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May 25, 2017

Elsie Pettit of the College of Social Work Library Retires after 20 Years

Elsie Pettit has served the UT College of Social Work and the UT Library Systems for 20 years. She has worked at the Nashville Campus in the Social Work Library there.

Kate McCernon-Chaffin, Director of the Nashville Campus will miss her presence and all she does for the students. “Elsie has been a source of knowledge and resources for both faculty and students. She led a charge to make sure that students with disabilities received the added services that they needed to be successful in the program as it relates to technology.  She has worked tirelessly to help students with writing skills and has been essential in working with them to find the resources they need to do well in their courses.  She has always been proactive in assisting faculty with adding media and books to the library that will  supplement classes. She will be missed beyond measure!"

Elsie first studied English Literature as an undergrad student, but went on to get a master's degree in Library and Information Sciences. She came to the College of Social Work serendipitously when she heard that our college was looking for a librarian 20 years ago. She learned while on the job what was important to the faculty of social work and how to best assist social work students in their research.

"Over the years," says Elsie, "I have always enjoyed connecting students with information that they have been unable to find. However, my greatest joy has been having a lot of direct contact with disabled students. It is gratifying to assist them. Before the days of JAWS screen reader, I took time to read articles to students who were blind."

"I will miss the people here at the college and wish them well in the future. I also will miss collaborating with the wonderful library team on the Knoxville campus." When David P. Atkins, from the Knoxville library announced to the library staff that Elsiewas planning to retire, he said. "After 20 years of exceptional service, Elsie Pettit will retire from UT Libraries. For these past two decades, Elsie has served as our university’s one-woman show, managing all operations for our College of Social Work (CSW) Library in Nashville. With a great heart and generous spirit, Elsie served Nashville with reference assistance, orientation and instruction, as well as collections support. She also created a safe and welcoming library space for the College of Social Work’s Nashville’s students, faculty, and staff. Always a strong advocate for her students and faculty, Elsie will be dearly missed."

Elsie plans to move from Nashville to Salt Lake City, Utah, to live close to her daughter and son-in-law. She looks forward to hiking in the Wasatch Mountains that surround the city.

January 26, 2017

Nashville Assistant Professor Thereasa Abrams Develops Phone App for Burn Survivors in Multi-Disciplinary Effort

Thereasa Abrams, PhD, has joined the UT College of Social Work, Nashville Campus this year as an Assistant Professor. In addition to her teaching work here at UT, Abrams is continuing her research on the needs of individuals who have experienced medical trauma especially those who have sustained traumatic burn injuries. Theresa Abrams

"I am very excited about the team of visionaries here at UT who want to create a product that works well and looks very professional," says Abrams about the individuals who are committed to completing this project.

As a survivor of traumatic burn injury herself, Teri Abrams knows the challenges that patients face. Generally, burn centers are regional, so when people leave the hospital for home, they are nervous. The UT team envisions an app that lives on the phones of patients so that they can access support at any moment.

Read more about this project.

January 9, 2017

Nashville Asst. Professor April Mallory writes about The Criminalization of Addiction in Pregnancy

April Mallory, Assistant Professor at the Nashville Campus of the UT College of Social Work,April Mallory is the author of an article that has been published in the Winter 2017 issue of The New Social Worker.

The article entitled "The Criminalization of Addiction in Pregnancy: Is This What Justice Looks Like?" considers the harsh reality for many pregnant women with addiction to prescription drugs. It looks at Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, treatment options, policy considerations, and recommendations for improving individual and community practice.

April Mallory, MSW, LCSW, is a social worker with many years of experience working within the psychiatric and criminal justice systems. She evaluates impaired physicians as part of the team at Vanderbilt’s Comprehensive Assessment Program and is an assistant professor of practice at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work.

December 19, 2016

Center for Behavioral Health Research Welcomes Bush Endowed Professor, Michael Mason

The University of Tennessee College of Social Work, home of the Center for Behavioral Health Research (CBHR) is pleased to announce the appointment of Michael Mason, PhD as the Betsey R. Bush Endowed Professor for Children and Families at Risk.

Dr. Michael MasonAn outstanding scientist and researcher, Dr. Mason comes to the college from Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Mason was an associate professor of Psychiatry, and director of the Commonwealth Institute on Child and Family Studies, in the School of Medicine, at VCU. Upon arriving in Knoxville, Dr. Mason stated, "I am thrilled and excited to be here and look forward to integrating my research with the local community contacts whom I've already met as well as continuing national level research."

