Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

It Takes a Volunteer: 2023-2025 Cluster Hiring Initiative

Cluster Hiring Projects Selected

We are excited to share the projects that will be funded through the It Takes a Volunteer: 2023-25 Cluster Hiring Initiative, a $50 million total investment over five years to recruit faculty into interdisciplinary clusters to address some of the most pressing challenges and exciting opportunities of our times.

  • Precision Health and Environment, led by Tami Wyatt (College of Nursing) and Chris Cox (Tickle College of Engineering)
  • Food and Nutrition Security, led by Hollie Raynor (College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences)
  • Bioinformatics, Genomics, and Quantitative-based Solutions for Food Security, led by DeWayne Shoemaker (UTIA)
  • Advancing UT’s National Prominence in Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry, led by Joe Zhuang (UTIA)
  • Science-Informed Artificial Intelligence, led by Vasileios Maroulas (College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Foundational Artificial Intelligence – Closing the Gap to Human Intelligence, led by Hairong Qi (Tickle College of Engineering)
  • Future Mobility, led by Kevin Heaslip (Tickle College of Engineering)

The initiative generated 51 letters of intent and 18 proposals. We deeply appreciate the dedication and creativity of all participating faculty. Their ideas were innovative and inspiring. The proposals also reflected our Volunteer ideals to create knowledge and opportunities that benefit communities in our state, nation, and around the world.

We are also grateful to the faculty reviewers who evaluated the letters of intent and proposals. Their thoughtful feedback and guidance were crucial to the process.

The selection is just the first step. We are confident that these proposals will attract outstanding faculty to UT, foster translational research that makes life and lives better, and prepare UT graduates to lead in the communities and workplaces of tomorrow.

Donde Plowman

John Zomchick
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor

Deborah Crawford
Vice Chancellor for Research

Proposal Process

Proposals will be due September 9, 2022. Proposers invited to submit full proposals following review of their letters of intent should prepare proposals with the following sections:

  • Interdisciplinary Domain Focus (up to 2 pages): Identify the interdisciplinary domain of the cluster hire focus, the grand challenge or exciting opportunity to be addressed, and why the cluster strength is unlikely to emerge from UT’s traditional departmental/college/institute faculty hiring approaches. Describe how the domain chosen will elevate the reputation and impact of UT’s research, scholarship and creative work, and create opportunities for new high-demand interdisciplinary programs at the undergraduate and/or graduate level(s).
  • Faculty Plan (up to 2 pages): Describe the overlapping, but distinct, research interests of the faculty positions to be filled. Describe other faculty at the university in, or close to, this domain area who may or may not currently interact with each other and who the newly hired cluster faculty will complement. Describe the search process to be used to identify faculty to be hired. Describe how the newly hired cluster faculty will interact with each other and with current faculty. Detail how faculty will involve graduate students in teaching and research. Describe how cluster faculty hired will get credit for work they perform as part of the cluster in the tenure and promotion process.
  • Commitment to Inclusive Excellence (up to 1 page): Describe the evidence-based strategies you will use to achieve inclusive excellence among faculty hired and undergraduate and graduate students recruited and retained in new academic programs.
  • Plan for reporting and accountability (up to 1 page): Describe how you will measure and report progress annually. Metrics and documentation should be designed to measure progress in the focus of the cluster hire and demonstrate evidence of collaboration among faculty. Note that lack of progress on either the focus area or collaboration could result in loss of funding.
  • Translational Plan and Projected Cluster Outcomes (up to 1 page): Describe how the cluster established will maintain deep connections to the organizations and/or communities in which their work will have translational impact. Describe the desired impact of the cluster hire and the anticipated return on the university’s investments, and provide an assessment rubric to measure progress and outcomes.
  • Budget and Budget Justification (up to 1 page): Describe the salaries and benefits of the faculty to be hired, and their start-up packages.  Describe how research and tuition revenues will sustain the cluster after university cluster hire support ends.

Please note that a citations page does not factor into page count.

How to Submit Proposals

Please email proposals to


For questions, please email

About the Initiative


UT’s Strategic Vision calls upon all Volunteers to co-create a world enriched by our ideas, improved through our action, and inspired by the Volunteer spirit of service and leadership.

