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The Access and Diversity Staff Retention Fund is taking a proactive role in helping UT employees expand their cultural awareness. The fund gives monetary assistance to any Knoxville-area system, Ag campus or UT Knoxville staff or faculty employee interested in attending a program on diversity. These programs include national seminars and conferences relating to diversity and multicultural themes.

ADSRF Chair Linda Francisco has been affiliated with the fund for many years and was a part of it before the guidelines changed.

Formerly named the Black Staff Development Fund, the program identified African Americans with bachelor’s degrees and, when an individual’s application was approved, gave them money to pursue a master’s degree. The idea was to give minorities the opportunity to advance at the university.

To benefit the entire staff at UT Knoxville, the name and guidelines were changed to promote diversity exploration.

“The Black Staff Development Fund Committee recently changed the name of this fund to the Access and Diversity Staff Retention Fund,” Francisco said. “We made a decision that we wanted everyone to have access to programs and seminars.

“We realized UT has a great tuition discount program, so it helped us change the focus to seminars and programs.”

The guidelines for eligibility, as documented by Employee and Organizational Development, to submit an application are:

1. Knoxville-area exempt or non-exempt staff who have 12 or more months of regular, continuous service (minimum of 75 percent time) are eligible to apply.

2. Applicants should be committed to supporting the goals of diversity as espoused by the University of Tennessee.

3. Applicants must provide a written letter of support from their departmental supervisor, detailing the benefits of participation to the employee, department and university.

Francisco wants the staff to have the opportunity to learn how to make UT a more culturally aware environment.

“I think we’ll have people going to conferences that wouldn’t have the funding to go otherwise,” Francisco said. “I see it as encouraging diversity on campus. Sometimes, people don’t realize the benefit of diversity. We want to help retain employees, too.”

The fund committee has the final decision on the programs and seminars being attended. They prefer national conferences.

Francisco hopes the staff will come back to UT with fresh ideas.

“One of the things we hope will happen is people will want to impart their information,” Francisco said. “Maybe they’ll hear a speaker and will recommend the speaker to visit campus.

“The university is a place where ideas are exchanged. Having a diverse workforce enriches us and makes us more productive.”

The deadline for submitting applications to attend seminars from January through June is Nov. 30.

“We are approaching our first deadline, and we invite applications,” Francisco said. “People can receive up to $2,000.”

Interested parties can contact Shannon Bruce of the ADSRF Committee for more information on applications.

Francisco hopes the staff will take part in this great opportunity.

“When you have someone enriching a workforce, it impacts students,” Francisco said. “I think it’ll improve our culture, and make UT a welcoming place for everybody. We can make a better university.”

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