/Anthropology course. Her field placement was with the organization BOSCO, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) working with the young orphaned boys below age 12 in the city. The paramount concern of the NGO is the growing phenomenon of street and working children in all major cities in India. The alarming pace of urbanization and the proportionately weakening fabric of social structure and policies are forcing a large number of such children into cities every day.

Bella Cunningham2One of the responsibilities that Bella assumed was to prepare boys at the home for the educational system. She attempted to help them get to their appropriate grade level, teaching English, the common language of the city, and familiarizing them with key words as well as phonetic basics.

"I was fascinated by the culture," stated Miss Cunningham. "It is one of extreme poverty. There is no better experience if you want to learn empathy. The change of perspective was tremendous and I saw a completely different system of social welfare programming, which is driven by the state. I observed many efforts that I wouldn't say are best practices, but they are actually the best that these people can do in this situation. Sometimes everyone is overwhelmed by the need, with social workers working 11 hour days, 6 days a week."

Miss Cunningham was able to enjoy certain events in the city where she studied. Bangalore is a place that draws tourists especially for Holi, also known widely as the "Festival of Colors", that is a Hindu festival celebrating the arrival of spring with bonfires, colored powders, and gatherings! This vibrant celebration takes place on the day after the full moon in the Hindu month of Phalguna, which is early March. While in India she also traveled to the north of the country and visited the Taj Mahal.

Now completing her senior year at UT, Miss Cunningham's field placement is with the Telamon Corporation that operates three types of Head Start programs for disadvantaged families: Head Start (preschool for children ages 3 to 5 years old), Early Head Start (childcare for children 0 to 3 years old and pregnant women), and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (childcare and preschool for children of eligible farmworkers ages 0 to 5 years old).

Learn more about our study abroad programs at:


Kristen Keely-Dinger is Named Honoree #32 for Grand Challenge #2: "Closing the Health Gap"

More than 60 million Americans experience devastating one-two punches to their health they have inadequate access to basic health care while also enduring the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. Kristen Keely-Dinger is an MSSW graduate of the UT College of Social Work and is the current President and CEO of The Healing Trust, a health legacy foundation committed to fostering access to compassionate health care for vulnerable populations in Middle Tennessee. She joined the Trust in 2003 as the first Program Officer. She has also served The Trust as VP of Programs and Grants and Executive Vice President. Since Ms. Keely-Dinger joined The Trust in 2003, the Foundation has awarded over $80 million in grants. In that time, the Foundation's grant making has grown from $350,000 to almost $5 million per year. Her work fulfills the goal of Grand Challenge #2, Closing the Health Gap.

Kristen Keely-DingerThe Trust recently launched an advocacy grant program aimed at preventing adverse childhood experiences and increasing access to care.  During her tenure, The Trust also launched a Tennessee-focused, nonpartisan public policy research center, The Sycamore Institute. The Trust operates five grant-making programs as well as leadership development and retreats dedicated to reducing compassion fatigue and burnout among nonprofit staff.

Prior to her time at The Trust, Ms. Keely-Dinger worked in health prevention education, community organization, and volunteer administration. Ms. Keely-Dinger received her Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University, her Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Tennessee, and is currently a Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker. She serves as a board member of the Downtown Nashville Rotary and is on the steering committee of the Tennessee Chapter of the Network of Social Work Managers.

Ms. Keely-Dinger was selected as a 2007 Southeastern Council of Foundations Hull Fellow and is a graduate of the 2011 Nashville Emerging Leaders Class.

Conscious of the need in our state to closing the health gap, under Ms. Keely-Dinger's leadership the Healing Trust convened a statewide advisory council for Get Covered Tennessee during the first two years of open enrollment after the launch of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and created a special grant cycle in order to fund over $1 million dollars of funding to support outreach and enrollment.  Subsequently, the Trust's advocacy grant program provides ongoing operating support to many nonprofits working to close the coverage gap. 

The Healing Trust knew that, in addition to supporting nonprofits doing important work, they also needed to support strong policy analysis and research for our state related to health and fiscal policy. Through a community design process, and with the assistance of Healing Trust,  The Sycamore Institute was born.  Learn more about The Sycamore Institute:


Christina Risley-Curtiss is Named Honoree #31 for Grand Challege #3: "Stopping Family Violence"

Dr. Christina Risley-Curtiss obtained her MSSW from the College of Social Work's Nashville campus in 1980, with a focus on Administration and Planning. She went on to earn her PhD in Social Work from the University of Maryland. She is being named the thirty-first Grand Challenger for Social Work.

Christina Risley-Curtiss Throughout her career, Dr. Risley-Curtiss has focused her efforts on child welfare, maternal and child health, and the animal-human bond, studying and teaching about the link between animal cruelty and human violence. Her work fulfills the goal of Grand Challenge #3, Stopping Family Violence.

For many years, Dr. Risley-Curtiss served on the faculty of Arizona State University. She has been recognized for her excellence in teaching and research.

Dr. Risley-Curtiss’ primary areas of research in recent years have been the animal-human bond and child welfare. Her social work elective course "Other Animal-Human Connections" won the HSUS 2004 Society and Animals New Course Award. She is past chair of "The Arizona Humane LINK", a coalition of animal welfare and human service agencies and is a member of the "National Humane Link Coalition."

She was Founder and Director of Children and Animals Together Assessment and Diversion Program (CAT). CAT is a funded program that intervenes with children who are abusing animals.

Throughout her research, Dr. Risley-Curtiss made significant contributions to the studies of :

  • Link between animal cruelty and human violence
  • Animal-assisted social work, and other animal-human connections
  • Policy and practice issues in child welfare and public health, especially foster care and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Evaluation of child welfare and public health programs

The UT College of Social Work is proud of this alum whose work has informed many of our students who have studied in the UT College of Social Work's Veterinary Social Work program. This Grand Challenger was the co-keynote speaker on the link between animal cruelty and violence at the first UT Veterinary Social work conference and was awarded the UT Veterinary Social Work's first award for research in the area of human-animal interactions. She also was a presenter at the third International Veterinary Social Work Summit, Knoxville, TN.

Her work has also been recognized globally. She presented at Center of Animal Ethics Conference at Oxford University and her work has been used in Australia, and England. The link between animal abuse and other forms of family violence is now being recognized and taught world wide. 

Dr. Risley-Curtiss grew up on a farm in Connecticut, where her father and grandfather practiced veterinary medicine. She currently lives in a trans-species cultural home with a number of cats and chickens, a dog and horse. Dr. Risley-Curtiss also does hands-on rescue work including having volunteered to help animals during the Katrina rescue and she was a founding member of a TNR feral cat program at Arizona State University.


LaTamera Woodley of the TN Department of Human Services is Named as Honoree #30 for Grand Challenge #8: "Harnessing of Technology for the Social Good"

LaTamera Woodley is a Planner for the Tennessee Department of Human Services. She is being named the thirtieth Grand Challenger for Social Work. Throughout her career, Ms. Woodley has focused her efforts on using cutting edge technology to impact clients and their needs. This harnessing of technology for the social good fulfills the goal of Grand Challenge #8.

LaTamera Woodley"I have over 11 years of experience working on data management projects with The Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS)," states Woodley. "In this position I serve as a liaison between project managers, business analysts, program users, developers, and various levels of management."

As a data analyst and program planner, Ms. Woodley collects, processes, and performs statistical analysis of data for various programs such as TANF, SNAP, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services. as well as the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Sumer Food Service Program for Children. A research project that Woodley is involved with studies the Community Services Block Grant.

In addition to research and data analysis, she has been active in designing and conducting program evaluations on the implementation of the state’s Diversion program and talent management process. She is responsible for data collection and processing the state’s TANF federal reports. As a liaison between the world of technology and the clients that are served, Woodley has also lead focus groups and evaluations for client notice updates/redesign, the implementation of roving case workers, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services triannual program evaluation.

Beyond her work-related responsibilities, Ms. Woodley serves the community and social work profession through a number of leadership positions. She has worked as Board President for the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare, as the steering committee treasurer for the Network for Social Work Managers, and is on the board of the National Association of Welfare Research and Statistics.

She has served on the Council on Social Work Education’s Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice in Social Work and she continues work with the National Task force to develop a Specialized Practice Curricular Guide for Macro Social Work Practice. She is currently serving on the Davidson County Foster Care Review Board.

