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Big Orange. Big Ideas. They’re fueling the University of Tennessee on its journey to become a Top 25 public research university. Here are two faculty members who are bringing big ideas to life in the classroom, through their research and through community service.

Cindy L. Davis

Cindy L. DavisCindy L. Davis traveled and lived overseas for ten years before she came to UT in 2001. Her experiences in other countries—from giving birth to seeing how easy it was to receive health care while sick—have influenced her work.

Davis is an associate professor at the College of Social Work’s Nashville campus and primarily studies health disparities among underserved populations and interventions that might help. She also examines services provided to cancer survivors and their families.

“Social work is about helping people that are not empowered,” she said. “It’s not always about changing the person. It’s also about looking at the environment and the policies that impact people’s lives.”

The Estill Springs, Tennessee, native teaches graduate-level research classes and electives on health and hospital social work. Many of the courses are done online or via distance education. She is developing an elective for next year on international social work.

Davis has done research projects on HIV/AIDS, premenstrual syndrome, eating disorders, and other health-related issues.

“Cindy wants her students to have a large world view—just as she does,” said Karen Sowers, dean of the College of Social Work. “She’s taken social work students to South Africa to study and explore.”

Davis said she’s proud of UT for promoting study abroad and encouraging students to get international experience while they’re in school.

“UT has come up with the opportunities,” she said. “People need to go, see, and do.”

Davis’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from UT. After completing her doctorate in social welfare from the University of California, Los Angeles, she spent two years backpacking across Southeast Asia and Africa. She completed a two-year, post-doctoral fellowship in clinical psychology at the Chinese University in Hong Kong.

Following the fellowship, Davis worked for a year as a behavioral scientist at the National Breast Cancer Center in Sydney, Australia, focusing on oncology research. She then began her academic career as a lecturer and assistant professor in social work at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

When not working, Davis and her husband, who is from England, travel extensively with their 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. She said they want to show their children that “there’s a different world out there.”

This summer, she will take them along to Borneo in Southeast Asia where she will conduct cancer research and study health and equality issues. The trip is courtesy of her Fulbright senior specialist position.

Terri Combs-Orme

Terri Combs-OormeTerri Combs-Orme loves to challenge her students.

“I teach to the top of the class and I dare everybody to keep up,” the social work professor said. “If you don’t sweat a little bit in my class, you’re wasting your time.”

Most of her students meet the challenge and do better than they expected.

Combs-Orme finds that she’s constantly learning from them, too.

“I’d like the students to know how much I appreciate them,” she said. “They’ve dragged me into the new millennium.”

Combs-Orme has been teaching and learning at UT for almost twenty years. She was recruited from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore as part of the UT College of Social Work’s grant to create a Children’s Mental Health Services Center.

She came to Knoxville with her husband, John Orme, who teaches statistics and research design in the College of Social Work. The couple has published two books together.

“Terry’s prowess as a neuroscience researcher and teacher was recognized when she was recently awarded the inaugural Endowed Professorship from the Memphis-based Urban Child Institute,” Sowers said. “One of her goals is that social workers in the state will one day know more about the brain development of infants and toddlers and how they can use this knowledge to improve children’s lives.”

Combs-Orme is developing a brain-awareness curriculum to be used in training bachelor’s- and master’s-level social work students in Tennessee, as well as for continuing education of Tennessee’s social workers in the state who work closely with disadvantaged children and families.

A Texas native, Combs-Orme said the backing of university officials has been instrumental in her career.

“Every time I wanted to move in a different direction or learn new things, the dean and the university were there to support me,” she said.

Combs-Orme has an adult son who lives in Montreal and an 11-year-old yellow Labrador. In her spare time, she enjoys walking for exercise, reading, and playing the piano.

The quest for knowledge will be a life-long venture, Combs-Orme said.

“For the rest of my career, I can take risks,” she said.

As for retirement, Combs-Orme said: “Why? I’m having too much fun.”

C O N T A C T :

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lola.alapo@tennessee.edu)