What does it mean to be a Volunteer? Why does it matter?
For many people on and off campus, “the Volunteer spirit” is a way of talking about good-heartedness and a commitment to community service. As important as those qualities are, being a Volunteer means much more. It is a way of behaving in the world. It is a distinctive way of learning, discovering, problem-solving, mentoring, collaborating, and community-building.
This idea is the distinguishing characteristic of the University of Tennessee, and articulating it is the basis for our communications.
Our three message pillars were drafted and refined in 2020—based on audience insights and in concert with the university’s strategic visioning process.
These messages are meant as a guide for how to articulate to our audiences what it means to be a Volunteer and why that is important. They help us craft communications that deepen awareness, change perceptions, and move our audiences from feelings to action.
Pillar 1: THE VOLUNTEER SPIRIT
The courage to care
The state of Tennessee defined the Volunteer spirit. And as Tennessee’s flagship land-grant university, we’re dedicated to amplifying that spirit of selfless leadership in everyone whose lives we touch. We listen and learn from one another in an ongoing, ever-expanding conversation fueled by a wealth of perspectives. We know how much is possible when we unite our individual talents and aspirations, put compassion front and center, and step forward together as Volunteers.
Why this message matters
The Volunteer spirit goes beyond volunteering. It’s a distinctive way of behaving in the world and, most importantly, inspiring others. We need to move beyond the concept of making a difference and emphasize how the Volunteer spirit leads to experiences and outcomes that are profound and energizing, whether at the individual, community, state, or global level.
UT’s Legal Clinic is one of the oldest in the country. It serves as a model for expanding access to justice for low-income people and vulnerable populations, and it provides pro bono legal services to nonprofit organizations, small businesses, entrepreneurs, and artists—all while inspiring future attorneys to give back to their communities.
UT’s students, faculty, and staff nurture vibrant schools and neighborhoods through University-Assisted Community Schools. This renowned program, now in its second decade, brings together university and community resources at two Title I elementary schools to provide after-school tutoring, children’s activities in science, the arts, and sports, family services ranging from GED classes to interpreting and translation services, and even community gardens.
Student–athletes in UT’s VOLeaders Academy learn to use their influence as athletes and role models to serve as agents of positive change on their team, in their community, and around the world. Participants commit to academic studies in leadership and social change and two years of service and educational projects, culminating in a 10-day international service trip focused on community development and social change.
Pillar 2: THE PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE
The courage to think big
Problem-solving and discovery are different at the University of Tennessee—and so are the answers and ideas that emerge here. Volunteers value courage and collaboration equally; we are members of a community that rallies around brave ideas. We thrive on viewpoints and partnerships that stretch thinking in every direction. By pulling together and pushing one another, we open up more possibilities for bringing more good to the world.
Why this message matters
This message connects the Volunteer spirit to intellectual inquiry—the how as much as the what and why of insights and breakthroughs. The characteristics of Volunteers—an innately collaborative nature, a willingness to build community and step forward on behalf of others, an enthusiasm for new ideas—are tailor-made for an era when problems are complex and systemic, discovery is interdisciplinary, and sustainable solutions depend on bringing fresh ideas and different perspectives to the table.
UT’s decades-long partnership with nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the nation’s largest multiprogram science and energy laboratory, is at the forefront of transformative research addressing global energy and security issues. With more than 175 joint appointments at ORNL, UT’s faculty and graduate students play a critical role in the lab’s work. The recent establishment of the Oak Ridge Institute will continue to strengthen this world-class collaboration in research and education.
UT’s Disasters, Displacement, and Human Rights program addresses some of the world’s most complex challenges with holistic study, research, and applied work on contemporary issues associated with human rights and humanitarian interventions. One project, in partnership with the Forensic Anthropology Center, helped expose atrocities around the world by supporting the development of technology for detecting mass graves; another worked to assess the health and environmental impacts of the coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee.
Land-Grant Films gives UT students real-world experience in documentary production while serving nonprofit organizations in the area. What began as a service–learning project to cover Knoxville’s 2014 Medal of Honor Convention has since produced numerous films, including the Emmy-nominated Welcome Home, Brother and The Library That Dolly Built.
Pillar 3: VOLUNTEERS ALL
The courage to lead
When the entire state turns orange on game day, Tennesseans are cheering on more than the players on the field. They’re affirming all the ways we help advance prosperity and wellbeing throughout the state. It’s energizing to play a role in so many stories and communities, to be a catalyst for opportunity and optimism. We work hard every day to earn the trust this responsibility entails and to prove that lighting the way for others is a commitment that never wavers.
Why this message matters
Tennessee is Big Orange Country, and our connection to Tennesseans runs deep. But audiences also need to know that we embrace the high expectations that come with this bond, and that our dedication extends far beyond competitive athletics. And thanks to the diverse talents that converge here, UT is continually improving—as a teacher and mentor to new generations, as a valued partner and collaborator, as an essential presence in every county, and as an engine for social mobility and the public good.
As the state’s flagship public university, we want to educate as many students—as many Tennesseans—as we can. Nearly 90 percent of Tennesseans who apply to the state’s flagship university are offered a pathway to admittance. Nearly a quarter of UT students are first-generation college students, and 30 percent are eligible for federal Pell grants. About half of graduates leave UT free of student debt.
UT Extension agents help address the everyday issues Tennesseans face in each of the state’s 95 counties. Whether they’re leading a 4H group, helping make a farm more profitable, connecting a parent with childhood nutrition information, or guiding a rural community through economic development processes, our extension offices bring real-life solutions to people where they are.
The Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy is a nonpartisan center which provides policy makers, citizens, scholars, and students with the knowledge and skills to work and serve effectively within political systems. The site of frequent lectures, seminars, and forums, the center focuses its academic work on three critical areas: leadership and governance, energy and the environment, and global security.