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Celebrating UT’s Eighth Rhodes Scholar

Senior Grant Rigney has been named a 2019 Rhodes Scholar, making him only the eighth Volunteer in history to earn this honor. The Rhodes is one of the most prestigious awards a student can receive.

Grant joins a prestigious group of Rhodes Scholars from UT Knoxville: Bernadotte Schmitt (1905), Matthew G. Smith (1911), Arthur Preston Whitaker (1917), William E. Derryberry (1928), Nancy-Ann Min DeParle (1979), Jennifer Santoro Stanley (1995), and Lindsay Lee (2014).

A native of Normandy, Tennessee, and a graduate of Tullahoma High School, Grant is not only an exceptional student but also a person of many interests and talents. He truly epitomizes what it means to be a Volunteer

Grant is a Haslam Scholar and Neyland Scholar. He’s majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

An aspiring surgeon and public health researcher, Grant is involved in research at UT Medical Center on phase transfer catalysts as a way to measure the toxicity of imaging agents used in PET and CT scans. He’s currently writing his undergraduate thesis on disparate response patterns seen in mice receiving immunotherapy treatment for melanoma—research he did during an internship at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital this past summer. He participated in study abroad at the University of Edinburgh, where he focused on the ethics of health care resource allocation.

Grant also finds time to give back to his campus and community.

He edits Pursuit, our journal of undergraduate research, serves as president of the Student Alumni Associates, and is a member of UT’s Alumni Board of Directors. He volunteers at Inskip Elementary School and the Fifth Avenue Clinic, and he co-founded UT’s Homeless Prevention University and Community Alliance, a student organization that works to raise awareness of homelessness in Knoxville.

In addition, he is an accomplished musician who plays the fiddle and mandolin, a licensed private pilot, and a triathlete.

As a Rhodes Scholar, Grant will begin two years of all-expenses-paid studies at the University of Oxford in England next fall. He plans to pursue two master’s degrees—one in global health science and epidemiology and one in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation.

Read more about Grant.

Congratulations, Grant! We can’t wait to see what you accomplish in the future.

Students interested in applying for the Rhodes or other national awards should contact our Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. Email Andrew Seidler at or call 865-974-3518.

Four Tips for Improving Undergraduate Student Success

Here are four things academic departments can do this year to improve undergraduate student success:

  1. Invite new students to join your department’s undergraduate majors club. New students are looking for opportunities to connect academically and socially to their peers.
  2. Review course syllabi with students during the first course meeting. The concept of a course syllabus can be intimidating or foreign to first-time college students.
  3. Ensure that your lower-division courses have frequent early low-stakes assignments. This helps new students evaluate whether the study skills they relied upon in high school will suffice in college.
  4. Reach out to students who have not accessed a course’s Canvas site in the first two weeks of the term. Students who don’t access course Canvas sites in the first two weeks are substantially more likely to leave the university at the end of the semester.

Thanks to the efforts of the entire campus community, our retention rate for first-time first-year students has reached an all-time record high of 86.8 percent!

Your efforts really do make a difference.

These offices are just a few of your partners in supporting undergraduate student success:

David Manderscheid talks with two people

Moving Forward with Priorities

Whether you’re a motorist or a Provost, it’s always a good idea to take a quick look in the rearview mirror before hitting the accelerator.

This campus has seen a lot of changes in the past year, and we know there are more to come. We will soon have an interim UT System president, a new chancellor, a couple of new vice chancellors, and a couple of new college deans.

I realize that change, and especially changes in leadership, can be stressful. Coping with that stress is easier when we keep our collective eyes on road ahead.

You’ve done that. You’ve navigated the uncertainty and kept this university moving forward. That underscores what I knew coming here: This is a university where faculty and staff are invested in success.

I’ve spent much of my first three months on Rocky Top asking questions and listening.

This campus has made huge strides in many areas, including bringing in the largest freshman class in at least 30 years and bringing total enrollment to nearly 29,000. Our first-year retention rate of 87 percent and our six-year graduation rate of 72 percent are record highs. Research expenditures and fundraising are also at unprecedented highs.

We are poised to move to the next level. To help steer us, I’ve determined an initial set of priorities, which I’ve presented at several meetings and in an email. Let me share them again here:

Increase our six-year graduation rate. Despite hitting a record high, we still lag behind many of our peers. Our efforts to increase retention must stay on the front burner. Our goal is to hit an 80 percent six-year graduation rate by 2022.