The University of Tennessee College of Social Work honored Ms. Woodley in 2014, awarding her the Lucille Evans Dean Award for outstanding social work contributions and service to the Community of Nashville.


CSW Honors Retiring Dean Karen M. Sowers as Honoree #29 for for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensure Healthy Development for All"

Karen SowersKaren M. Sowers, PhD, is Dean Emerita and Professor Emerita of the College of Social Work. Dr. Sower was appointed Professor and Dean of the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in August 1997 and served in that role for 20 years, retiring on August 15, 2017. She is being named the twenty-ninth Grand Challenger for Social Work. Her work over the years has impacted all of the Grand Challenges, but her focus on Mental Health has Ensured Healthy Development for All - Grand Challenge #1.

Friday, July 28, 2017, the UT College of Social Work honored Dr. Sowers by naming the Henson Hall Dean's office area as the Dr. Karen M. Sowers Dean's Suite, in recognition of 20 years of distinguished leadership at the college and university.

Dr. Sowers is nationally known for her research and scholarship in the areas of international practice, juvenile justice, child welfare, cultural diversity and culturally effective intervention strategies for social work practice, evidence-based social work practice and social work education. Her current research and community interests include evidence-based practice, mental health practice, international social work practice and juvenile justice practice. She has authored or co-authored numerous books, book chapters and refereed journal articles. She has served as a founding editorial board member of the Journal of Research on Social Work Practice and founding co-editor of Best Practices in Mental Health: An International Journal. She serves on numerous editorial boards and state and national social service boards.

In 2013, Sowers was elected as a Distinguished Scholar Fellow in the National Academies of Practice. Distinguished practitioners, scholars and policy fellows are elected by their peers from ten different health professions including dentistry, medicine, nursing, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, podiatric medicine, psychology, social work and veterinary medicine. She was named the 2016 George Goodman and Ruth P. Brudney Mental Health America Social Worker of the Year, an award that recognizes an individual, nationwide, who has made significant contributions to the care and treatment of people with mental illnesses.

Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor John Zomchick reiterated her contributions. “Dean Karen Sowers has provided outstanding leadership for two decades,” said Zomchick. “Her dedication to students, her scholarship, and her record of service to national and local organizations have brought national attention to the University of Tennessee and the College of Social Work.”

College of Social Work Dedicates Suite, Honors Karen Sowers
Karen Sowers Plaque Karen Sowers, dean of the College of Social Work was honored at a dedication ceremony for the new Dr. Karen M. Sowers Dean's Suite. Sowers is UT's longest-serving dean and announced her plans to retire earlier this year. Her last day will be Aug. 15. In recognition of her leadership, Sowers will be named dean emerita and professor emerita.

Board of Visitors member Darrell Akins acted as MC for the event and read a letter of congratulations from Tennessee First Lady Chrissy Haslam, who stated, “Thank you for your service to the University of Tennessee and to the State of Tennessee.  The students that you have trained in the art and science of social work will have an enormous impact on our future.  Thank you for instilling leadership in your students.  We need their voices. Your years of service as Dean have shaped the college, the faculty and staff, the students, the social workers in the field and the families, children and citizens present, past and future.  What a legacy you leave!”

In addition to the dedication of the Dean’s Suite in honor of Karen Sowers, Representative Roger Kane of the State of Tennessee presented a Senate Joint Resolution recognizing and congratulating Dr. Sowers on her retirement. 


CSW Faculty Member, Dr. Stacia West, Honoree #28 for Grand Challenge #10: "Reduce Extreme Economic Inequality"

The College of Social Work faculty member Dr. Stacia West is being named the twenty-eighth Grand Challenger for Social Work. She has been using her skills in research to evaluate the impacts of a program providing financial support to the survivors of the November 2016 wildfires in Gatlinburg. Her work seeks to achieve the goals of 10th Challenge for Social Work—Reducing Extreme Economic Inequality.

Dr. Stacia WestDr. West is an Assistant Professor at the UT College of Social Work. Her research focuses on affordable housing and housing instability, the feminization of poverty, and financial fragility in lower-income households.

Recently, Dr. West partnered with the Dollywood Foundation to evaluate the impacts of the "My People Fund", a program providing financial support to the survivors of the November 2016 wildfires in the Gatlinburg, TN area. The longitudinal study is designed to trace the physical, social, emotional, financial and housing trajectories of wildfire survivors. Preliminary findings from the evaluation suggest that financial assistance provided by the My People Fund helped individuals overcome barriers to housing and other basic needs, yet there are lingering social, emotional, and financial obstacles for survivors to overcome. The final findings of the evaluation will be released in February 2018.

Dr. West’s other projects include research investigating the implications of gentrification, displacement, and the affordable housing crisis on lower-income households, the impacts of housing cost burden on maternal and child outcomes, and exploring interventions to reduce economic inequality. Her publications on the subject of reducing financial inequality include "A population on the brink: The financial fragility of American renters," "No easy way out: One community's efforts to house families experiencing homelessness," and "Asset building among low income adults: An exploratory study of an emergency savings program." See more on this at:


In Memory of Board of Visitors Member, Farrell Cooper, Honoree #27 for Grand Challenge #11: "Build Financial Capability for All"

B. Farrell CooperThe College of Social Work honors the memory of B. Farrell Cooper naming him the twenty-seventh Grand Challenger for Social Work. Farrell Cooper passed away Monday, July 10, 2017. He was a founding member of the UT College of Social Work Board of Visitors, a group that began in the late 1990's in support of the work of the college.

Mr. Cooper exhibited an unwavering commitment to social justice throughout his career and life. He earned a Master of Science degree in Social Work from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1967. He spent his career as a social worker in a variety of community settings. He served as director of Social Services at Erlanger Medical Center for 14 years, leaving to assume a leadership role at the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults in 1988.

He retired from the Partnership as executive director in 2006. He served as regional and state president of the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare, President of the National Association of Social Workers, and was awarded Tennessee State Social Worker of the Year in 1983.

Sara Faircloth, who worked with Farrell when he edited the Black Mountain Network News remarked, "He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was one of those people that was warm, and a bit mischievous, and always fun to be around. Farrell was well loved in the Chattanooga community, and a respected colleague in the field  of Community Service."

Mr. Cooper's work in the field of social work extended to many of the 12 Challenges for Social Work, but in particular, under his leadership of the Partnership, Family Strenthening Services were provided, building stable lives, providing employee assistance, financial counseling, and other family-focused solutions that lead to the accomplishment of Grand Challenge #11, Building Financial Capability for All.

Karen M. Sowers, former dean of the College of Social Work, remembered this wonderful social work leader. "Farrell was one of the first to reach out to me when I came to UT. He loved his alma mater. A founding member of the College's Board of Visitors, he embraced the board as he did all things in life - with gusto, joy and enthusiasm. We owe Farrell a great debt in his helping to build the college. He was a dear man who was a social work role model in life as well as his career. I will miss his guidance, his laughter and his great ability to see good in all things." 


MSSW Student Herb Piercy, Honoree #26 for for Grand Challenge #5: "Works to Eradicate Social Isolation"

The twenty-sixth grand challenger is a current MSSW student at the Knoxville campus of the College of Social Work. Herb Piercy is working to fulfill the goals of Social Work Challenge #5 — Eradicate Social Isolation, with a particular focus on the population of veterans in our community.

Herb PiercyFrom the time he began his studies at UTK in 2009 until he graduated in Fall 2011 with his BA in Psychology, Herb Piercy felt a need to connect with other veterans. He had a very hard time meeting other veterans because that is a protected status for the sake of confidentiality and is not disclosed by staff at the university.  Herb served from 1992 to 1997 in the United States Army in the Military Police Corps. He was stationed at Fort Bliss Texas from 1992 to 1993 and Mannheim Germany 1994 to 1997, and he deployed to Mogadishu Somalia in 1993 under Operation Restore Hope.

When Mr. Piercy started graduate school in Spring 2011 to earn his MSSW degree at the College of Social Work, he got involved through the Safety, Environment and Education Center at the student health center. He planned classes for veterans but, again, had a hard time notifying them, for the same reasons he couldn't find other veterans to socialize with. "When I joined the Graduate Student Senate," explains Piercy," I met George Shields from the Law school and we drafted a bill recommending the university open a Veterans Resource Center on campus to help veterans find each other and the resources they need to navigate the collegiate environment. From 2015 until it was disbanded, I was the Graduate Student Representative for the Task Force in Support of Veterans Affairs, and after that I have been an advisor on the Veterans Resource Team.

