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Innovative teaching. Encouraging demeanor. A passion for the subject. Contagious enthusiasm. All of these traits help inspire students to great ideas. Here are two faculty members from the College of Social Work whose teaching, research and community service are both inspired and inspiring.

Matthew Theriot

Matthew Theriot, associate professor in the College of Social Work, teaches a variety of courses, from undergraduate social work classes to honors seminars about gender roles on TV to freshman seminars about maniacs and psycho killers.

But no matter what the subject, a constant theme runs through every class he teaches: he wants his students to love learning.

“I want students to be excited about learning and to see the value in new knowledge. I get to teach different topics that are personally and professionally important to me, and I strive to share my excitement for these topics with my students,” Theriot said.

Theriot’s passion for helping youth inspires his students—and his colleagues.

“His scholarship in the area of juvenile violence and delinquency is critically important in today’s world. His commitment to young people in school settings and in the university setting is an inspiration to those of us who believe that the youths of today are the promise of tomorrow,” said Karen Sowers, dean of the College of Social Work.

Theriot said he is always looking for ways to improve.

“When a class goes well and students are engaged and energetic and excited about learning, I get a good feeling that lasts all day, but when a class doesn’t go as well as planned, I immediately start working on how to make it better for the next time. That constant drive to be a better teacher motivates and inspires me,” he said.

Theriot leads his classes by example, taking a great interest in learning about the people he encounters at UT.

“Meeting professors, staff, and students from across the university and learning about what they do and hearing what they care about are amazing privileges. The diverse mix of people, ideas, and interests on this campus is inspirational,” he said.

Theriot has taught at UT since 2003.

John Wodarski

From his research on HIV/AIDS prevention with Caribbean youth to his research on health information technology in rural East Tennessee, John Wodarski works to solve societal problems.

A professor in the College of Social Work, his research focuses largely on the wellbeing of children and adolescents, especially those at risk for HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.

“Wodarski’s research has significantly influenced practice with HIV and substance abusing populations. Concentrating on interventions that are effective and translate well into real-world settings, his extensive research findings have improved the lives of many of our most vulnerable citizens,” Sowers said.

Wodarski’s research goes hand-in-hand with his position as senior research scientist at UT’s Children’s Mental Health Service Research Center. The center improves the lives of at-risk youth and their families by researching the health and social service systems that care for them. It is a national leader in research on organizations that provide mental health and child welfare services to youth and families.

But Wodarski does not leave his research at the center. He brings it to his classes where students share his vision of a better tomorrow.

“I want quality research to enhance student learning and inspire them to work on projects related to solving societal problems,” Wodarski said.

John Wodarski holds a doctorate in social work from Washington University in St. Louis and has been at UT since May 2000.

C O N T A C T :

Christine Copelan (865-974-2225,

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,