Dr. Mason’s work focusing on adolescent substance abuse, peer and environmental influences, and evidence-based brief interventions, has been recognized and supported by several funding sources including the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Dr. Mason completed his undergraduate degree at Pepperdine University, his masters San Diego State University, and his doctorate from Oregon State University. He completed a National Institute on Mental Health postdoctoral research fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, school of Public Health, department of Mental Hygiene.

Dr. Mason’s work seeks to understand and test the idea that substance use is a developmentally contingent social practice that is constituted within the routine social-environment of individuals’ lives. His work is funded by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, SAMHSA, and state foundations. Dr. Mason has developed of a brief substance use intervention entitled, Peer Network Counseling, that has been tested with five clinical trials with over 400 adolescents and young adults.

He is actively testing the efficacy of automated text-messaging substance use interventions to address cannabis and tobacco use.

Dean Karen M. Sowers is pleased to welcome Dr. Mason, saying, "The college and CBHR look forward to working with Michael Mason. He brings to our institution experience and energy that will advance our role in promoting the mental health and welfare of children in our nation."

December 19, 2016

Center for Behavioral Health Research Begins Children's Bureau Contract

The Children’s Bureau, an Office of the Administration for Children & Families at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, has granted a multi-university award to support workforce interventions to reduce turnover in child welfare organizations. The University of Tennessee College of Social Work’s Center for Behavioral Health Research (CBHR) will be working with the University of Nebraska, the University of Louisville, and the University of Colorado to discover practices that will reduce staff turnover in child welfare organizations.

The $15 million, 5-year project will study staff retention strategies in agencies of different sizes, in different locations across the U.S, and that work with clients of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Denzel Dukes and Tony Hemmelgarn

Denny Dukes (l.) and Tony Hemmelgarn (r.)

Dr. Tony Hemmelgarn of the CBHR and researchers from the other participating universities have secured this funding to help address the growing retention problems being experienced by child welfare agencies nationwide. Trained as an industrial and organizational psychologist, Hemmelgarn will serve as the primary consultant from the CBHR on this project. Tony has worked at the CBHR for over 20 years and is a primary co-developer of ARC, an organizational change strategy developed at the CBHR. Dr. Hemmelgarn is also the lead trainer and organizational consultant at the CBHR.

Denny Dukes, Associate Director of the CBHR, explained that “all of the agencies that will participate in this project will be using our nationally-normed Organizational Social Context Measure as an important indicator of the success of their organizational changes. Tony, working with Dr. Philip Green, will be involved in all aspects of the project and will be lending his expertise in organizational cultures and climates to inform the improvement strategies used in all of the agency sites chosen for this project.”

Dr. Karen Sowers, Dean of the College of Social Work, pointed out that 20 years of research conducted by the CBHR to improve child welfare and mental health organizations has led to this opportunity. “Our research has become the gold standard in this field that seeks to improve the lives of children by improving the organizations that serve them. People don’t always think about helping a child by helping an organization, but our evidence-based strategies have shown that this is exactly what happens when agencies improve their organizational cultures and climates.”

Dr. Hemmelgarn explained that one of the selected agency sites will specifically focus on using the ARC strategy. Hemmelgarn stated that ARC is currently the only organizational change strategy in the United States that has been tested in child welfare and mental health agencies across multiple Randomized Controlled Trials. This makes ARC an organization-level evidence-based practice. ARC has been shown to improve organizational climate and culture, increase job satisfaction and commitment of staff, reduce turnover, and improve clients’ outcomes. “We are pleased,” says Hemmelgarn, “to see what we have learned and the many tools and techniques that we have developed used in this important project. We believe this will be a powerful step forward in helping child welfare organizations provide high quality care to clients as well as more positive work environments for their dedicated staff who every day face the challenging work of improving children’s lives.”

For more information: (opens in a new window).

November 18, 2016

Lisa Reyes Mason, co-organized symposium on People and Climate Change: Vulnerability, Adaptation, Social Justice

“Climate change affects all of us, and especially our most vulnerable groups. We need a deeper understanding of not just who is affected, but why, and what social policies can help people cope, adapt, and thrive under changing conditions,” explains Lisa Reyes Mason, Assistant Professor at the UT College of Social Work. In order to encourage this kind of understanding, Dr. Mason co-organized a symposium entitled People and Climate Change: Vulnerability, Adaptation, Social Justice. The symposium took place at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis on Friday, November 18.