"I have advised the various groups about the research in the area of student veterans needs, and how such a center could be created, managed, and serve the population. There were many people involved all throughout the process, and I am grateful to have been a part of the many groups that have brought this center to the University."

On July 3, it was announced that the campus’s new Veterans Resource Center is open. The Center is located on the ground floor of the Hodges Library across from One Stop. The center features quiet study areas, a common room with microwave and refrigerator access, and a meeting area for veteran organizations. It also provides a venue for student veterans to meet one-on-one with veteran coordinators. "The most important aspect of the center is that it sends a message that we support our student veterans", said Veteran Student Services Coordinator Jayetta Rogers. "Transition to civilian life can be stressful, but having a 'home base' can help ease that transition."

Last spring, there were 475 veterans enrolled as students at UT, as well as more than 375 military spouses and dependents.


Dr. Mary Rogge, Honoree #25 for Grand Challenge#7: "Create Social Responses to a Changing Environment"

The twenty-fifth grand challenger is Dr. Mary Rogge, former Associate Professor at the Knoxville campus of the College of Social Work. (Dr. Rogge retired in May, 2017.) Dr Rogge is working to fulfill the goals of Social Work Challenge #7 — Create social responses to a changing environment.

The intersectionality of environmental justice, children and other vulnerable populations, and health has been at the core of Dr. Mary E. Rogge’s (BSW, MSW, PhD) social work practice since the mid-1980s. A former child protective service worker, hospital-based social worker, and program director, the connection between the mission of the social work profession and the importance of our person-in/and natural environment continues to be a guiding pillar in her professional and world view.

Dr. Rogge’s research, publications, and presentations bring a local-to-global perspective to bear about issues of environmental health, environmental justice, sustainable development, and disaster management for children, environmentally displaced persons, and other vulnerable populations.

Dr. Mary RoggeDr. Rogge's environmental social work has led to non-traditional interdisciplinary collaborations. She was one of the first Sustainable Development Fellows at the UTK Energy, Environment, and Research Center (now the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment). She was the principle investigator of a four-year U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Science grant that established the Neighborhood Environmental College (NEC) in the Alton Park/Piney Woods neighborhood of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Using the NEC as a base, neighbors, local organizations, and UTK researchers in microbiology, geology, engineering, veterinary medicine, and other disciplines collaborated in training, outreach, projects, network building, and leadership development to improve environmental wellbeing and to reduce neighborhood and community exposure to environmental contaminants. Along with co-PIs from UT Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences and from Entomology and Plant Pathology, Dr. Rogge promoted healthy housing and protecting children from exposure to pests, pesticides and other chemicals, through research about and training for childcare, school, and extension agents in Tennessee. She is a member of the Tennessee Healthy Homes Partnership, which promotes environmental health and healthy housing for Tennessee citizens.

Over her twenty-two year teaching career at the UT College of Social Work, Dr. Rogge’s teaching focus has been on social work, justice, and participatory democracy in mezzo and macro systems. She has taught in the BSSW, MSSW, and PhD programs. She has taught introductory courses, courses on organizational and community practice, diversity and inclusion, social welfare and policy, financial management, and social and economic development. She initiated the first CSW student trips to the Social Work Day at the United Nations, the theme for which in spring 2017 was Environmental Sustainability.

Dr. Rogge has been recognized national and internationally as among the pioneers of environmental social work. She authored the first NASW Encyclopedia article on environmental justice, and co-authored, with Dr. Nancy Humphreys, the first NASW Environmental Policy Statement. As a board member of the International Consortium for Social Development (ICSD) and as chairperson and treasurer of the managing board of Social Development Issues, for example, she was instrumental in ICSD, in Recife, Brazil in 2005, being one of the first social work professional organizations to organize their primary membership conference around the major theme of environmental sustainability.

In 2016, she completed a second term as a Commissioner on the Global Social Work Education Commission of the U.S. Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) representing environmental justice and disaster management. As Commissioner, she and Cathryne Schmitz from the CSWE Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice co-chaired the CSWE’s inaugural Committee on Environmental Justice. The Committee produced the first CSWE White Paper on Environmental Justice to recommend ways that social work education should consider integrating issues of environmental justice into curriculum. In 2016–2017, Dr. Rogge served on the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) four-member expert panel reviewing the NASW Environmental Policy Statement.


Dr. Nancy Meyer-Adams, Honoree #24 for Grand Challenge #6: "Ending Homelessness"

The twenty-fourth grand challenger is Dr. Nancy Meyer-Adams PhD, Director of the School of Social Work at California State University, Long Beach. She received her PhD in social work with a specialty in school social work at The University of Tennessee College of Social Work in 2002. The focus of her dissertation research was the effects of school bullying on the culture and climate of middle schools in urban communities.

Nancy Meyer-AdamsDr. Meyer-Adams joined the faculty of California State University, Long Beach School of Social Work in the summer of 2005 where she has been recognized with the Most Valuable Professor award for four years (2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012) and with a College of Health and Human Services Community Service Award in 2010. She began as Director of the School of Social Work in the Fall, 2014.

Dr. Meyer-Adams is working to fulfill the goals of Social Work Challenge #6 - Ending Homelessness. CSULB School of Social Work was chosen as one of 6 Regional Hubs in the country of the National Center of Excellence in Homeless Services. It is recognized for consistently demonstrating a commitment to homelessness services, including providing options for field placements in homeless service agencies and offering a specialized advanced practice elective covering interventions with homeless populations. "Work to end homelessness is particularly important," stated Dr. Meyer-Adams, "because this issue is connected to many of the other social work challenges also."

Dr. Meyer-Adams is an active member of the Western Consortium of Grand Challenges in Social Work and presented on homelessness at a recent conference in Portland as well as at the Network for Social Work Management conference in NY in June.

Dr. Meyer-Adams is leading the CSULB School of Social Work to focus on building and expanding community partnerships to create more homelessness-related internship opportunities for social work students and to establish a network of social work schools throughout Los Angeles and surrounding counties. Additionally, she supports her colleague, Dr. Rashida Crutchfield, in her work examining best practices for displaced and food insecure college students and disseminating the results of this research.


Dr. Daniel Button, Honoree #23 for Grand Challenge#4: "Advance Long and Productive Lives"

Daniel ButtonThe twenty-third grand challenger is Dr. Daniel Button. LCSW, ACHP-SW. He graduated from Kansas State University in 1978 with a BS in Psychology. Dan earned an MS in Experiential Education from Mankato State University in 1981.

In 2013 Dr. Button resumed his formal education in the DSW program at UTK and earned his doctorate in 2016. His studies at UTK focused on the service gap for individuals with life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses who were transitioning from curative services but not eligible or not accepting of hospice care. Services for this vulnerable health population are inadequately coordinated at the community level which triggers intensive use of emergency and hospital based services during a health care crisis. Dr. Button’s research focused on communication and access barriers for this health population to identify potential strategies to develop interdisciplinary community based services.

Dr. Button is working to fulfill the goals of Social Work Challenge #4 - Advance Long and Productive Lives. His work to continually study and develop expertise in the following areas—Hospice & Palliative Care, Medical Social Work with an emphasis on Advanced Care Illness, Child and Family Services, Community Mental Health, Organizational Development, and Clinical Leadership—have prepared him for his current position, serving as the Operations Manager for Community Palliative Services in Jacksonville, Florida. In this role he is managing a pilot project with Community Hospice and Palliative Care to develop community based palliative care services.

The interdisciplinary program is designed to clinically manage patients with life limiting illnesses (less than a year to live), clarify goals of care, develop Advance Care Plans, reduce futile care and avoid unnecessary hospital admissions/re-admissions. The research-based project is supported by the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), the Patient Centered Outcome Research Institute (PCORI), Florida BCBS, and an area agency Accountable Care Organization (ACO). The overarching goal of the project is to demonstrate improved end-of-life outcomes for individuals with life-limiting illnesses as well as transform the health care funding model to value based reimbursement.

