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College of Social Work Third Annual eVOLve Conference Breaks Records for In-Person and Virtual Attendance

The third annual College of Social Work eVOLve Conference: Be the Change was a huge success breaking records for attendance both in-person and virtually.

The 2024 conference boasted over 336 in-person attendees, hailing from eight different states, and over 500 virtual participants, logging in from 17 states and Canada, thus making this conference an international event. The conference offered 13 free sessions, 16 speakers, relied on over 40 volunteers, and allowed each participant to earn up to 4.5 free CEUs.

Dr. Autumn Asher BlackDeer delivered a compelling keynote address titled Countering Coloniality and Complicity: The Movement to Decolonize Social Work. BlackDeer centers Indigenous voices throughout her research by using quantitative approaches and big data as tools for responsible storytelling. BlackDeer is a racial equity scholar with an emphasis on Indigenous tribal sovereignty and is deeply committed to furthering anti-colonial abolitionist work.

In addition to multiple breakout sessions, over 15 college community partner organizations participated in the Community Partner Mingle, allowing participants to network and learn more about the organizations’ missions and services they offer, as well as to learn of open positions within the companies.  
A pre-conference celebration was held the evening prior, which included special awards, delicious food, music, and dancing.

Three prestigious awards were given to very deserving alumni and friends:

Outstanding Alumnus Award
This award recognized two alumni whose life work reflects the college’s mission and vision.

Erica Gentry, MSSW ‘10, Franklin, TN
Advocate for the Black community, CBSW mentor, launched a private practice to address the lack of Black therapists in her area, organized the Juneteenth Festival, and advocated for the U.S. Colored Troops statue.

Lisa Higginbotham, MSSW ‘09, Norris, TN
Director of Special Projects, Knoxville
Knox County Community Action Coalition (CAC), participated in writing a $40 million federal grant to support the Transforming Western initiative, and played a key role in CAC’s work as a “People Partner.”

The Heart of Social Work Award
This award honored an individual for their dedication and contributions to the field of Social Work.

Ben Harrington
CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee for 28 years.
Mental Health advocate at the local, state, and national levels, helped create the Behavioral Health Safety Net for uninsured Tennesseans and developed Mental Health 101 and Peer Recovery Call Center at

Light the Way Award
This award went to the community agency or organization that best exemplifies the values and advances the mission of social work.

Bryant’s Bridge
Created by CSW alumnus (MSSW ‘98) and former employee Sean Bryant.
Bryant’s Bridge offers a safe space and supportive housing to youth and young adults experiencing homelessness.