Research in the School of Social Work

The University of Memphis is the largest research university in the Mid-South, bringing leading-edge technology and practices to the region.

Faculty in the School of Social Work focus on exploring regional impacts of health and wealth disparities, developing innovative clinical interventions with individuals and families, and implementing effective community solutions to urgent social issues. The School engages knowledgeable community agencies and stakeholders, develops new partnerships, and provides unique opportunities for students to conduct research.


Current Research Highlights

Memphis Opioid Workforce Paraprofessional Expansion Program (MOW-PEP)

The opioid epidemic is impacting the nation, including Memphis, Shelby County, and the Mid-South region. In Shelby County alone, opioid related deaths have continued to climb since 2011. In 2011, there were 51 opioid related deaths and 159 in 2017 (Shelby County Health Department). In an effort to address this growing need, a workforce expansion initiative is being offered at the University of Memphis. The Memphis Opioid Workforce Paraprofessional Expansion Program (MOW-PEP) is a training program for students across diverse programs of study. Students who are enrolled in the program will complete program requirements and will earn a certificate of completion and $3,000 towards tuition and supplies. Upon enrollment, students must successfully complete two approved courses, one of which must be an approved substance abuse course. Students will also complete 30 hours of service learning at an agency or organization that works with families and individuals impacted by opioid or other substance use disorder. Students must also attend the free Opioid Summit that is held on campus each year. The goals of the MOW-PEP program are:

  • Increase the opioid use and substance use disorder paraprofessional workforce in Memphis and greater Mid-South areas.
  • Improve trainee’s understanding of evidence-supported prevention used for working with individuals and families impacted by opioid and substance use disorders.
  • Improve trainee’s understanding of evidence-supported treatments used for working with individuals and families impacted by opioid and substance use disorders.
  • Develop the skills of paraprofessionals in cultural competence for working with those impacted by opioid and substance use disorders.
  • Develop the skills of opioid use and substance use paraprofessionals for working as part of a behavioral health team to provide support and services to those impacted by opioid and substance use disorders.

If you are interested in learning more or would like to be part of the training to increase your capacity to be part of the workforce helping to meet the needs of individuals and families impacted by opioid use and other substance use disorder in the Mid-South, contact Dr. Melissa Hirschi at mhirschi@memphis.edu

Research Awards and Recognition

Engaged Scholarship- Robin Lennon-Dearing, School of Social Work
Robin Lennon Dearing     
 Robin Lennon-Dearing, PhD, MSW, is an associate professor at the University of Memphis School of Social Work where she joined as faculty in 2010.  As a community engaged scholar her research agenda seeks to address disparities in all forms social, economic, racial gender and health related -- that affect the Mid-South and the nation.  Using an anti-oppressive practice framework and an intersectional perspective Dr. Lennmon-Dearing uses research as a tool to uncover and document social inequalities, increase awareness of social injustices and oppressions, and mobilize communities to take actions to advocate for social change.
Lennon-Dearing's long-term university-community partnerships addressing social issues in the community have provided quality service-learning opportunities for hundreds of University of Memphis students.  Her projects create important opportunities for students to interact with and serve vulnerable communities while working to address social problems.  She has been a PI or co-investigator on several university and NIH-funded grants.  As the sub-award PI of CFAR/NIH research, Integrating Community Health Workers as part of the HIV Care Team, she successfully worked with multiple sites in the Memphis Transitional Grant Area to examine the impact of training community health workers as members of the HIV care team, their role on the team, and their impact on access to care, retention and viral suppression.  This includes evaluating implementation strategies that were used in providing training and ongoing mentoring to community health workers and supervisors.  Dr. Lennon-Dearing served on Shelby County's Ending the HIV Epidemic plan and her research work on enhancing the frontline HIV workforce was incorporated into the plan as were activities to educate the public and policy makers about the state's outdated HIV criminal code.  She is the co-founder of the Tennessee HIV Modernization Coalition which has the goal of updating Tennessee's HIV criminal statutes to reflect current science.  In partnership with the Williams Institite at UCLA Law he research has detailed the unequal enforcement of state-level HIV criminal laws in Tennessee revealing racial and gender disparities
She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers which recognized her with the 2020 Tennessee Chapter Social Work  Educator of the Year Award.  She is a member of the Professional Association of Social Workers in HIV & AIDS as well as the Council on Social Work Education.