Dr. Button, a graduate of the College of Social Work's Doctoral program in Clinical Practice and Leadership, said this of his educational experience. "During my time at UTK, I described the DSW program as challenging, humbling and validating. My assessment a year later would be the same with one caveat. I am grateful to all of you for your professiona wisdom to design the educational environment that emphasized a process of co-creation and reciprocity between the cohort and the faculty. Most of my studies and projects in the DSW program focused on palliative care and end-of-life matters. When this opportunity [working for Community Palliative Services] presented I knew immediately it was a perfect fit and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity. . . thank you all for allowing me to co-create my learning experience in the DSW program. Lessons learned with you through the research and studies helped prepare me for this moment and opportunity.


Kristen Godfrey, Honoree #22 for Grand Challenge #12: "Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice"

Kristen GodfreyThe twenty-second grand challenger is Kristen Godfrey, a 2016 graduate of the UT College of Social Work MSSW program. While attending UTK, Ms. Godfrey was the Safe Zone coordinator, a campus organizer, and the OUTstanding co-director. OUTstanding is A Conference Exploring Gender and Sexual Diversity at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Ms. Godfrey is particularly passionate about social justice, foster care and the importance of intersectionality and youth-led community organizing. She is currently working for Kaleidoscope as the Center Program Manager and says that she loves working alongside the amazing youth of KYC.

The work of Kaleidoscope is in partnership with young people in Central Ohio to create safe and empowering spaces for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Ally youth through advocacy, education, support, and community engagement. They serve youth across the spectrums of sexual orientation and gender identity, encouraging them to live healthy, whole lives with acceptance and freedom from oppression.

Originally from Arizona, Ms. Godfrey completed undergraduate work in history before coming to UT for her Master of Science in Social Work.

In the United States, some groups of people have long been consigned to society's margins. Historic and current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment. The twelfth Challenge for Social Work is addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices, and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge. All of this work is critical to fostering a successful society. Ms. Godfrey is working to fulfill the goals of Social Work Challenge #12 - Achieve equal opportunity and justice


Gretchen Ely, Honoree #21 for Grand Challenge #2: "Closing the Health Gap"

GretchenThe twenty-first grand challenger is Gretchen Ely, a 2003 graduate of the UT College of Social Work. Ely earned her MSW in 1998 from Washington University in St. Louis and her PhD in social work in 2003 from the University of Tennessee. Her bachelor's degree was also gained at UT.

Dr. Gretchen Ely is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, where she began working in 2014 after being on faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work for 10 years. She is an affiliated faculty member for the Institute for Trauma and Trauma Informed Care (ITTIC);UB Gender Institute.

Dr. Ely primarily conducts research focused on problems with access to health care and the health disparities of vulnerable and marginalized populations. She is working to fulfill the social work Challenge #2, closing the health gap. She seeks to develop innovative and evidence-based social strategies can improve health care and lead to broad gains in the health of our entire society.

Dr. Ely's research is focused on problems of populations who need access to health care and the health disparities of vulnerable and marginalized populations. Her most current scholarship is focused on examining aspects of reproductive health access in economically and geographically vulnerable women and pregnant people. Ely's work is published most recently in the International Journal of Sexual Health and Social Work in Health Care.

Dr. Ely is a founding advisory board member for Social Workers for Reproductive Justice (SWRJ), and a full fellow in the Society of Family Planning (SFP). Ely was also recently admitted to the National Academies of Practice, an organization focused on inter-professional health education, where she is currently serving on their executive committee as Vice President for Public Policy. Ely teaches graduate social work courses in the areas of diversity and oppression, grant writing, and community social work. Outside of work, Ely enjoys spending time in nature with her family.


Susan Bradford, Honoree #20 for Grand Challenge #4: "Advance Long and Productive Lives"

Susan BradfordThe twentieth grand challenger is Susan Bradford, graduate of the UT College of Social Work in 2009 with her BSSW and her MSSW in 2010 in the Advanced-standing program focusing her studies within the gerontology curriculum. She eceived a Certification in Aging from Boston University, Center for Aging and Disability Education in 2013. Her work addresses Social Work Challenge #4, Advancing Long and Productive Lives.

Ms. Bradford works in Knoxville for the Knox County CAC/Office on Aging, providing social work services for low-income vulnerable seniors. She has worked as a case manager in Project LIVE, program manager of the Grandparent as Parents program, program coordinator for the Senior SNAP grant, and, currently, as case manager/field instructor in partnership with KCDC at Guy B. Love Towers providing eviction prevention and case management to all 250 residents. Ms. Bradford loves her work, saying, "Not only do I have the opportunity to work and develop relationships here at Love Towers, I am considered a member of the community."

Ms. Bradford has acted as a field instructor since 2012, working with thirty BSSW and MSSW students to date. Her students nominated her for, and she became the 2017 recipient of, the Excellence in Field Education Award given by the College. Ms. Bradford is pictured here with one of her field students, Darris Upton as she received this award. She stated, "I have a passion for education and part of my job with CAC/OOA is Field Education with students, not only from UTCSW but also the UT Sociology department as well as nursing, and psychology."

In addition to this work, Bradford teaches workshops for the Senior Corps programs on a variety of topics such as Self-Care, Setting Healthy Boundaries, and Drug Abuse and Misuse with the Elderly. She has recently had a chapter entitled Social Work and Case Management, Homelessness Prevention, published in the book Social Work Case Management: Case Studies from the Front Lines.


C. Nicole Chandler, Honoree #19 for Grand Challenge #11: "Build Financial Capability for All"

The nineteenth grand challenger is C. Nicole Chandler, an alum of the MSSW program at the UT College of Social Work who has become a leader of innovative social work programs in the the Knoxville community. Her work addresses Social Work Challenge #11 as she works to build financial capability for all.

Ms. Chandler is the Executive Director of the Change Center Knoxville, a collaborative, citywide initiative. The Change Center provides state-of-the-art-facilities, recreation, mentorship, and leadership development to increase opportunities for youth to succeed through workforce development and access to educational opportunities from within the inner city. One offering of the Change Center is the Jobs Initiative that includes job training, direct entry-level jobs for young people within the Change Center, connections to jobs in the greater community, and entrepreneurial job creation. ( )

Nicole ChandlerMs. Chandler recently received the College of Social Work LucilleEvans Dean Award. The award was presented during the Nashville Campus commencement exercises on May 21, 2017. The Lucille Evans Dean Award is given annually by the UT College of Social Work, Nashville Campus, in recognition of outstanding social work contributions and service to the community by an alum of the college.

Lucille Evans Dean was the first African-American student to graduate from the Nashville School of Social Work, which became the University of Tennessee College of Social Work. She entered the school in 1954 and after she graduated said, "We were well prepared to face the world." Lucille Evans Dean was an exemplary social worker who had an illustrious social work career and to made significant contributions at the local, state and national level. She passed away in 1995. It is our desire that through this award her significant contributions and dedication to the profession of social work will be remembered as well as inspires others to pursue the same.

Ms. Chandler, an LMSW and Certified Crisis Management Specialist, has a Masters in Social Work from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is also a graduate of the UT Knoxville Consortium for Social Enterprise Effectiveness program (CSEE). A longtime advocate for youth, her professional career includes over 15 years on the staff of other local non-profits: Youth Villages, Wesley House Community Center, and Project GRAD Knoxville.


Sunha Choi, Honoree #18 for Grand Challenge #5: "Researching Factors Related to Social Isolation in Immigrant Groups of Older Adults"

The eighteenth grand challenger is Dr. Sunha Choi, an Assistant Professor at the UT College of Social Work, whose research is meeting Grand Challenge #5. Dr. Choi received her MSW in 2000 and her PhD in 2007 from Washington University in St. Louis. In 2009, Dr. Choi was selected as Hartford Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholars (Cohort 10). She has devoted her scholarly efforts to enhancing the lives of vulnerable older adult populations and their access to health and mental health services.

Dr. Sunha ChoiDr. Choi was recently selected by the Office of Undergraduate Research to receive an Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year Award for the College of Social Work. A student who nominated her for this award stated, "Dr. Choi has taught me everything about research from definitions of terms, to how to form a research question, how to design research and how to calculate and interpret the results. She has taught me the importance of research and the impact that it can have on creating change in social work practice, policies and, on a larger scale, in agencies and in communities."