Grow our research profile. We’ve had a record year in research expenditures—$204 million. To ensure continued growth in research, we must have appropriate facilities, increase our graduate student population (since graduate students are critical to our research enterprise), and be strategic in hiring faculty. Thanks in part to our growing enrollment, we are able to search for 24 additional faculty members this year, including faculty for our three cluster hire areas—all of which will enhance our research operation.

Ensure student access. The great news is that 89 percent of our in-state applicants are given a pathway to a UT education. We must continue to provide the right mix of scholarships and other financial aid to keep UT within reach of a diverse group of students.

Enhance diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion, among students, faculty, and staff, enhance the depth and breadth of all we do. The Diversity Advocates program, our Faculty Mentoring and Support initiative, and our new NSF ASCEND grant are among the efforts that will help us improve our recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty.

Increase e-learning opportunities. E-learning can help us increase access to our university, provide better education to our current students, and grow enrollment and resources. Yet there are operational issues as well as faculty concerns that must be addressed. Based on the report from an outside consulting firm and feedback at the Academic Leadership Retreat, we are looking for the best way to proceed in strategically harnessing the exciting benefits of e-learning.

Examine the budget model. I want to start a conversation about the way we fund our academic operation. Do we have the right budget model? Are we encouraging entrepreneurial thought on the part of deans and department heads? I want us to think about where we are as well as where we want to be. Since our budget is growing, this is an ideal time to explore our options.

Students at Vol to Vol session at Orientation

Keeping UT Attainable and Accessible

As we trumpet the virtues of our new class of freshmen each fall, we hear from some Tennesseans who question whether our growing academic profile has made UT unattainable for many of our state’s students.

Numbers can confuse; while we draw an increasingly accomplished group of students from across the country, UT is dedicated to serving a broad spectrum of students, especially those in Tennessee.

Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Kari Alldredge and her team are trying to drive that point home by being more careful about how we present our new freshman class.

“For some families, hearing that our incoming freshmen had an average high school GPA of 3.96 feels out of reach,” she explained. “So we are getting away externally talking about our average GPA or average ACT score.”

Looking at the “middle 50 percent” of our students, you get a truer picture: 50 percent of our incoming freshmen have ACT scores between 25 and 30, and 50 percent of them have high school GPAs between 3.62 and 4.36.

These facts also illustrate how we’re working to keep UT both accessible and attainable:

  • More than 76 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen are from Tennessee.
  • First-generation students and underrepresented students make up about one-fifth of our new freshman class.
  • This fall, we welcomed 1,333 students who have transferred to UT from two- and four-year institutions.
  • We welcomed our largest Volunteer Bridge class to date: 213 students. These students can live on the UT campus while completing their first year of studies at Pellissippi State Community College. Upon successful completion of that program, they will transfer into UT as sophomores.
  • More than one-fourth of our incoming freshmen come from families whose incomes make them eligible for Pell Grants.
  • Ninety-three percent of our entering freshmen receive financial aid and scholarships from federal, state, and private sources.
  • Eighty-nine percent of our Tennessee applicants are given a pathway to a UT education.

We also continue to look for ways to make college affordable so more students can enjoy those benefits:

  • This year, we had a 0 percent tuition increase.
  • We invested more than $60 million in scholarships for students arriving this fall.
  • Almost half of our students graduate debt free.
adult student using a laptop at home

E-Learning: What Does Our Future Look Like?

E-learning can help us increase access to our university, provide better education to our current students, and grow enrollment and resources. Yet there are operational issues as well as faculty concerns that must be addressed.

Based on the report from an outside consulting firm, Parthenon, and feedback from the Academic Leadership Retreat, we are looking for the best way to proceed in strategically harnessing the benefits of e-learning.

“There is increasing excitement around online programs and e-learning opportunities,” said Jennifer Gramling, director of online programs. “Faculty input in growing e-learning is essential as is our need to provide support, training, and professional development activities focused around best practices in online teaching, learning, and assessment.”

On our campus, online teaching and e-learning initiatives have emerged along two distinct paths: fully online distance education academic programs at the graduate and professional levels and online courses and hybrid courses at the undergraduate level.

We currently offer 14 online master’s degree programs, one post-master’s degree program, three doctoral programs, and one advanced standing bachelor’s program (RN to BSN).

“However, our recent discussions have centered around the importance of extending educational opportunities to students who wish complete bachelor’s programs and helping move the state toward its higher education goals,” Gramling said. “The most substantial growth in our online programming over the last five years has been in online undergraduate course development, with a focus on providing access and opportunity to residential, on-campus students.”

Enrollment in credit-bearing online undergraduate courses that are not part of a distance education program has been trending upward, increasing 65 percent over the last three years.

Initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Haslam College of Business, combined with increased capacity in popular online courses such as Nutrition 100 and Classics 273, have propelled this growth.

