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As a freshman, Brandi Panter arrived at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in fall 2008 from a rural farming community outside Nashville.

Brandi Panter
Welcome Leader Brandi Panter

She was one of only four students at UT from her high school graduating class.

“I felt very isolated on campus,” she said. “I didn’t like that feeling.”

The experience is one Panter, now 21 and a senior, doesn’t want other students to go through. She is one of 170 upperclassmen who are part of the new “Welcome Leaders” program. They’ll help the expected 4,200 incoming freshmen navigate the joys and frustrations of higher education.

“I just really wanted to be part of something that would make students feel welcomed and give them someone they can talk to from a peer standpoint and from an experience standpoint,” Panter said.

The Welcome Leaders initiative was birthed out of the Office of Student Activities this year.

Director Ashleigh Moyer said the university measured itself against the top 25 institutions in the nation and found that those schools had similar programs. Engaging and involving students early in their academic career is a critical element of student retention, a key part of UT’s mission to become a Top 25 university.

Welcome Leaders
Students Zac Brown and Brandi Panter prepare training packets for other upperclassmen in the Welcome Leaders program.

The Welcome Leaders program “is also a mentoring opportunity between new students and our upperclassmen,” Moyer said. “We believe in helping a large institution feel smaller.”

Each Welcome Leader will have twenty to thirty students during Welcome Week and will show freshmen around and help them in finding faculty and locating services.

Many of the Welcome Leaders already have set up Facebook pages and are answering freshmen’s questions even before they arrive on campus.

After the first week, the upperclassmen will stay in touch with freshmen throughout the year.

Moyer said the goal is to grow the Welcome Leaders program in 2012, and her office is already recruiting participants.

For more information, contact the UT Office of Student Activities at 865-974-5455.