Dr. Choi is a visiting scholar at the Atlanta Census Research Data Center and her recent studies focus on examining how individuals’ health service use behaviors are affected by the community’s contextual characteristics. She is actively engaged in studying social isolation of newly arrived older immigrant groups as well as middle-aged immigrant adults as they move into their older adulthood. "Integration of immigrants involves physical, social and psychological dimensions within the broader cultural community. It is not just one of these factors or dimensions that impacts the incidence of isolation within groups. The eradication of isolation needs to be addressed on multiple system levels and through a dynamic bidirectional interaction between the welcoming community and the immigrant groups."

Dr. Choi has found, through her research, that eradicating isolation, especially within immigrant communities, is extremely important b;ut challenging because each individual has diverse pre- and post-immigration experiences. A person's background, age, education, citizenship, language, and a host of other factors establish a complex set of reactions to the particular culture and community in which they live. "For example, a middle-aged immigrant from Korea who owns his own business might hesitate to use the U.S. healthcare systems, which is an important indicator of physical integration, because of his pre-immigration experiences (i.e., cheaper and almost universal health insurance in Korea) and post-immigration barriers (i.e., lack of employment-based insurance), while an immigrant from the Philippines working in a health service industry might readily access community medical resources. Patterns of isolation, such as this, can be addressed effectively only when the local community understands such barriers and seeks to increase community integration within systems."


Kendra Flores-Carter, Honoree #17 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensuring Healthy Development for Mothers, Babies, and Youth"

Kendra Flores-CarterThe seventeenth grand challenger, Kendra Flores-Carter, is graduating this week from the UT College of Social Work Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program. Her capstone chair is Phyllis Thompson. The title of her Capstone paper is "Black Women's Knowledge of Postpartum Depression and their Attitudes towards Seeking Mental Health Services." The DSW in Clinical Practice and Leadership is an online degree that is an intensive accelerated program geared toward working professionals. So, while she earned her doctorate, Flores-Carter continued to work and excel in her field as a Clinical Social Worker at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center (ARMC).

Ms. Flores-Carter was recently nominated for the 2017 Molina Community Champions Award for her work on Maternal Mental Health within the hospital and the community.

Ms. Flores-Carter was presented with the second annual Golden Ida M. Cannon award by the ARMC Clinical Social Work Department for embodying all the core values of the social work profession on a daily basis. This award is particularly notable because recipients are nominated by their co-workers and colleagues.

An Examination of Black Women's Knowledge of Postpartum Depression and their Attitudes towards Seeking Mental Health Services was recently accepted as a poster presentation at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center 12th Annual Research Day. Flores-Carter commented, "I think it's important for other students to see that they can make significant differences in their organizations and for their patients. But I am glad that I can now say I'm a proud Alumni of the University of Tennessee College of Social Work."

Ms. Flores-Carter is among our newest alums, but her work is already making a difference in accomplishing the Social Work Grand Challenge #1 - Ensuring healthy development for all youth.


Hilary Hamlin, Honoree #16 for Grand Challenge #8: "Expertise in Systems Development"

Hilary HamlinThe sixteenth honoree, Hilary Hamlin, earned her MSSW from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work. She also has a Master in Public Administration from The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She has a strong clinical background and over 40 years of experience working in behavioral health at both the local community and state/national levels. She has experience overseeing all aspects of Information Technology systems' transformation helping organizations to select and implement Electronic Health Records systems in the behavioral health field.

Social Work in today's world needs leaders who understand the need to keep data, using efficient systems that are integrated with service processes. Ms. Hamlin fulfills Grand Challenge for Social Work #8 to Harness Technology for Social Good. For example, recently she helped the Alabama Department of Mental Health procure and implement a system that allowed the Substance Abuse and Developmental Disabilities Divisions to manage client data automatically and provide better treatment strategies and enhanced outcomes.

Commenting on her time at the UT School of Social Work, Hamlin stated, "I've always valued having the MSSW degree as I've worked in mental health/behavioral health for my whole career, and so many people with whom I work are also social workers. As a consultant, I am frequently walking into a agency where I do not know anyone. Having an MSSW gives me an automatic acceptance and common language. I loved being in school at the School of Social Work more than at any other point in my education. College was okay, but everything I did at UT was focused on what I was interested in. I still remember certain classes and use and apply things from my Systems Theory class today. I also found that I could focus on Administration and Planning and that was a great combination for me."

"I think that most significant aspect of the program, however, was the time that you got to spend in field work. I was only 2 years out of college so had not gained a lot of experience yet. I had worked for two summers at a Settlement House in Louisville, KY and had my year as a VISTA volunteer in Johnson City but my two field placements at UT were invaluable. I spent my first year as a case worker at a KCDC public housing project. There are cases there that I will never forget. My second year field placement was at Child and Family Services. One of my projects was to research and find an information system for the agency. This was 1976 so no computers or electronic health records were around! It is fascinating that I started with such a project and that has become the basis for the bulk of my 20 years of consulting. The change and impact of that technology over my career has been stunning."

Ms. Hamlin currently serves on the Board of Visitors for the UT College of Social Work. She gives generously of her time and wisdom to directly meet the challenges of the 21st Century.


T. Alex Washington, PhD, Honoree #15 for Grand Challenge #2: " Close the Health Disparities Gap"

The fifteenth honoree, T. Alex Washington, PhD,earned his MSSW from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work Memphis Campus in 1998, after completing his internship at the Memphis VA Medical Center. He then went on to receive his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville graduating in 2002.

T. Alex WashingtonDr. Alex Washington is a tenured professor in the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) School of Social Work. Dr. Washington is the recent recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Achievement Award from CSULB.

Dr. Washington’s research interests involve the development and evaluation of HIV prevention interventions, health disparities, and human sexuality.

His research experience and technical expertise involve the development and evaluation of HIV prevention interventions for sexual minority males using social media, health disparities, and human sexuality. He is Co-Investigator for the CSULB Center for Health Equity Research Institute (CHER Institute). The institute, funded by NIGMS/NIH, provides educational experiences to enhance the readiness of faculty primarily from minority-serving institutions (MSIs). CHER researchers conduct social and behavioral research to eliminate health inequities among racial/ethnic minority populations and increase the number of new investigators from MSIs across the U.S. represented among National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded investigators.  Additionally, he is Co-Director of the PPOWER Project.  PPOWER is a SAMSHA-funded project aiming to increase testing for HIV and Hepatitis C among young minority males as well as reduce substance abuse.  Previously, he served as Principal Investigator of the TIM Project (funded by NIDA/NIH). TIM Project was a pilot study delivered using social media to motivate HIV testing uptake among young black men who have sex with men aged 18 to 30 years.

Dr. Washington is also a visiting professor in the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, UCSF Department of Medicine.  He received the Gerald A. Ludd Lifetime Achievement Award from the National African American Leadership Conference (for HIV prevention leadership in the Black community), the 2010 CSULB Early Academic Career Excellence Award. Alex has presented his research at national and international conferences, including Thailand, Canada, Egypt, Australia, and South Africa. He has published work on HIV prevention/interventions in peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journals, served on editorial and advisory boards, served as a reviewer for NIDA/NIH, and has extensive experience working in minority community settings. He teaches research methods in the CSULB School of Social Work.


David A Patterson, Honoree #14 for Grand Challenge #6 "Community Service to Homeless Population"

The fourteenth honoree, David A. Patterson, PhD, is the Cooper-Herron Endowed Professor of Mental Health Research and Practice at the UT College of Social Work, and the Director of the Doctor of Social Work Program. However it is his work with the Homeless Management Information System that is recognized here as the way in which he serves Challenge #6 of the 12 Grand Challenges, Homelessness.

David A. PattersonDr. Patterson is the founding Director and Principal Investigator of the Knoxville Homeless Management Information System (KnoxHMIS). “We’re the empirical window into homelessness in Knoxville and Knox County,” said Patterson. “We focus on outcomes that let us see what’s making a difference and what’s not making a difference.” HMIS is a secure on-line database serving 20 Knoxville community agencies and housing over 45,000 records of persons experiencing homelessness in Knoxville. The system is an integrated network of Knoxville area homeless service providers linking them to a secure, central homeless information database, improving and expediting services for the homeless.

Dr. Patterson recently received the Tennessee Higher Education Commission's 2017 Harold Love Outstanding Community Involvement Award in recognition of significant public service. This award was granted in recognition, among other things, of Patterson's 13 year contribution to Knoxville efforts to address the problems of the homeless population of Knoxville.

