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Rana Abudayyeh: Native of Jordan, Architect, Mom, Mr. Rogers fan

Rana Abudayyeh with her son, Jasper, in New Mexico.

Rana Abudayyeh with her son, Jasper, in New Mexico.

At UT: Rana Abudayyeh is an adjunct assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Design. She came to UT in August 2015 after teaching at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning from 2004 to 2012. Previously, she worked at Antoine Predock Architect on numerous design competitions and large-scale federal, public, and private projects, including the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

One of Abudayyeh’s favorite projects at UT involved her fourth-year interior design studio last spring. Her students’ project was to design a research center for the visually impaired. “At first my students were hesitant, as designs are usually created to be a visual experience,” she said. “It challenged the students to think beyond ocular stimuli and gauge a holistic sensory experience that meets the users’ specific needs.”

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Benjamin Barton: Community Volunteer, Harry Potter Fan, Amateur Chef

Barton marches with College of Law students during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.

Barton marches with College of Law students during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.

At UT: Benjamin Barton, the Helen and Charles Lockett Distinguished Professor of Law, has been at UT since 2001. Barton is also a research fellow in the Center for the Study of Social Justice. He was the director of clinical programs from 2007 to 2011, during which he oversaw the college’s clinical and externship programs. Barton also accompanies his students in doing volunteer legal work. “Every other week when school is in session, a group of students and myself go to Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries and help with legal problems,” he said. “It’s great practice for them as they get to interview folks and deal with a scale of problems, from small to large.”

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Lora Beebe: Psychiatric Nursing Specialist, Thrill Seeker, Bookworm, Grandma

Beebe enjoying her last zip line adventure.


At UT:
At UT since 2005, Lora Beebe is a professor in the College of Nursing. Her research and expertise focus on psychiatric nursing. In 2006 she became the coordinator for the psychiatric mental health graduate concentration and is the advisor for all students in the psychiatric nursing program. “I never imagined I would become a professor, but I’ve grown to love it,” she said. She currently leads, as a part of a multidisciplinary faculty team, the Recovery-Based Interprofessional Distance Education (RIDE) program.

Why she chose this field: “When I was choosing my career, women still had basically two choices—teacher or nurse,” Beebe said. “I chose nursing because I knew I wanted to help people. I began my career by volunteering at a hospital as a candy striper.”

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J. Patrick Biddix: Father, 90s Hip-Hop Guru, and Board Game Player

A family selfie. Biddix with his wife, Erika, and their children: Jackson, 8, Clare, 7, and Benjamin, 4.

A family selfie. Biddix with his wife, Erika, and their children: Jackson, 8, Clare, 7, and Benjamin, 4.


At UT:
At UT since 2011, J. Patrick Biddix is an associate professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. His areas of expertise include college student involvement outcomes, technology in higher education, and research design. He is an appointed member of UT’s Institutional Review Board and works with the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences tenure and promotion committee. In 2015, he was a Fulbright Scholar in Montreal.

Why he chose this field: After Biddix graduated from UT in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in classical civilization, he worked as a fraternity consultant for Beta Theta Pi, helping to establish or reintroduce fraternities to campuses across the Southeast. This allowed him to make connections at the University of Mississippi, where he earned a master’s degree in higher education. He then went on to earn his doctorate from the University of Missouri in St. Louis before returning to teach at his alma mater.

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Jamie Coble: Nuclear Safety Expert, Outdoor Enthusiast, Vegan

Coble rides a dinosaur last year at Discover the Dinosaurs at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Coble rides a dinosaur last year at Discover the Dinosaurs at the Knoxville Convention Center.

At UT: An assistant professor of nuclear engineering, Jamie Coble came to UT as a faculty member in 2013 after working at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Coble has earned several honors and serves on prestigious organizations such as the American Nuclear Society for her work helping to improve the safety, reliability, and performance of nuclear reactors. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate from UT where she was in the Chancellor’s Honors Program. She was also valedictorian of Science Hill High School in her native Johnson City, Tennessee.

Why she chose this field: Some families have a business that goes back generations.  For Coble, power is the family business. Her dad worked for TVA helping produce hydroelectricity, giving her early exposure to the power industry.