Another new program in the works: the College of Social Work will launch an online bachelor’s degree in social work in fall 2019 for transfer students who have already earned 60 credit hours. It is the first program of its kind in Tennessee and one of only a handful nationally, according to Robert Mindrup clinical assistant professor and director of the BSSW Program.

Graduate student removing spintronic material

Graduate School News: Blueprint Live, Online Fee Changes, Stipend Raise

When Dixie Thompson took over as vice provost and dean of the Graduate School in 2016, she quickly discovered a roadblock: the lack of easy access to good data to help guide those involved in recruiting and retaining graduates.

While data were available, getting it could be complicated and time consuming.

Working with the Office of Information Technology, Thompson and her team have been pulling data from a myriad of campus systems and putting it in usable form for faculty and staff.

The result is the Graduate Blueprint, a website that makes online drill-down reports about our graduate student population available for faculty and staff to use.

The dashboard provides a look at the life cycle of our graduate students: admission, enrollment, support, success, and placement.

The Admissions module provides detailed information about applicants to our graduate programs. The information allows departments to see the types of students who are applying and being admitted into their programs. This information will help them examine trends over time and evaluate the success of recruitment initiatives.

The Enrollment module provides a profile of enrolled students. Departments can use this data to examine enrollment trends and determine capacity for growth.

The Support module looks at the types of financial support provided to graduate and professional students, including stipend levels, fellowship support, tuition assistance, and student loans.

Each module includes detailed reports using SAS Visual Analytics. Because of the detailed and sensitive information accessed in the Graduate Blueprint, it is not available publicly. Faculty and staff within colleges and departments are given login access to view data related to their academic units.

Two modules will be coming in the months ahead. The Success module will provide data such as students’ time to degree and attrition rates, and the Placement module will look at where our students go after graduating.

Online Education Changes

The UT Board of Trustees in March approved a reduced out-of-state tuition structure for distance education students.

In the past, out-of-state students taking online-only programs had to pay full out-of-state tuition. This put us at a disadvantage for recruiting, because UT was more expensive than many other online programs.

This year, for graduate students, the maintenance fee and out-of-state tuition for all-online programs was reduced from $1,637 to $701, a 57 percent reduction.

We currently offer 14 master’s degree programs (not including the individual concentrations), one post-master’s degree program, three doctoral programs, and one advanced standing bachelor’s degree program (RN to BSN) online. We estimate there are between 1,100 and 1,200 students in our online graduate and professional programs, including the RN to BSN program.

Of these, approximately 11 percent are from outside the state of Tennessee. Our hope is that this new tuition model will encourage more nonresident students to enroll in online programs. We plan to continue growing enrollment in our online programs, and this tuition change is essential for meeting our goals.

Graduate Stipends

In the year ahead, an additional $1 million will be used to increase the minimum stipend levels of graduate students on assistantships. This much-needed boost will allow us to increase minimum stipends for the first time since 2002.

Details of the increases are still being worked out between the Graduate School and the individual colleges. Graduate assistants make critically important contributions to our teaching and research mission. It is imperative that we compensate them in ways that will allow us to recruit and retain exceptional graduate students.

Arches at Melrose

Faculty Mentoring Program: Three Faculty Members Share Their Experiences

After nearly 20 years in various roles in the manufacturing industry, Laura O’Shaughnessy returned this fall to UT, her alma mater, as an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Laura O’Shaughnessy

Laura O’Shaughnessy

She signed up for our Faculty Mentoring and Support program, which was created in collaboration with the Commission for Blacks, Commission for LGBT People, and Commission for Women to foster a sense of community and support for tenure-line and full-time non-tenure-track faculty, especially those from historically underrepresented groups—those who identify as people of color, women, or LGBTQ.

“As a new professor, coming from industry and new to the academic world, I hope to make connections with other professors who can guide me to best practices and act as a resource when I have a question,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It will be very helpful to hear from colleagues how to develop a course, deal with uncomfortable classroom situations, appeal to the modern student, and utilize the many technological tools we have.”

Matthew Theriot, associate provost for faculty development and strategic initiatives, oversees the Faculty Mentoring and Support program.

Faculty members of all ranks are invited to be part of the program. Participants are divided into groups so they can learn from one another’s different perspectives. The program also offers professional development seminars.

Here, three faculty members—Rachel Chen, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Business and Development; Amber Roessner, associate professor of journalism and electronic media; and Elizabeth Barker, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering—talk about their experiences in the program.

Why did you sign up?

