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Mary Lehman Held: Latino Immigration Specialist, Traveler, U2 Fan, Book Lover

Held hikes at Big Bend National Park.

Held hikes at Big Bend National Park.

At UT: Assistant Professor Mary Lehman Held works on the Nashville campus of the College of Social Work. She has worked for UT since 2013. Held’s special interest areas include global health and well-being, mental health services for vulnerable populations, and immigration from Latin America. Her studies have taken her around the country: she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina and her doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.

Held said one of the many reasons she likes working in academics is the varied nature of the work. “I love engaging with our students, who teach me as much as I—hopefully—teach them,” she said. “I also enjoy being able to conduct research centered on immigration and mental health, striving to generate knowledge that is beneficial to social work practitioners and clients.”

Why she chose this field: “My initial volunteer experiences in Honduras prompted my passion for working with Latino immigrants,” she said. “Additionally, I interned at a substance abuse treatment program for individuals who were homeless my senior year in college. That experience solidified my decision to pursue a master’s degree in social work.”

Outside interests: In her free time, Held enjoys taking adventures with her husband, whether to a new city and country or on a hike in middle Tennessee. Someday soon, she hopes to travel to Peru. “I really want to see Machu Picchu,” she said, “but all the many enticing sites that are lesser known as well.”

When not traveling or exploring local trails, Held takes morning runs with her dog, usually to a local park in her Nashville neighborhood.

Favorites: Held loves music and listens to a variety of styles. “My favorite band is U2,” she said.“I love lots of music, but always seem to go back to U2.”

Held also enjoys reading, especially nonfiction or historical fiction. Books like Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, and Somaly Mam’s The Road of Lost Innocence have left a lasting impact on her. A recent favorite: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

If I didn’t do this: “I truly cannot imagine a job that would make me happier,” she said. “I knew my freshman year of college that I wanted to be in academics, so maybe I would have been an anthropology professor, as that was my interest before I discovered social work.”

Dream dinner companions: Aside from sitting down with U2’s Bono and thanking him for all he has done, Held’s dream would be to share a meal with Rosa Parks. “I would want to hear her story, know what she was feeling and thinking, and what events and people had inspired her courage on the Montgomery bus in 1955,” she said.

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