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Faculty Spotlight: Joel Anderson

Who would think that a list of Twitter’s Top 20 nursing professors in 2017 would include professors with degrees other than the field of nursing? Did you know that some faculty in UT Knoxville’s College of Nursing have degrees outside of nursing? As we’ll come to find out from Joel Anderson, associate professor in the College of Nursing, it’s always wise to challenge your assumptions.

Anderson arrived to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2016, and is one of three professors within the college who does not hold a degree in nursing; instead he holds a PhD in nutrition from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, a bachelor’s of science in biology from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and a certificate in Advanced Clinical Dementia Practice from the University of Michigan.

Anderson’s research focuses on non-pharmacological interventions for symptom management and caregiver support in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care. His passion for Alzheimer’s and dementia research stems from his own personal familial experiences with the disease.

“My own great grandmother had dementia, and I quickly noticed how this one person’s disease affected the entire family,” Anderson said. “I watched my family members taking care of her, and how it affected everyone mentally and emotionally, and I wanted to explore that and help find ways of managing that. We may not have a cure for the disease yet, but we can help families better deal with the disease while we are still searching.”

Anderson is currently leading several funded studies to examine family quality of life in dementia and the issues related to caregiving, including a recently received R03 award funded by the National Institute on Aging to examine family quality of life among LGBTQ+ caregivers of people with dementia. In the College of Nursing, Anderson teaches graduate classes and mentors several doctoral students. Mentoring students during their research is one of Anderson’s greatest joys serving as a professor.

“Whenever I am working with students, I want to push them to remember not to limit themselves. Ask the hard questions and don’t make assumptions,” Anderson said. “Be particular about everything and maintain optimistic energy. And whatever they learn, I want them to pay it forward. We’re all in this together.”

Throughout his career in academia, Anderson has been actively involved in efforts related to multicultural inclusion within academic institutions. At UT Knoxville, Anderson serves as a member of the UTK Faculty Senate, including co-chairing the Faculty Senate Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Last year, he served as co-chair of the UT Knoxville’s Chancellor’s Commission for LGBT People.

“It’s very easy to be reactive and pessimistic with our current national climate but being part of the commission and faculty senate has helped me maintain optimism and remain encouraged because of the people who serve on these bodies,” Anderson said. “The commission is full of people from across campus, with our purpose of remaining united and supporting our LGBTQ+ members of the university.”

Outside of the commission, Anderson continues to push for inclusivity within the classroom, admission processes, and research.

“I think it’s vital that we as faculty keep asking ourselves the hard questions when it comes to our students. Just because something has been done one way for a certain amount of time, doesn’t mean that it’s the best or most inclusive way of doing something. So, let’s challenge that,” Anderson said. “Let’s ask ourselves, ‘Are we being holistic?’ during the admissions process. Or, during research, ‘Are we being as broad or inclusive as we can be?’ We have to be willing to ask ourselves these hard questions to keep growing.”

When it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, Anderson wants others to remain mindful of the diversity within that community.

“I think there’s this stereotypical view of those in the LGBTQ+ community that we are all young, we all live in cities, we all have the same background. But we live all over the country, including rural areas,” Anderson said. “And those in different age groups within the community may face different struggles. Again, let’s challenge the assumptions.”

For those interested in learning more about inclusivity within the college classroom and beyond, please find our list of resources.