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Through teaching, research, and service, our faculty are making an impact on student lives, on our community, and on the world. Here’s a look at two College of Social Work faculty members, one trying to improve mental health services for diverse populations and one breaking new ground in veterinary social work.

Sungkyu Lee

Sungkyu Lee, middle, poses with four social work students who won the 2012 EUReCA competition, a UT undergraduate research and creative achievement exhibition.
Sungkyu Lee, middle, poses with four social work students who won the 2012 EUReCA competition, a UT undergraduate research and creative achievement exhibition.

As a psychiatric social worker in Los Angeles, Sungkyu Lee served Asian immigrants with mental illnesses. He was often frustrated because they were not receiving adequate and appropriate services.

A desire to help them access better quality services influenced Lee’s areas of research, which include ethnic and racial disparities in mental health and health service use.

That desire has also had an impact on what teaches his students.

“I stress the importance of understanding an individual in a cultural context,” said Lee, now an assistant professor in the College of Social Work. “Diversity issues don’t just mean understanding language barriers but also the many cultural perspectives.”

He encourages his students to expand their worldview by “exposing themselves to a variety of experiences as much as they can.”

That bit of advice is one Lee takes himself. The South Korean native volunteers in a variety of social work arenas, including leading a monthly group meeting for cancer survivors in Atlanta.

“I just love social work because it continuously helps me understand myself better, and I believe I am doing something important that makes a difference,” he said.

Lee, who completed his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, said he moved into academia because he wanted to help social workers bridge the gap between theory and practice.

He noted that he’s been fortunate to have several great mentors who have made an impact on his life.

“I would like to transfer what I have received from them to my students, the next generation,” he said. “I would like to be a great mentor who inspires students to make a difference.”

Karen Sowers, dean of the college, called Lee “an outstanding scholar.”

“Students praise Dr. Lee as an excellent teacher, going above and beyond in supporting student learning,” she said. “Students and colleagues in the college appreciate Dr. Lee’s overall excellence in teaching, research, and service.”

Elizabeth Strand

Elizabeth Strand, right, counsels a client whose dog is receiving intensive care.
Elizabeth Strand, right, counsels a client whose dog is receiving intensive care.

Elizabeth Strand began researching the link between human and animal violence in 2002 while working on a doctorate at UT, thanks to the influence of her mentors who also were interested in the same topic.

As she read through the literature, she recognized that social work addressed just about every field except veterinary medicine. As a result, she created UT’s Veterinary Social Work initiative, now regarded as one of the leading programs of its type in the country.

Strand’s mentors inspired her to think big, and she’s trying to have the same impact on her students.

“The first question I always ask a student is ‘Tell me what your dream is,'” said Strand, now a clinical associate professor and director of Veterinary Social Work Services. “What I do is give credence to what their dreams are. I give them the knowledge and tools to make their dream come true.”

Strand, who has a joint appointment in the College of Social Work and College of Veterinary Medicine, researches human-animal relationships within the family system, and human stress in veterinary and other animal-related environments.

“I love bringing the two professions together,” said Strand, a Knoxville native. “I love the new creative ideas that come from that. I love healing people through the power of animals. I love working with veterinarians who are just fabulous human beings.”

Sowers said Strand “epitomizes the best of interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork.”

“Held in high regard by students and faculty in the Colleges of Social Work and Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Strand has forged a new field of interdisciplinary work which has become a national model,” she said.

Veterinary Social Work currently offers a certificate program and a post-master’s certificate program to students who have graduated and are already working in the field. It’s also open to licensed veterinary technicians and veterinarians who have a bachelor’s degree in social work.

Strand already is hearing from former students whose training in veterinary social work is having an impact on their communities. One in Nashville plans to incorporate dogs in the juvenile justice system to help children who are going through stress. Another is using animals in private psychotherapy practice. Yet another is now executive director of an animal-assisted therapy program for people with serious and persistent mental illnesses.

“I would like UT to be known for producing social workers that can be useful to vets in all scopes of veterinary practice,” she said. “I also hope UT will be the go-to place to find veterinary social workers for helping in the human side of things in veterinary medicine.”


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,