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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 Education, Health, and Human Sciences whose teaching, research, and community service are both inspired and inspiring.

David Cihak

While in college, David Cihak worked in a total care facility for elderly people with disabilities where he helped them with daily activities—from getting up to dressing to feeding themselves.

Although meaningful, it encouraged him to take a different career path.

“They passed away, which was extremely sad when you’re eighteen,” he said. “It made me realize that maybe my focus should be working with children, adolescents, and young adults to ensure that they learn the skills they need so they can live in a far more independent manner.”

Cihak, an associate professor of special education, has dedicated his life to that mission. He is co-investigator of UT’s FUTURE Program, an initiative in its third year that aims to give students with intellectual disabilities a college experience while also teaching them how to live and work independently.

Bob Rider, dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, noted that Cihak’s involvement with the FUTURE Program is one of his most valuable contributions to the university.

“Through David’s and his colleagues’ efforts, these students are now able to attend UT and enjoy and experience what it means to be a college student,” he said. “David’s work—focusing on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism—is widely known and highly respected.”

With the aspiring special education teachers who come through his classes, Cihak shares research, recommended practices and anecdotes from his time as a classroom teacher, as well as the history of how people with disabilities have been treated. He also helps his students gain experience working with students with disabilities in area schools. His students must complete two practicums and a yearlong professional internship to gather real-world classroom experiences before graduating.

“I try to inspire them by showing the importance of being an effective teacher, building relationships, and providing opportunities for all people to live, to work, and to participate actively in an integrated society,” he said.

Sarah Hillyer

Sarah Hillyer wants students who desire to work in sports-related disciplines to know they have options beyond the corporate arena or for-profit collegiate athletics. They can use sports to bring peace around the world.

She’s demonstrating it with her life. Hillyer, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sports Studies, directs UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. The center, which opened in January 2012, is partnering with the US Department of State on an initiative to empower women and girls worldwide through sports.

The center also trains and equips students and community members to enact social change in their part of the globe.

“No matter what the discipline is, we all have something we’re really passionate about,” Hillyer said. “Most of us can identify a turning point in our life—a crossroads—where we said, ‘Am I going to choose to make the world a better place, or will I choose apathy and just make it through?’ It’s really about empowering students to create a better world for all of us if that’s what they choose to do with sports.”

The turning point for Hillyer came while she was a college basketball player. Coaches were under such intense pressure to win that student athletes sometimes felt they were nothing more than a jersey number, she said. Some coaches imposed strict weight restrictions and benched players who exceeded the weight by just a few pounds. Because of this, Hillyer developed unhealthy habits.

“Not only did I graduate with a degree in sports management, I also graduated with a severe eating disorder,” she said.

She also had lost her love for sports. While in rehabilitation for her eating disorder, she went through a period of reflection and realized that sports could be used for good or ill.

“Sport is what people choose to do with it,” she said. “I could walk away from it or do something empowering with it.”

Out of this came Sport 4 Peace, an organization Hillyer created to use athletics in a humanitarian way. It led her to China, Iran, Israel, Iraq, and ultimately UT, where she completed her doctoral studies.

The organization is the model for UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society.

Bob Rider, dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, which houses the center, said its work—guided by Hillyer—spreads the UT brand all over the world.

“Sarah brings very special talents to our college and the university, helping to lift up girls and women from developing countries and repressed societies,” he said. “She is an amazing ambassador for our university and so wonderfully represents what it means to be a true Volunteer.”


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,