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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee College of Social Work will see its first distance education master’s degree students graduate this week.

Students began the program during summer 2008.

“Our first group of graduates are truly amazing students,” said Kate McClernon-Chaffin, College of Social Work distance education coordinator. “They are incredibly gifted and have thrived in the distance ed program. They have been well received in the community through our field practicums, and I believe they are ready to practice in their communities.”

The distance version of the Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) program is identical to its on-campus counterpart, requiring 36 hours for a graduate degree for advanced standing student in social work, but has the added flexibility of learning from the student’s remote location.

The college offers the MSSW program through distance education for students who live outside a 25-mile radius of the Knoxville or Nashville campuses. Classes are taught by a variety of online technologies and some face-to-face Saturday meetings held at a central location.

The first class graduates at 2 p.m. CT Sunday, May 16 in the War Memorial Building on the Nashville campus, 600 Seventh Ave.

Beth Simpson-Cullor is one of 13 students graduating this month and received the Chancellor’s Award for Professional Promise prior to graduation.

“For many social workers in the Tennessee area, it would be practically impossible for them to meet their goal of earning their MSSW without the distance education program because of time constraints,” Simpson-Cullor said. “The social work program is essentially the foundation necessary for me, and other practitioners, to build a better community, a better country and a better world. The implications of a small little distance education program can be far-reaching, and that is so inspiring and empowering!”

Joan Benefield, another graduate, was able to work as a case manager at the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, serving Hamilton, Bradley, Meigs, Polk and McMinn counties while completing her degree, because of the flexibility of the MSSW program.

“An example of how the distance program complemented my work is that I could apply knowledge and skills learned to casework concerning the disabilities of some of my clients,” Benefield said.

Joining Simpson-Cullor and Benefield will be Amber Lawson, who has accepted the position of program coordinator for the Cleveland, Tenn., Regional Intervention Program. She plans to conduct additional outpatient therapy at Hiwassee Mental Health Center, where she completed her graduate internship.

“I don’t feel that I missed out on anything by not being in a traditional classroom,” Lawson said. “I was able to attend classes from home without having to drive hours to a campus and, for the most part, having a flexible schedule that I could work around my other obligations.”

The program accepts new students each summer, with completion occurring within a one- or two-year track. Applications for admission are now being accepted for summer 2010. Contact Kate McClernon-Chaffin,, or (615) 256-1885, for more information.

For more 2010 UT Commencement stories, see

C O N T A C T :

Caroline Bowers, assistant director, UT Distance Education, (, 865-974-5134)

Kate McClernon-Chaffin, distance education coordinator, UT College of Social Work, ( or 615-256-1885)

Kristi Hintz, UT media relations, (, 865-974-3993)