The primary teaching focus of Dr. Patterson's twenty-four year academic career has been on clinical social work practice and research. He has taught clinical social work treatment with groups for 19 years, substance abuse treatment for 23 years, and conducted numerous training seminars on motivational interviewing in substance abuse treatment. He is the author of Personal Computer Applications in the Social Services (Allyn & Bacon, 2000), Data Analysis with Spreadsheets (Allyn & Bacon, 2006), as well as over 40 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. He is engaged in ongoing efforts to infuse mindfulness practices into social work clinical education and practice.


Chris Overton, Honoree #13 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth"

The thirteenth honoree, Chris Overton, LCSW, is an MSSW grad from the college class of 1992. She is currently a school social worker serving in the Sevier County Schools in Tennessee. Her work, serving the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of at-risk students is an active response to Challenge #1 of the 12 Grand Challenges, Ensuring Healthy Development for All Youth.

Chris OvertonWithin the school setting, Ms. Overton also serves as a field instructor for the University of Tennessee College of Social Work. She states, "I feel that the responsibility for helping bring new social workers into the profession is a great honor."

Ms. Overton has many other professional and volunteer interests that fill her days. She works as a volunteer with UT's HABIT program, taking her dog into the schools to offer animal assisted therapy. HABIT stands for Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee and sponsors programs that foster pet visitation to nursing homes, assisted-living residences, retirement centers, mental health centers, residences for children with special needs, rehabilitation facilities, hospital settings, schools, and other facilities. She serves as the mental health consultant for Sevier County's Foster Care Review Board, reviewing the status of all children in foster care to monitor progress, assessing mental health needs and making recommendations to the juvenile court judges.

Ms. Overton is also an adjunct professor for the Knoxville Campus of the College of Social Work, bringing her clinical knowledge into the classroom where she teaches principles and practice of school social work to students in the CSW licensure program. On top of all these responsibilities, Overton has a small private practice in Sevierville, where she work primarily with adults dealing with a wide range of mental health challenges. "Throughout my busy days," says Overton, "every so often, I glance at my MSSW diploma and find myself very grateful to the College for the educational experience that allows me to do the work that I find so meaningful and for which I have such a deep passion."


Drema Bowers, Honoree #12 for Grand Challenge #11: "Counseling Students in Financial Wellness"

The twelvth honoree, Drema Bowers, is an MSSW grad from UT and a generalist social worker with over 20 years of experience in the field who is fulfilling the Social Work Challenge #11. She has spent the past 15 years in education and is excited to be part of the Pellissippi State Counseling team. Her goal is to help students achieve their dreams by reducing barriers to academic success by providing personal, career and academic counseling as well as assisting in identifying resources to aid students on their academic journey.Drema Bowers Many of the students she works with are often drawn to careers in the helping professions. When researching job growth and estimated salaries, students often fear that they cannot make a living on the projected incomes. At that point, Ms. Bowers often shares her philosophy that long-term success is a combination of education, financial wellness and practicing a healthy lifestyle. This year, with the support of Campus Dean Rosalyn Tillman; she has had the opportunity to supervise Patrick Davis, an AmeriCorps VISTA Member, whose assignment includes financial literacy.

Ms. Bowers explains, "When creating the responsibilities for our VISTA Member, The Financial Aid Manager, Nadia Keys, asked us to include a component focusing on Financial Literacy with the initial goal of enrolling students into "Transit", a student financial literacy program. Very early into the process, Patrick and I realized that our focus needed to shift from financial literacy only to financial wellness and that we needed to engage additional internal and external partners. Patrick created an internal Shared Work Team designed to help us create and implement programming around financial wellness with an emphasis on capacity building.

"This year, our goal is to create a template that other campuses within Pellissippi can use to increase financial wellness. Our Financial Aid Coordinator at Magnolia, Aneshia Brown, has been key in this process. She has helped create innovative presentations and 'Financial Wellness Fairs' that can be duplicated at each campus. Utilizing some of the information we have learned, several of our Professors have incorporated financial wellness into their classes and/or given students extra credit to attend our events."

One of the external partnerships that she is most proud of is with Operation HOPE, which is the leading global provider of financial dignity education and economic empowerment programs for low to moderate income youth, individuals and families in underserved communities. Their Financial Wellbeing Coach just happens to be a fellow CSW alumni, Kristie Blevins. On behalf of Operation HOPE, Kristie has participated in at least three campus wide activities this academic year and is providing individual financial coaching to at least four students. Ms. Bowers believes, "If students are assisted in graduating with little to no debt, learn how to create a budget, establish their credit score and live within their means; we will have created a generation of students who can truly live their dreams."

Ms. Bowers expressed special thanks to Dr. Annie Gray, Service Learning Program Coordinator & AmeriCorps VISTA Director at Pellissippi State Community College for the partnership that has enabled them to pursue this initiative through its focus on poverty alleviation.


Lisa Higginbotham, Honoree #11 for Grand Challenge #6: "Combating Homelessness"

Lisa HigginbothamLisa Higginbotham, is a 2009 graduate of the College of Social Work MSSW program and has worked with SWORPS since 2012. Ms. Higginbotham advocates to make homeless rare and brief. Lisa is responsible for strategic planning for the Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Management Information System (KnoxHMIS), a secure on-line database serving 20 Knoxville community agencies and housing over 45,000 records of persons experiencing homelessness in Knoxville. Her recent work has been focused on the development of the Knoxville Community Dashboard on Homelessness. This “Dashboard Report” is an at-a-glance informational resource on the issue of homelessness and the performance of homeless service providers in Knoxville, Tennessee. Data represented on the Dashboard are aggregated, de-identified client-level data extrapolated from the Knoxville Homeless Management Information System (KnoxHMIS).

Ms. Higginbotham has spearheaded the KnoxHMIS Dashboard development. The data entered into the information system are utilized to evaluate how the community is doing in areas like permanent housing placement and employment outcomes. She is proud of the community partner involvement that is a distinctive feature of the success of this project. Higginbotham states, "This [project]is only possible because of the conscientious support of our local partners. Most partners are interested in accessing KnoxHMIS to further collaborative initiatives. It’s not just a database. It’s a partnership with the community and without that, you’re not going to get collaborative case management and motivate case managers to input real time information.”

Visit the KnoxHMIS Dashboard at:

Dr. David Patterson, the Cooper-Herron Endowed Professor of Mental Health Research and Practice at the UT College of Social Work, helped to conceptualize the Dashboard with Ms. Higginbotham. “We’re the empirical window into homelessness in Knoxville and Knox County,” said Patterson. “We focus on outcomes that let us see what’s making a difference and what’s not making a difference.” The experience of homelessness cannot be reduced to sleeping in a cardboard box. “We make a lot of assumptions about people who are homeless. They have dignity,” said Higginbotham.

Currently, Ms. Higginbotham is organizing Knoxville’s first youth-specific point-in-time count, facilitating the Biennial Study on Homelessness, and publication in Families in Society, Journal of Contemporary Social Services. Lisa will co-present on the Dashboard at the National Human Services Data Consortium in April 2017.


Thecle Ebanks, Honoree #10 for Grand Challenge #9: "Policy Ideas"

Thecle EbanksThecle Ebanks was recognized in March 2017 at the NASW-TN Social Work Day on the Hill for winning the 2017 Policy Poster Competition.

Ms. Ebanks is currently a full-time student in the Online MSSW program at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work. Prior to becoming part of the UT program, Ms. Ebanks had been working in the social work field for over 10 years. She has worked with families, adolescents, and active duty military. Thecle's husband is serving in the military and they are stationed at Fort Campbell.

Ms. Ebanks stated, "I love this bill because it embodies the two most important values to me: justice and compassion. I am so glad that more and more states are proposing legislation to address this issue which, as it stands, threatens the dignity and worth of every human being. While I am elated to have won the overall MSSW policy poster, I'm more excited to have given a voice to this topic."

Kate McClernon-Chaffin, Director of the Nashville and Online MSSW Program stated, "We are so proud of Thecle's phenomenal job at NASW-TN Day on the Hill! This is truly a shining example of the caliber of students in our online MSSW program, as well as an example of the amazing opportunities given to our students and the excellence in teaching that they receive. This was a great win for UTK College of Social Work and a great win for online education!"

