Social Work Dean Karen M. Sowers to Retire

Karen M. Sowers, dean of UT’s College of Social Work, will retire from the university August 15.

Sowers has led the College of Social Work for 20 years and is currently the longest-serving dean at UT. In recognition of her leadership to the university, community, and nation, Sowers will be named dean emerita and professor emerita.

Sowers’s many accomplishments as an educator, leader, and author span more than 40 years. Her service and innovative leadership have led to numerous personal and professional accolades, including being named the 2016 George Goodman and Ruth P. Brudney Mental Health America Social Worker of the Year, an award that recognizes an individual, nationwide, who has made significant contributions to the care and treatment of people with mental illnesses.

A renowned author and scholar, Sowers was elected a Distinguished Scholar Fellow in the National Academies of Practice in 2013, and she holds the Alvin and Sally Beaman Endowed Professorship at UT. Her example of hard work and her mentoring of others have led to many being placed throughout the nation in positions as deans, directors, and chairs at universities and foundations. Sowers’s creative use of technology brought about award-winning online MSW and DSW programs that were among the first to be offered, extending the educational reach of the College of Social Work worldwide—including to service members on active duty in Afghanistan. She was also instrumental in developing a nationally renowned veterinary social work program. Under Sowers’s leadership five endowed professorships were created, enabling the college to attract top research scholars to the faculty.

Her establishment of the college’s Board of Visitors brought many business, industry and government leaders together biannually to provide support and advice for the future of the college.

Jim Henry, member of the Board of Visitors, longtime friend and colleague, former speaker of the Tennessee House, and current chief of staff to Governor Bill Haslam, said, “Dean Sowers’s leadership has moved the UT College of Social Work into the top tier of schools in the country. Both personally and professionally, I’ve enjoyed working with Karen to make the lives of Tennessee children and families better. She’s done an outstanding job.”

Sowers said she’s proud of her service to the university.

“My 20 years as dean have coincided with a period of record growth and change in the social work field,” Sowers said. “I am grateful to our faculty, staff, and students for inspiring and implementing the vision that has made our program nationally ranked and among the top 25 graduate programs in social work in public colleges and universities.”

Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor John Zomchick reiterated her contributions.

“Dean Karen Sowers has provided outstanding leadership for two decades,” said Zomchick. “Her dedication to students, her scholarship, and her record of service to national and local organizations have brought national attention to the University of Tennessee and the College of Social Work.”

Sowers is a dedicated Vol fan. Her devotion led to her selection as the honorary Vol Football coach for last season’s victory over the University of Florida.

“Twenty years ago I became dean at the University of Tennessee and we won the national football championship. I will always be a Tennessee Vol,” she said.