In service to this vision, we have pledged to:

  • cultivate the Volunteer experience by providing high-quality educational opportunities for people at every stage of life, whenever and wherever they seek to learn;
  • conduct research that makes life and lives better, creating a more just, prosperous and sustainable future through our research, scholarship and creative work;
  • nurture a culture where Vol is a verb, and where diversity and community are enduring sources of strength;
  • make ourselves nimble and agile, by empowering and sustaining a culture of collaboration, adaptability and innovation; and,
  • embody the modern R1 land-grant institution, connecting with every Tennessean and with communities around the world.

Our faculty community is the driver of progress toward meeting our goals, most often through teaching, scholarship, and engagement activities within traditional disciplinary units. From time to time, interdisciplinary institutes and centers have emerged in response to the needs of the diverse communities that we serve. These institutes and centers have assembled diverse scholars and artists to address challenges that demand a variety of approaches to current and enduring challenges.

Following this precedent to serve the needs of our communities and contribute to the creation of a just, prosperous, and sustainable future, we are pleased to announce a major investment in interdisciplinary work though a cluster hiring initiative.

With the launch of this initiative, we intend to

  • address some of the most pressing challenges or exciting opportunities of our times;
  • elevate the reputation and impact of our university community through interdisciplinary work;
  • attract faculty members with a predisposition for collaborative, interdisciplinary work;
  • enhance faculty and student diversity and inclusive excellence;
  • create promising new educational programs in emerging, high-demand areas;
  • prepare a diverse workforce for the global challenges ahead; and,
  • foster translational research that will make people’s lives better.

As Tennessee’s flagship land-grant institution, UT is particularly interested in leveraging interdisciplinary cluster hiring strategies to recruit researchers, scholars and creatives who are deeply connected to the organizations and communities in which their work will have translational impact.

The proposal process will be managed by the Office of the Provost and by the Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development.

Financial Commitments

Chancellor Plowman has committed funding up to $15 million to recruit faculty into several interdisciplinary clusters.

Initiative funding will support the salary costs of 4-6 new tenure-line faculty in each cluster. Funding will be transferred to the tenure-college of each member of the cluster, where it will become part of the college’s annual salary budget.

Start-up funding for new hires will also be provided centrally up to a level of $4 million/cluster. Participating academic units may commit additional start-up funds.

Indirect revenues earned through sponsored research will return to the academic units of the cluster faculty.

Cluster Hire Development Guidelines

Cluster hire initiatives will be evaluated in a two-stage review process:

  1. a letter of intent (max 2 pages);
  2.  for letters of intent that advance to the next stage – a proposal.

At least three faculty in the proposed cluster must be recruited at the assistant professor level and at least one must be recruited at the associate or full professor level.

Initiatives must have the support of two colleges or three academic units.

Proposing teams (i.e. those teams writing the letters of intent and the subsequent proposals) must include at least one tenured faculty member at the rank of professor.

Proposers are encouraged to consider blue ocean strategies and open innovation models in the development of their cluster hiring strategies.

Review Process and Timeline

The timeline for the cluster hire proposal process is summarized below.

  • May 30, 2022: Appoint review committee to evaluate the letters of intent ​and full proposals
  • June 24, 2022: Letters of Intent due
  • July 18, 2022: Notification of those selected to submit full proposal
  • September 9, 2022: Full proposals due
  • October 14, 2022: Notification of clusters selected for funding

About Letters of Intent

Letters of intent were due June 24, 2022, and were intended to describe:

  • the interdisciplinary domain upon which the cluster will focus
  • how the domain chosen meets the criteria for cluster hiring described above
  • faculty and colleges/schools/institutes/centers leading the proposed cluster
  • how many faculty will be recruited and at what levels;
  • the cluster’s translational impact; and,
  • an estimated budget.

Letter of Support: The letter-of-intent package also included one letter of support with the signatures of all cognizant deans, department heads, institute and center directors (deans, department heads, institute and center directors were considered cognizant IF one or more of the faculty to be hired are likely to have a partial or full appointment within their unit).