Dr. Mason (right) with conference presenter in St. LouisDr. Mason stated, “This event brings experts from around the world and over 150 attendees to tackle these pressing questions. Together, we can find and act on a way forward to address the human impacts of climate change."

Experts on flooding, drought, heat, water, and land change convened in St. Louis. They represent research from the United States, Latin America, Southeast Asia and other parts of the world and have gained their expertise in diverse disciplines in order to look at the human impacts of climate change and the policy solutions needed to help people cope and adapt.

Dr. Karen Sowers, Dean of the UT College of Social Work stated, “I am pleased that Dr. Mason has been such a wonderful leader in this cross-disciplinary effort and symposium, which is being convened by Washington University in St. Louis, the National University of Singapore, along with our own University of Tennessee. The participants are coming together not just to share knowledge that already exists, but to pinpoint gaps in knowledge, and then to establish a research agenda for the future.”

October 27, 2016

Scholar from Arctic University of Norway, Jeanette Skoglund, Studies U.S. Foster & Kinship Care

The UT College of Social Work is happy to be hosting Jeanette Skoglund, visiting scholar from the Arctic University of Norway (UiT) in Tromsø, Norway, as she studies the system of foster care practiced in the United States.

Jenette SkoglundJeanette is originally from southern Norway, a country of approximately five million people. She moved to Tromsø, an island city of about 70,000, in order to complete her doctorate in mental health. She chose to come to Knoxville, Tennessee, rather than a larger U.S. city, hoping to gain a more intimate experience of life in the United States. So far she has enjoyed the reception she has received here. "Becky Jackson, Director of International Studies, has helped me contact people who work in the foster care system. Dr. John Orme and Dr. Terri Combs-Orme and others have welcomed me warmly and with southern hospitality."

Tromso, NorwayJeanette completed her master's degree in sociology, studying and writing on the subject of same-sex parenting. She is now particularly interested in kinship care within foster care systems. UiT encourages advanced students to develop a global perspective, even requiring that her doctoral dissertation be written in English. Dr. Orme, one of her CSW mentors commented, "Jeanette is a delightful colleague and it’s been such a pleasure talking with her about the relative social policies and political situations in the US and Norway as well as discussing foster care research, her area of specialization! It’s such a pleasure having her with us this semester!"

Our visiting scholar's personal interests include rock climbing. She explained that there are several levels of climbing including alpine, sport and boulder climbing. Currently she is involved in sport and boulder climbing.

On October 28, Jeanette made a presentation to the CSW faculty in Knoxville and Nashville, discussing the differences between Social Work Practice in Norway and the United States. She also shared some facts about the country of Norway and its people.

September 20, 2016

Peace Corps Volunteers Come to UT College of Social Work for MSSW Studies

Karen M. Sowers, Dean of the UT College of Social Work

The UT College of Social Work is one of a select group of partner schools in the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program, a graduate fellowship program that offers financial assistance to returned Peace Corps Volunteers. All Coverdell students complete internships in underserved American communities, allowing them to bring home, and expand upon, the skills they learned as Peace Corps Volunteers.The College of Social Work welcomed the first of the Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows, Abby Borst, in the fall semester of 2015. This semester we are pleased to welcome Sadie Weiss to the Knoxville Campus MSSW program and Jami Hargrove to the Nashville Campus MSSW program.

Sadie Weiss

Sadie WeissSadie Weiss comes from a Peace Corps family. Both of her parents had served in the Peace Corps, so stories about serving abroad had been a part of her growing up. When a senior in college, she applied to become a Peace Corps volunteer. She had had a strong interest in service and felt this was a good way to express that. As well she was curious about the world and wanted to experience life in another culture.

At the time of her service, the corps asked applicants to rank regions by preference. Her first choice was sub-Saharan Africa. She was chosen to serve in Cape Verde which is a West African island nation off the coast of Senegal. Part way through her term of service that location closed as a Corps region so she was transferred to Mozambique. In both places Sadie taught English to middle school and high school girls.In addition, she worked in youth development. One of the things she did was a 4-day leadership camp for girls. Other activities that she was involved with were a girls’ soccer team, life skills classes, and HIV Aids education.

Sadie loves working with children and during her time with the Peace Corps she built strong relationships with her students. She wants to continue that kind of experience in her career in social work as a school social worker. She feels like social work is a good fit for her personality. Her goal is to work to protect and encourage vulnerable populations. She hopes to impact the broad range of people who are part of schools: children, parents, teachers and the community as a whole. For the present Sadie is in the clinical track at UT CSW. Eventually she may pursue a more macro-oriented career as she is interested in impacting policy as it relates to her focus on underprivileged children and helping them gain access to the resources that they need to achieve a successful life.