“I grew up in a TVA family, and several of my friends’ parents worked in peripheral industries,” said Coble. “While nuclear energy and hydroelectric power are obviously different, they share a lot of the same challenges.”

Making nuclear energy more economically competitive while meeting the stricter safety standards is among the industry’s biggest challenges. Her expertise allows her to work on both issues.

“By improving operations and maintenance of facilities we can reduce costs while still meeting regulations,” she said.

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Lauren Cunningham: Accounting Expert, Ireland Lover, Curler, Mom-To-Be

Cunningham with a lamb in Ireland.

Cunningham with a lamb in Ireland.

At UT: Lauren Cunningham came to UT in 2014. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Accounting and Information Management and the director of research of the C. Warren Neel Corporate Governance Center. Cunningham teaches auditing to both undergraduates and graduate students and serves as a research advisor to doctoral students working on their summer papers or dissertations. She is also the audit curriculum coordinator, which involves aligning the curriculum among undergraduate and graduate programs and gathering feedback from various perspectives.

Why she chose this field: “I actually started out as an architecture major,” she said. “I did well in classes but I didn’t love it, so I took a career aptitude test and scored 98 percent in accounting.” This prompted her to take an introductory accounting course with Penny Clayton, from whom she learned to love accounting.

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Dallas Donohoe: Molecular Nutrition Expert, Family Man, Table Tennis Champ

The Donohoe family visits Pigeon Forge.

The Donohoe family visits Pigeon Forge.

At UT: At UT since July 2013, Dallas Donohoe is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition. His expertise is in cellular molecular nutrition. He funds his research on dietary fiber’s impact on colon cancer through extensive grant writing. “Grant writing can be depressing,” he said. “But it is necessary to make an impact on people’s lives.”

Donohoe loves juggling research and teaching. “I love to take a break from the research and positively impact students’ lives in any way I can. It is incredible to be able to impact people’s lives indirectly through research and students’ lives directly.”

Why he chose this field: While completing his postdoctoral research at the University of North Carolina, Donohoe began focusing on dietary fiber and how it may prevent colon cancer. “Although we believe eating healthy foods results in good health, we do not know exactly why a balanced diet improves health,” he said. “If we can figure that out, it will be invaluable.”

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Rachel Fleming-May: Library Lover, Batgirl Fan, Traveler

Rachel Fleming-May in her office.

Rachel Fleming-May in her office.

At UT: An associate professor in the School of Information Sciences, Rachel Fleming-May has been at UT since 2009. Before that, she was an instructor in the School of Library and Information Studies and reference librarian at the University of Alabama—where she earned her doctorate—and worked as reference librarian in Philadelphia. “I study and teach about how the academic library fits into the larger institution of the college or university, how librarians function in the library and in the whole university, and how the profession is changing.”

Special interest: The intersection of creative writing and information science—the way print and online short stories and poetry might be indexed and the way authors do research before writing. “I would like my next big project to be a study of how poets and fiction writers conduct research for their creative works.”

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Shandra Forrest-Bank: Social Advocate, Fitness Enthusiast, Artist

Forrest-Bank hikes in Colorado.

Forrest-Bank hikes in Colorado.

At UT: An assistant professor in the College of Social Work, Shandra Forrest Bank has been at UT since 2012. Her research interests include the transition to adulthood, risk and resilience, positive youth development, prevention of behavioral health problems, and racial microaggression.

Why social work? She grew up in Bethesda, Maryland. “As a high school student, some friends and I started a club to bring food to the homeless. Through that I developed relationships with these people and heard their stories. I quickly became very aware of how lucky I was that all of my needs were met,” she said. “If I’d been born in a different scenario, my story and trajectory would have been very different.”

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Rosalind Hackett: World Traveler, Gardener, Mystery Lover, Mermaid Collector

Rosalind Hackett with Olel Emmy Wokorach, founder of the Gulu Peace Garden Project, in Gulu, northern Uganda. Hackett said she dreams of bringing Wokorach to UT to study public horticulture and then help him create a botanical garden in this war-affected region of Uganda.

Rosalind Hackett with Olel Emmy Wokorach, founder of the Gulu Peace Garden Project, in Gulu, northern Uganda. Hackett said she dreams of bringing Wokorach to UT to study public horticulture and then help him create a botanical garden in this war-affected region of Uganda.