When asked about the impact that her education has had, Ebanks stated, "As someone who already holds a Masters degree, the Online MSSW program is one of the most rigorous, rich, and challenging experiences I have had yet. It truly sets the standard for exellence. The coursework is fast-paced and demanding, but I have experienced substantial academic growth."

"I would really like to highlight Professor Kim Mallory [Policy Faculty] and the ways she helped to stretch me as a student and social worker in this entire process. She truly embodies excellence and dedication. What left the biggest impression on me wasn't her work ethic, which is outstanding by the way, but her compassion and encouragement the whole way through. As an online student, you don't always get the luxury to connect with peers, but the experience you have with faculty leaves a lasting impression. I am honored to have had such positive and life changing experiences through an amazing faculty member."

The policy work that Ms. Ebanks has been doing represents the thinking behind Challenge #9. A prolonged era of mass incarceration has resulted in extraordinary rates of imprisonment, making the United States the world leader in incarceration. The effects of mass incarceration are particularly profound for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups people in poverty, racial minorities, and people with behavioral health disorders. There is no more pressing social justice issue in the United States today than effectively undoing mass incarceration and its wide-reaching effects.


Erin Rose, MSSW, Honoree #9 for Grand Challenge #7: "Create Positive Social Responses to a Changing Environment"

Erin Rose received her Master of Science in Social Work from UT with a concentration in macro-scaled social work in the areas of environmental policy and justice, community organizing, and administration.

Erin RoseIn 2010, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory hired Ms. Rose to develop a survey to assess health and other non-energy-related benefits they believed families had experienced since receiving energy efficiency upgrades to their homes. "We found overall that the health and household-related benefits are three times the energy cost savings benefits," she said. "I've met with hundreds of people across the country doing this work and, after a while, you get used to people saying, It's changed our lives."

ThreeCubed, an organization whose mission is to foster equitable, sustainable futures, grew out of the ORNL research. Ms. Rose is Co-Founder and Vice-President of Social Equity for ThreeCubed. Her current work involves the design and implementation of studies targeting energy program impact on households of low-socioeconomic status. Her background provides the skills necessary to study social justice issues related to household level fuel poverty, access to resources, the impact on home energy-efficiency programs on Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and health, climate change and other areas of environmental impacts on persons of vulnerable status.

It is widely accepted that the three components, or pillars of sustainability, are environment, equity, and economics, in combination. ThreeCubed conducts innovative, interdisciplinary research and offers educational programming to promote the integrated achievement of sustainability goals in these areas.

In January of 2017, Ms. Rose was named by the Knoxville News Sentinel Business Journal to the 10th class of 40 Under 40, a select group of young local leaders who are leaving their mark on the Greater Knoxville area through their professional and philanthropic efforts.

Ms. Rose is a social worker who is fulfilling the Social Work Challenge #7 by creating social responses to a changing environment. The environmental challenges reshaping contemporary societies pose profound risks to human well-being, particularly for marginalized communities. Climate change and urban development threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. A changing global environment requires transformative social responses: new partnerships, deep engagement with local communities, and innovations to strengthen individual and collective assets.


Jackie Clay, MSSW, Honoree #8 for Grand Challenge #2: "Close the Health Care Gap"

Jackie Clay earned her BSSW and MSSW at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work. Today she serves in nearby Oak Ridge, TN as the executive director of the Free Medical Clinic. The clinic provides no-charge primary care and wellness services to low-income, uninsured residents of Anderson, Morgan, and Roane counties who otherwise would not have access to the medical care they need.

Jackie ClaySocial Work Grand Challenge #2 encourages social workers to Close the Health Gap. More than 60 million Americans experience devastating one-two punches to their health. They have inadequate access to basic health care while also enduring the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. Innovative and evidence-based social strategies can improve health care and lead to broad gains in the health of our entire society.

Before she joined the FMC, Ms. Clay worked for the City of Knoxville as project manager, then as program manager, with a focus on crime reduction programs. She has experience as a community organizer and as a field instructor for the UT College of Social Work..

While in the master's program in social work Ms. Clay's concentration was in nonprofit management, leadership, and community practice. She also has a community engagement professional certification from Neighbor Works America Training Institute.

Ms. Clay is a leader in her community as she works to close gaps in the provision of health care. "A lot of people fall into the health care gap," explains Clay. "On a day to day basis I am encouraged to know that I am not in this fight alone. So many individuals across the community volunteer to keep our clinic operating; doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and others are doing this work together so that the people with health needs in our community can obtain services." To learn more about Ms. Clay's work, visit


Lakeisha Conway, MSSW, LCSW Honoree #7 for Grand Challenge #4: "Advance Long and Productive Lives"

Lakeisha Conway currently serves as a Clinical Social Worker for the Contracted Adult Day Health Care Program and Memory Clinic with the Veterans Health Administration in Memphis, TN, and also serves as a Field Liaison for the University of Tennessee College of Social Work Online MSSW Program.

Lakeisha ConwayMs. Conway graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work Memphis Campus in 2007, after completing her internship at the Memphis VA Medical Center as a MSSW student in 2006–2007. Her macro research project “Community needs assessment for Veteran Adult Day Services” was instrumental in building the now Memphis Contracted Adult Day Program.

The Adult Day program focuses on increasing socialization and physical interaction; helps identify long term care plans, provides a safe, structured environment for those who would be otherwise left home alone with cognitive impairments, promotes good mental health and overall healthy living within the veteran aging population and reducing caregiver stress.

Ms. Conway has fostered long standing partnerships with various agencies in the community and promotes the importance of caregiver self-care. Her expertise in Geriatric Extended Care and Non Institutional Care programs has made her a sought after partner in the community. She's collaborated with state and local community-based programs including Area Agencies on Aging across the states of TN, MS and AR, and Alzheimer's Associations, not to mention her long standing partnership with national programs such as REACH VA alongside leading researchers. This work demonstrates her commitment not only to the aging, veteran, and caregiver populations but to outreach and policy as well.

Throughout her 10 year tenure with the Memphis VA Medical Center, Ms. Conway has worked within various areas of Geriatric Extended and Non-Institutional Care programs that are committed to providing services to veterans with complex care and support to caregivers while promoting care in the community or in the home setting. She has worked in programs that included Home and Community Based Services, Spinal Cord Injury Home Care, Home Maker/Home Health Aide, In-Home Respite Care and Caregiver Support.

Ms. Conway's commitment to the aging population reaches far outside the walls of the VA. In addition to her role as a Field Liaison for the University of Tennessee College of Social Work MSSW On-Line Program she knew there was much more that she could contribute. Recognizing that there will be a surge in the aging population and insufficient professional social workers to support their social needs, this past year she developed a Pilot Geriatric Learning Curriculum within Social Work Service at the Memphis VA encouraging MSSW level students to seek out Aging as a field of study upon graduation. She hopes to use the module as best practice across the Veterans Health Administration and as a new curriculum for incoming students.

Grand Challenge #4: Ms. Conway hopes to inspire new professionals to continue to work to advance the long and productive lives of the aging populations and recognize their impact later in life on this field of practice. She hopes to continue to bring awareness to the surge in the aging population, advocate for funding, and garner support for professionals and additional aging-related community-based programs.


Bethanie Poe, PhD - Honoree #6 for Grand Challenge #3: "Stop Family Violence"

Dr. Bethanie A. Poe is a Program Specialist at the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence. It is the Coalition's goal to end abuse and sexual violence in Tennessee through public policy advocacy, education, and building the capacity of programs and communities to address violence. In her current role, Dr. Poe works with the Tennessee Domestic Violence State Coordinating Council to ensure the proper certification, training, and monitoring of batterers intervention programs, as well as providing technical assistance and training to domestic violence advocates and communities across the state.

Bethanie PoeDr. Poe began her career in the domestic violence field during her MSSW program at UT where her first internship was in a local domestic violence shelter. She then went on to intern with UT's Veterinary Social Work program where she focused her study on the Link between human and animal violence, or why those who are violent toward animals are also violent toward people. Dr. Poe was an active advocate for an amendment to Tennessee's law which would allow domestic violence survivors to put their pets under their Order of Protection, which became law in 2007.