Jami Hargrove

Jami HargroveHaving graduated from the University of Georgia with a Fine Arts degree in Photography, Jami says she applied to the Peace Corps somewhat impulsively. She knew she wanted to travel and that she desired to volunteer to work with an agency serving a population with HIV or AIDS.

"I served in Swaziland (the country with the highest rate of HIV in the world) as an Community Health HIV/AIDS Educator," states Hargrove about her placement with the Corps. "Ironically enough, my experiences opened my eyes to the HIV epidemic that's sweeping the American South (we have the highest rates of any other region in the country), and I realized that there is such a huge need for people doing HIV work here. As a Southerner, I feel a moral obligation to do something about it. The South is my home, how can I expect others to do something if I don't myself?"

Jami felt that it was important for her to go to school in the South since that is where she hopes to continue her work. "I honestly initially began looking into UT's Online MSSW program and spoke with Professors Sarah Keiser and Becky Jackson a few times. I was able to get a sense of how awesome the UT faculty is. They were both so amazingly helpful and made the idea of grad school seem a little less intimidating, so I eventually decided I wanted to be a full-time on-campus student. I am absolutely enjoying UT. I was nervous after being out of school for 5 years, but all of my professors have made me feel like I am right at home here. Everyone is so approachable!" 

Jami's vision for helping others includes a desire to be a part of getting a conversation about HIV and AIDS started in situations where it might otherwise be a taboo topic. She believes that there is a lot of work to be done, a lot of things to figure out, and she hopes to be part of that process.

Learn more about the Peace Corps Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship at (opens in a new window)

September 12, 2016

Gradsource names UT College of Social Work MSSW to National Top 10

UT CSW Best Graduate School is a top online destination for prospective master's and doctoral students. They provide comprehensive academic and career information, including program overviews, school rankings and job outlooks. Their goal is to help prospective graduate students make informed decisions about their future. To do that, they offer comprehensive information on several career fields, including social work.

This year, Gradsource named the UT College of Social Work Online MSSW program eighth in the nation based upon its affordability, flexibility, program prominence, student success, and other criteria.

To be included in the rankings, all colleges had to meet the following criteria:

  1. Offer the particular graduate program online
  2. Offer academic and career counseling services
  3. Enroll both full-time and part-time graduate students
  4. Have at least 1 percent of their graduate students enrolled solely in distance education classes
  5. Have awarded at least one graduate degree in that subject between 2011 and 2014

Of the schools meeting those requirements, they were ranked for:

  1. Affordability, based on the in-state average tuition for full-time graduate students and the in-state per credit hour charge for part-time graduate students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 30%

  2. Flexibility, based on the ratio of part-time to full-time graduate students and the percentage of graduate students enrolled in any distance education courses, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 15%

  3. Program Prominence, based on how many of the master’s degrees awarded in the past three years were from this particular program, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011-14: 20%

  4. Student Success, based on the ratio of the number of students receiving master’s or doctoral degrees to the total number of graduate students enrolled over three academic years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011-14: 15%

  5. Related Degrees, based on the number of degrees the school offers that are in a similar subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 20%

Congratulations to all the faculty and staff who work to make our programs among the best in the nation. Special kudos go to Kate McClernon Chaffin, Director of the UT College of Social Work Online MSSW program.

August 12, 2016

Olympic Gold Medal Winner Tianna Bartoletta is College of Social Work Alum

Tianna Madison Bartoletta

Tianna Bartoletta, formerly Tianna Madison, still holds Tennessee's all-time best long jump mark both indoors (6.78m) and outdoors (6.89m). She won the 2005 NCAA National Championships both indoors and outdoors in the long jump. She also earned three All-America honors her freshman year.

Bartoletta was a 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the women's 4x100 meter relay. She earned gold in the long jump for Team USA at the 2015 World Championships and has now won two gold medals in the 2016 summer Olympic Games in Rio. Tianna is the long jump Olympic Champion after clearing 7.17m (23-6.25). She took the lead on her third attempt with a mark of 6.95m, but Brittney Reese and Ivana Spanovic both cleared the 7.00m mark to put pressure on Bartoletta. Bartoletta responded with a personal best jump of 7.17m to capture the gold medal. Tianna won her second gold medal in the 4X100 relay with her teammates Allyson Felix, English Gardner, and Tori Bowie who earned the second fastest time ever with 41.01s!