At UT: At UT since 1986, Rosalind Hackett is head of the Department of Religious Studies, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Her areas of expertise include the religions and art of Africa. She co-founded the Gulu Study and Service Abroad Program and directed it for several years. In 2014 to 15, she was a visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School. She is especially proud of having served for a decade as president of the International Association for the History of Religions. She is currently vice president of UNESCO’s Humanities Council and program chair of the African Consortium on Law and Religion Studies, which allows her to travel all around Africa.

Why she chose this field: Born and raised in England, Hackett was planning to study French in college—until she took a noncredit course on world religions. “Even though the teacher was boring, I was hooked,” she said. “My life didn’t go according to plan—and am I grateful for that. Religion is the most fascinating topic in the world.”

Hackett first traveled to Africa as a graduate student. She later taught in Nigeria for eight years. “The moment I set foot in Africa, it suited me perfectly,” she said. “It is a feast for the eyes and ears. There’s vibrant religious diversity there.”

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Deborah Harrell: Investment Expert, Recreational Biker, Animal Lover

Deborah Harrell works with a student.

Deborah Harrell works with a student.

At UT: At UT since 1990, Deborah Harrell is an associate professor in the Department of Finance and the Haslam College of Business Investments Professor. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate students. She is also the faculty advisor for the Haslam College of Business’s two student-managed real-money investment funds, the Haslam and LaPorte Torch Funds. For many years, she taught in the Haslam College of Business’s executive graduate program in Taiwan.

Why she chose this field: Teaching always appeared to be in the cards for Harrell. “Since I was seven or eight years old, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always wanted to be a teacher.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida, Harrell worked in the corporate world for about a decade before returning to school to pursue her doctorate at the University of Florida.

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Jon Hathaway: Love of nature unites work, free time

Jon Hathaway and his wife, Amy, hold their children, Quinn (left) and Rhys (right).

Jon Hathaway and his wife, Amy, hold their children, Quinn (left) and Rhys (right).

At UT: Having joined UT in 2013, Hathaway has become a sought-after expert on uban water sustainability. He is an expert on storm runoff and the impact it has on cities and on public health, as well as “green infrastructure,” which is the concept of using natural means to control storm water. He earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering before obtaining both his master’s degree and doctorate in biological and agricultural engineering, all at North Carolina State University.

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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.”

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Rob Heller: Photographer, Musician, Ampersand Lover

Rob Heller

Rob Heller with some of his current and former students working the sidelines at a UT football game: from left, current student Hayley Pennesi, who works for UT Athletics; former student Ruth Claire Dudley, who was also working for UT Athletics at the time; Heller; and former student Wade Rackley, who is now the head athletic photographer at Auburn University.

At UT: A professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, Rob Heller has been at UT since 1986. Before that, he taught photography and graphics at the University of Miami and worked at two colleges in New York. He was photo manager for the Ocoee Kayak and Canoe Olympic venue at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Interest in Holocaust survivors: Heller was raised on Long Island, New York, by second-generation Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. Although there’s no family connection to the Holocaust, that horrific time in history has prompted key projects in his career.

His interest began in the early 1980s when he was standing in line for a play in Miami, a city that was home to many Holocaust survivors. He noticed the man in front of him had a concentration camp tattoo on his forearm. “I’d never seen that before,” he said.

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Karen Jones: Food Scientist, Avid Volunteer, Cancer Survivor

Jones holding her granddaughter.

Jones holding her granddaughter.

At UT: At UT since 2012, Karen Jones is a lecturer in the Department of Food Science. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food science and technology from UT in 1984 and 1986, respectively. After graduation, she devoted her time to raising her family. After more than 25 years as a devoted mother, she decided to return to work. “This job just sort of fell into my lap, but I’m very thankful for it,” she said. She is an academic advisor to more than 50 students and serves as faculty advisor for the Food Science College Bowl. She also serves on the CASNR Scholarship Committee. “I read a lot of scholarship applications,” she said.

Why she chose this field: Jones began her undergraduate career at UT Chattanooga as a pre-pharmacy major. She knew she wanted to do something in the sciences but wasn’t sure what. She found her niche when reading an article about the Institute of Food Technologists, the professional organization for food scientists. “Food science intrigued me,” she said. “Food is something everyone can relate to.” She transferred to UT her junior year to study food science.