Dr. Poe returned to UT in 2008 to begin her PhD, and continued to be involved with UT's Veterinary Social Work. The research for her dissertation, entitled How Do People in Animal Welfare Fields Respond to Family Violence Situations, ventured into a new aspect of the Link. While previous studies had explored human welfare professionals experience with clients who commit acts of animal abuse, there was nothing in the literature about the types of family violence situations animal welfare professionals, such as animal control officers, encounter while at work. Dr. Poe's research sought to fill that gap by surveying people in animal related professions about their experiences with child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse while at work and their responses to these situations. She is also the instructor for the online portion of the Link module in the Post-Graduate Veterinary Social Work Certificate Program.

Dr. Poe has found that her experiences at UT have been incredibly useful in her work at the Tennessee Coalition. Working with batterers’ intervention programs requires a well-rounded perspective of family violence, and a dedication to Grand Challenge #3: Stop family violence. As the AASWSW says: “Proven interventions can prevent abuse, identify abuse sooner, and help families survive and thrive by breaking the cycle of violence or finding safe alternatives.”

For more information about the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence, please visit:


Ayat Nashwan, PhD - Honoree #5 for Grand Challenge #10: "Reduce Extreme Economic Inequality"

Dr. Ayat Jebril Nashwan is an Assistant Professor and Social Work Diploma Coordinator with the Sociology and Social Work Department at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan. Dr. Nashwan is the first Jordanian person to earn a PhD in Social Work from a U.S. institution in the history of Jordan. Dr. Nashwan is proud to have studied at the UT College of Social Work.

Ayat NashwanDr. Nashwan came to the United States in 2011 prepared with a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Sociology from the University of Jordan. At the College of Social Work in Knoxville she earned her PhD in Social Work where she worked under the mentorship of Dr. Stan Bowie who chaired her dissertation committee. Her dissertation title is: Acculturative Stress and Social Support among Immigrant Arab American Adolescents in East Tennessee. After returning to Jordan, Dr. Nashwan joined the faculty at Yarmouk University where she initiated a professional social work diploma in partnership with Common Bond Institute and Michigan State University.

Her most recent endeavors have included offering training entitled "English for Social Workers." The main goal for this training is to give the Jordanian students who study their program in Arabic some communication skills and terminology for social work in English so they can have better opportunity to work with International organizations that work in Jordan with refugees. In addition, Dr. Nashwan has been translating social work texts from English to Arabic for Jordanian students who cannot access and benefit from important information due to language barriers.

Dr. Nashwan's most recent publication was a book chapter in Immigrant and Refugee Children and Families: Culturally Responsive Practice entitled Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Children and Families. She has continued to collaborate with colleagues from the UT College of Social Work, at times using video-conferencing applications to present at conferences in the United States.

Dr. Nashwan is a founding member of The Jordanian Association of Social Work.

Grand Challenge #10 for Social Work encourages work to reduce extreme economic inequality. One of the aspects to that challenge is the work of providing lifelong access to education in order to provide broader economic opportunities. Dr. Nashwan's work certainly does that on an international scale.


John Wodarski, PhD - Honoree #4 for Grand Challenge #8: "Harness Technology for Social Good"

Dr. John Wodarski is a Professor in the College of Social Work. He has served as a principal investigator on multiple projects funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other foundations. His interests include substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and evidence-based treatments.

John WodarskiDr. Wodarski's work as a Senior Research Scientist with the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work Center for Behavioral Health Research has spanned many years and has developed through various research projects. His interest has always been geared toward making treatment available and effective through the use of technological interventions.

Through the collaborative efforts of the Helen Ross McNabb Regional Medical Health System and John Wodarski, five projects have successfully served over 250,000 clients accessing the website, with 25,000 clients completing web treatment, and 2,500 receiving personal treatment. 

Dr. Wodarski has directed five separate but inter-related and funded projects for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, SAMHSA/CSAT, in which electronically-delivered services were developed and then implemented.  These efforts should facilitate expanding our curriculum with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Treatment Recovery and SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment) to reduce the pandemic of substance abuse. SBIRT is an evidence-based approach to identifying patients who use alcohol and other drugs at risky levels with the goal of reducing and preventing related health consequences, disease, accidents and injuries.

Several of the titles of the projects that Dr. Wodarski has developed are Using Computers for Campus Screening and Brief Interventions for Substance Abuse, E-therapy Screening and Interventions for Vulnerable Young Adults with Substance Abuse and Co-morbidity, and Expanded Care Coordination through the Use of Health Information Technology in Rural Tennessee.


Ann M. Callahan, PhD, LCSW, Honoree #3 for Grand Challenge #5: "Eradicate Social Isolation"

Dr. Ann Callahan is a licensed clinical social worker for MedOptions Behavioral Health Services and lecturer in the UT College of Social Work, Knoxville campus. She has over 20 years of social work related experience that has inspired a passion for social work research, education, and practice.

Ann M. CallahanDr. Callahan received her MSSW from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work in 1997 with a concentration in Management and Community Practice. She completed her PhD in Social Work from UT in 2004. Her dissertation was titled, The Role of Demographic Diversity in Predicting Work Psychological Safety.

Dr. Callahan's current research focuses on clarifying how spirituality informs hospice and palliative social work. She has delivered over 40 national presentations and 50 professional publications, including her book Spirituality and Hospice Social Work published by Columbia University Press. This work focuses on helping social workers address the spiritual needs of hospice clients. She proposes a relational model for spiritually sensitive hospice social work to support the delivery of quality spiritual care. Her understanding of this topic serves the goal of meeting the Social Work Challenge #5, "Eradication of Social Isolation."

Dr. Callahan's next book advances the concept of relational spirituality as an essential foundation for spiritually sensitive palliative social work. She believes spiritually sensitive social workers have the capacity to support relationships that enhance life meaning, particularly with residents in long-term care facilities. To learn more about Dr. Callahan's work visit



Jenn Drake-Croft, Honoree #2 for Grand Challenge #1: "Ensure Health Development for All Youth"

Jenn Drake-Croft currently serves the State of Tennessee as the Director of Early Childhood Well-Being for the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. Despite having only recently graduated from UTCSW with her MSSW in 2015, Ms. Drake-Croft has leveraged her passion for addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and her experience as Associate Director at The Family Center, a child abuse prevention agency in Middle TN, into a state level role in developing policy to address the grand challenge of ensuring healthy development for all youth.

Jenn Drake-CroftUnder Ms. Drake-Croft's leadership, TCCY has intensified its advocacy of and collaboration for early child well-being and ACEs. This work includes training, collaboration, and advocacy at local, regional, and state levels. Jenn is currently leading a statewide initiative to train over 400 individuals across child serving systems to work to both prevent and mitigate ACEs within their organizations and communities

Ms. Drake-Croft inspires social workers by her commitment to ensure the healthy development of all youth -Grand Challenge #1. Each year, more than six million young people receive treatment for severe mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. Strong evidence shows us how to prevent many behavioral health problems before they emerge. By unleashing the power of prevention through widespread use of proven approaches, we can help all youth grow up to become healthy and productive adults.

Learn more about Ms. Drake-Croft's work at:


Dr. Mary Held, Honoree #1 for Grand Challenge #12: "Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice"

Dr. Mary HeldDr. Mary Held, Assistant Professor in Nashville, is the First of 75 UT College of Social Work Individuals to be honored for representing the ideals of the Grand Challenges.

Dr. Mary Held, along with Nashville campus MSSW student Allison Milam recently presented "Immigration-related Hardships and Treatment Strategies" for the monthly NASW Lunch and Learn meeting for the middle TN region. This presentation looks at the traumatic experiences and hardships faced by Latinos moving to the US. It also suggests treatment strategies for those immigrants struggling to overcome the demands that trauma has brought into their lives.

Dr. Held and her student have received a number of requests to further develop this training to address the needs of professionals across the state who need further training on trauma-informed strategies for working, in particular, with immigrant and refugee youth.

In the past, Dr. Held has spent time working in Honduras at a home for boys and has also practiced social work in San Antonio, Texas. Those practice experiences have given her a unique perspective to see the many facets of the immigrant/refugee experience. This perspective inspires her commitment to the achievement of equal opportunity and justice in our communities.

Grand Challenge #12: Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice. AASWSW defines this: "In the United States, some groups of people have long been consigned to society's margins. Historic and current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment. Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices, and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge. All of this work is critical to fostering a successful society."

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