Tianna majored in social work while at UT, graduating in 2007. She is Founder and President of Club 360, a club for young women everywhere built around the three core principles of honor, integrity, and self- respect. Tianna saw the need for a positive role model in the lives of young women and aims to educate Club 360 members with a positive solution geared to combat the issues young women face due to unhealthy choices motivated by negative influence

Learn more about Tianna's sports history and records at:

Did you know that she is a 2 sport Olympian, serving as a "Push Athlete" for the US Bobsled team!

May 25, 2016

Best Colleges Ranks College of Social Work Online MSW Program 5th in Nation

Best Colleges Logo

The University of Tennessee College of Social Work MSW Online program was ranked 5th by the Best Colleges rankings for 2016. Dean Karen Sowers expressed her appreciation for the hard work that this ranking exhibits, saying "Congratulations to Kate Chaffin, Program Director and Sarah Keiser, Field Placement Coordinator and all who teach in and contribute to the program."

Kate Chaffin and Sarah Keiser

The methodology behind these rankings is grounded in statistical data and a few consistently applied guiding principles. The 2016 rankings reflect the most recent data compiled from IPEDS and the College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. The goal is to objectively assess relative quality based on academic outcomes, affordability, and the breadth and depth of online learning opportunities. Criteria includes measures of a school’s academic quality and affordability, as well as the depth of each college’s online offerings.

Click for more information at


April 1, 2016

Nashville MSSW Students Win Poster Competition

The presentation team from MSSW Nashville won the Policy Poster competition during NASW's Social Work Day on the HIll. The team presented on the topic "Empowered Women, Strong Families" and received a perfect score from the judges.

Our winning team are members of Sukey Steckel's policy class. Left to right in the photo are Jessica Cameron, Lindsey Herren, Madeline Beath, Jennie McSweeney, with Professor Steckel.

Poster contentThe co-sponsor of the bill (SB1677), Senator Dickerson, was present for the presentation and shared positive feedback with the team afterward.

The students expressed their appreciation to the MSSW faculty saying, "We also want to thank you for the extra hours you put into helping us with the policy project. I'm sure every program has great professors, but you are the best. We are still on fire from yesterday! It was such an honor to represent UT and to work on a project that we all really took to heart. We got to see the bill pass out of House Health yesterday afternoon, and we were able to talk with both sponsors and get their feedback on our work. Rep. Hazelwood even used our brief when she was testifying in committee!!

"We are thankful for your guidance and leadership in helping us get to yesterday. You all go above and beyond for us, and we really appreciate it!"

Karen Sowers, Dean of the college, extended her kudos, saying, "Thanks to all the faculty who worked so hard to make this happen! It is these kinds of experiences and outcomes for our students which remind us why we became educators!"

March 18, 2016

Children's Mental Health Services Research Center Changes Its Name to Center for Behavioral Health Research

The Children's Mental Health Services Research Center (CMHSRC) announced this month (March 2016) that it is changing its name to the Center for Behavioral Health Research (CBHR). CMHSRC was founded in the College of Social Work some 25 years ago by Dr. Charles Glisson. Dr. Glisson led the Center until 2014 and through that period compiled an impressive record of externally funded research and publications targeted at children's mental health services.

In recent years, the name has not been a perfect fit as research directions have changed and faculty have received grants supporting research in gerontology, on services for adults with cancer, and on teens struggling with addictions.

Dean Karen M. Sowers stated, "The College of Social Work is pleased to unveil the new name of the Center for Behavioral Health Research and we welcome the new emphasis on behavioral health that is in keeping with the work of the National Institutes of Health and Mental Health. The Center is currently conducting a search to fill a new endowed professorship within the College of Social Work who will work within the CBHR."

March 15, 2016

College of Social Work Online MSSW Rated Top Program

College Values Online says UT MSSW program is top

University of Tennessee Knoxville has been identified by College Values Online as being one of the ten best value colleges for online social work degrees in our recent ranking. The ranking considered graduation and tuition rates using data that was gathered from the NCES College Navigator Database.

University of Tennessee College of Social Work was ranked #3. In actuality, however, we are the top rated MSW degree, the number one ranked program is a BSW and the number two program is a policy degree.

The College Values editor noted that UT College of Social Work, offers three MSW tracks: advanced standing, full time, or extended, highlighting courses are both synchronous and asynchronous.

College Values Online's mission is to provide assistance in selecting the best college for each individual situation by offering rankings of schools and various degree programs, in addition to information on numerous career options from a value perspective.



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