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Mary Beth Robinson
Mary Beth Robinson (in blue) with students, from left, Teal Nabors, Michelle Hawfield, and Lindsay Payne.

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 Architecture and Design whose teaching, research, and community service are both inspired and inspiring.

Thomas K. Davis

As an undergraduate student at Cornell University, Thomas K. Davis studied under architecture professors who infused their teaching with such enthusiasm that it birthed in him the desire to do the same.

“I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher,” he said. “I have taught for fifty-six semesters, and I want to give my students that same passion. The more I work with students, there’s so much more I realize I want to learn.”

Davis, who came to UT in 1994, is an associate professor of architecture. His primary interest is urban and architectural design. He teaches a seminar on issues in urban design; a course on architecture, the city and film; and an urban design studio course.

For three years, he served as director of the Nashville Civic Design Center—a nonprofit organization that addresses the city’s urban design challenges—and is on its board of directors. UT students use the center as a satellite learning space and studio. He also established a summer learning program for students in Tennessee’s capital city.

Davis recently received national recognition for his community outreach program with students, Collaborations in Transit-Oriented Development, which aims to produce a walkable, pedestrian-friendly Nashville.

“Our teaching and applied research are having a direct and lasting impact on the people and places, culture and community, environmental health, and economic vitality in the state of Tennessee and beyond, and professor Davis’s longtime work as a leader of urban design in Nashville epitomizes this,” said Scott Poole, dean of the College of Architecture and Design.

Davis noted that as he works with students, he often encourages them to use their eye and hand to draw—instead of immediately going to the computer—as they attempt to solve architectural problems because it enhances their conceptual thinking.

“I hope they develop a life-long interest and ability to keep on learning,” Davis said. “I want them to have learned to see architecture not just as good-looking objects, but as well-designed spaces and places that people occupy.”

Mary Beth Robinson

Mary Beth Robinson (in blue) with students, from left, Teal Nabors, Michelle Hawfield, and Lindsay Payne.

For interior design students, attending one of Mary Beth Robinson’s classes often results in self discovery.

Robinson, an associate professor of interior design, invites students to explore how they relate to the environment through their own history—important life moments, where they came from, and what sensory influences shaped them.

“It’s important for students to understand what their own motivations are,” she said. “They’re designing and sometimes they’re not quite sure where it’s coming from. Once they pinpoint it, it really frees them up to move on, or inspires them as they design for themselves or for others.”

Robinson has taught interior design at UT for ten years. Prior to that, she was a design practitioner.

“Working with young people in the office really led me to knowing that eventually I would want to go into teaching and share not just the practice aspect, but also learning about design,” she said. “Seeing students discover their passion and what they want to do in life and connecting them to that is something that has always inspired me to teach.”

For many years, she coordinated the Interior Design Program’s summer internship course. She will soon transition into a part-time teaching role as a professor, which will allow her to pursue other ventures while staying connected to the university.

David Matthews, associate dean of the College of Architecture and Design and chair of the Interior Design Program, said Robinson’s love for both the profession and the art of teaching “is evidenced in the high caliber of students who leave our program and enter into varying and robust careers.

“She has modeled the integration of research and design in her teaching by providing opportunities for student to use emerging knowledge as they design interior environments,” he said.

Robinson has an interest in helping students understand how interior space can contribute to wellness and human behavior. She takes her students on field trips to museums and studios in various cities so they can see the practical application of design in action.

“Whether it’s your personal space or a retail environment, it’s how to manipulate all elements of design—lighting, positioning of partitions, color, the furnishings, every aspect—and then understanding the human behavior piece of it and how space can be transformed to benefit how people use that space,” she said.

C O N T A C T :

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,