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Dean Kopsell: Veggie Researcher, Softball Coach, Twin

Dave Kopsell (left) and Dean Kopsell (right) attend an American Society of Horticultural Sciences meeting.

Dave Kopsell (left) and Dean Kopsell (right) attend an American Society of Horticultural Sciences meeting.

At UT: Dean Kopsell, a professor of plant sciences, has been at UT since 2004. He leads a research program that emphasizes cultural, environmental, and genetic influences on the phytonutritional value of vegetable crops. He also teaches an introductory horticulture class. He enjoys mentoring top students through the research process. “The students get help in the lab and get to have a great hands-on research experience,” he said. His favorite crops are members of the Brassicas—kale, broccoli, and mustard. They are relatively easy to grow and pack the most nutritional values of all the vegetables, he said. His current research is focusing on the application of LEDs for lighting in crop production. “Results thus far show increases in phytonutrients using red and blue LED lights, as compared to white light. It is cutting-edge and exciting research,” he said.

Kopsell is the research division vice president for the American Society of Horticultural Science. He has received several awards from the UT Institute of Agriculture including the 2013 J. E. Moss Achievement Award for Research and the 2009 T. J. Whatley Distinguished Young Scientist Award.

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Regina Mays: Library Lover, Voracious Reader, Cat Owner

Regina MaysAt UT: Regina Mays is UT’s first assessment librarian, a position that was created in 2011. She first came to UT’s Center for Information and Communication Studies in 2009 as program manager for the study Lib-Value: Value, Outcomes, and Return on Investment of Academic Libraries, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Mays has worked with Life of the Mind, UT’s first-year common reading program, and serves on the UT Libraries’ Diversity Committee.

Working with students: “As an assessment librarian, my interaction with students usually involves interviewing or surveying them,” she said. “But this is my favorite part of my job because it has helped me become a better listener, and I have learned to appreciate every person’s perspective.”

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Joe Miles: Social Justice Advocate, Pez Dispenser Collector, Chicago Pizza Lover

Joe MilesAt UT: Miles is a counseling psychologist and associate professor of psychology who has been at UT since 2010. His research focuses on multicultural education, social justice, and issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. He is passionate about helping students be competent as researchers who work with people across different groups and ethnicities. As such, he creates intergroup dialogues in his classes and through practicums to provide students the opportunity to practice and improve those skills. This teaches them how to advocate for others and help bring about systemic change in organizations.

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Laura Odom: Nurse Practitioner, App Developer, Soccer Coach

Odom and hiking in the mountains with her children, Emily, 7, and Andrew, 5.

Odom and hiking in the mountains with her children, Emily, 7, and Andrew, 5.

At UT: At UT since 2014, Laura Odom is a clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing and came to UT after working for more than a decade as a family nurse practitioner. She teaches clinical pathophysiology and several classes focusing on family care. Last year, Odom won the Chancellor’s Award for Community Service for her volunteer work with a mobile clinic. “It’s so rewarding to help treat underserved patients in our area,” she said.

Why she chose this field: “I’ve always known I wanted to pursue a doctorate, and along the way, I learned that I loved teaching.” She explained teaching and practicing are very complementary. “As a nurse practitioner, you do a lot of patient education and teaching students keeps you up to date on the latest patient care.”

Although Odom loves to learn and care for patients, the most rewarding part of her position is seeing students learn so quickly. “They enter a class not knowing how to take blood pressure and leave feeling confident about giving a patient a full physical,” she said. “It’s incredible.”

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Ed Ramsay: Zoo Vet, Farmer, Spanish Learner

Ramsay at work, with a client.

At UT: Ed Ramsay, who has worked at UT for 25 years, is a professor of zoological medicine in UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine. When he’s on clinic duty, Ramsay works in the UT veterinary clinic, “sticking needles in things and taking X-rays.” When off clinic duty, he conducts research, works on curriculum issues, and continues to check in with his two primary clients: Zoo Knoxville and Tiger Haven, a big cat sanctuary in Kingston, Tennessee.

Every work day is different for Ramsay, but one constant is his role in overseeing students, interns, and residents, whether in the clinic or in the classroom. Some of his favorite UT memories have been working with his residents, many of whom have gone on to work in prestigious zoological medicine programs across the country.

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