Rachel Chen

Rachel Chen

Chen: I’ve been at UT since 2000. I enjoy networking, and I treasure friends across campus. I have been blessed by great mentors in my life and I wanted to have opportunities to give back to our UT community. I always look forward to making new connections with existing and new faculty members.

Roessner: I’ve been on the faculty since 2010 and first heard of the faculty mentoring program when I was chairing the Diversity Champions committee. I recognized it as an opportunity to both learn from and to give back to UT. In particular, I sought mentorship, insights into how I could become a leader in the academy, and a forum to promote a more inclusive campus environment.

Barker: As an alumnus, I bleed orange. I even have an orange car, and I spent my first paycheck on season football tickets. I love this place and our students. I came to UT as a lecturer three years ago and just became a tenure-line faculty member last August. My goal isn’t just to get tenure—it’s to build a career here. I want to be engaged and participate in the university community.

What were the get-togethers like?

Chen: Our six-member group, which included two full professors, three assistant professors, and one lecturer, met for lunch and dinner gatherings. We exchanged emails and we met in person.

Amber Roessner

Amber Roessner

Roessner: I balance my work with parenting a toddler, and I’ve been pleased to meet with others who have goals similar to mine over lunch to minimize time away from our after-hours commitments.

Barker: In May I attended a two-day workshop hosted by the provost’s office called Creating and Seizing Leadership Opportunities at UTK: A Workshop for Underrepresented Faculty. There, I met a leadership coach who gave the keynote address, and I hired her to work with me one-on-one for the summer.

What topics did you discuss?

Chen: Research focus, teaching tips, challenges of chasing external grants, family stories, smart investment plans, and available resources that can make us enjoy our busy lives more.

Roessner: Leadership in the academy, work–life balance, local community.

Elizabeth Barker

Elizabeth Barker

Barker: During the workshop, we heard from senior faculty and administrators who described their journeys. Each one had a different story, had taken a different path. In my one-on-one sessions over the summer, I Skyped with my leadership coach regularly and she taught me that there is no script, no mold I need to fit into in order to lead. From her, I’ve learned I can be myself—my authentic self—and an effective leader.

What did you glean from the program?

Chen: I was energized by the junior faculty members and learned from other full professors. I enjoyed listening to their stories, laughed a lot, grieved with them, and was humbled to be able to share my stories with them.

Roessner: I had the opportunity to learn a great deal about leadership in the academy and to form connections with other individuals across campus who are committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere at UT. I got tips to create a better work–life balance, and I believe that I helped more junior faculty understand the landscape of our university and East Tennessee.

Barker: I’ve realized I do have a place here in my department, my college, and my university. As one of only four female faculty—three of us junior—in a department of almost 60, I recognize that not only do I influence change, but I am a change. Through these programs I feel very supported here, and I want to contribute to creating and maintaining a culture of inclusivity for all faculty, staff, and students.

Elementary school students doing science

Teaching & Learning Innovation Looks Ahead

Our Quality Enhancement Plan, Experience Learning, is now beyond the midway point. But it has introduced a new way of teaching and learning and—after being reorganized to become part of Teaching and Learning Innovation (TLI) last year—it is well positioned to have a lasting impact long after the QEP timeline ends in spring 2020.

Teaching and Learning Innovation has released the QEP Impact Report for the 2016–17 and 2017–18 academic years.

The report includes information regarding designated experiential learning courses, faculty and staff support as it relates to the QEP, college experiential learning data, and student impact trends.

Since 2016, 46 courses have received Experience Learning designation. A full list of designated courses can be found on the Experience Learning initiative website. Applications from faculty who would like courses reviewed for designation are due October 15.

Other Teaching and Learning Innovation news:

  • Through the leadership of the Center for Student Engagement and many campus partners, UT is now offering students a co-curricular transcript, detailing their learning experiences outside the classroom.
  • The Smart Communities Initiative, which has been on hiatus to reorganize and redevelop the program to establish mutually beneficial and enduring relationships between faculty and community partners, is expected to relaunch this fall. More information will be coming soon.
  • Twenty-seven faculty members recently completed the four-week Teaching and Learning Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI), with 12 of them in the experiential learning track. For a full list of the 2018 faculty fellows and their course redesign projects, visit the Teaching and Learning Innovation website.
  • Over 100 faculty registered to participate in the Faculty Mentoring and Support program. This is triple the number who registered to participate last year. The program organizes faculty into small groups to help them make connections and build support networks across campus. Learn more about this program from some participants in this Tennessee Today story.
  • UT will host the spring workshop for the SEC Academic Leadership Development Program. The workshop is three days of training and discussion sessions and involves emerging leaders from all schools in the SEC.

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