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Students in one UT English class spent the semester learning a lot more than grammar and punctuation.

This semester, English lecturer Erin Smith challenged her English 255 students to practice their public writing skills by running fund-raising campaigns for local charities.

“I wanted my students to have an opportunity to learn the importance of their writing skills in the real world,” Smith said. “By honing their sense of audience and how to persuade individuals to give, it allowed them a chance to showcase their creativity and make a real difference in the community.”

The students’ chosen charities included WUTK-FM, First Tee of Greater Knoxville, Habitat for Humanity, Special Spaces, Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad, Cerebral Palsy Center of Knoxville, Knoxville Center of the Deaf, Salvation Army of Knoxville, Young-Williams Animal Shelter, Second Harvest, and Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding.

The fund-raising campaign concluded Saturday. Nine of the eleven groups achieved or exceeded their $1,000 target. The other two each raised more than $600. In total, the groups raised nearly $13,000 for their charities.

After talking to representatives of their chosen charities to learn about the agencies’ needs, the students geared their fund-raising pitches to a particular audience. They used Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to promote their charities. They made phone calls asking for donations, wrote letters to businesses seeking corporate contributions, and designed fliers they posted on campus and around the community. They also created short videos about their chosen charity. Some planned and held fundraising events.

“My students have been wildly inspiring in their dedication to their chosen organization and how much time and effort they have put into making their goal a reality,” Smith said. “It’s been a really exhilarating project to work on, particularly as someone who runs a local nonprofit myself.” Smith runs Sundress Academy for the Arts, an artists’ colony on a twenty-nine-acre farm in Knoxville that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers, actors, filmmakers, and visual artists.

Students said they enjoyed the course—and appreciated the real-world experience it provided.

Alexis Hamilton, a sophomore in nutrition from Knoxville, was part of the group that raised money for Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding, a program for children with disabilities.

“This has been one of the most challenging, educational, and rewarding projects that I have ever worked on,” she said. “I’ve learned how to effectively communicate with my peers and other members of the community, how to design visual media, and the importance of creativity in order to maintain an engaged audience.”

Austin Eddy, a sophomore from Franklin, Tennessee, said he learned a lot of useful skills while helping to raise money for WUTK-FM, UT’s college radio station.

“I learned how to create a professional-looking video on iMovie. I learned how to target a particular audience to acquire funds from. I learned how to work with nonprofits and how to build credibility in order to entice businesses to want to donate to us,” he said.

Michelle Holmes, a sophomore in supply chain management from Ten Mile, Tennessee, was in the group that raised money for Second Harvest Food Bank.

“If every class at UT is as useful and applicable as Dr. Smith’s public writing class, students are definitely getting their money’s worth of education,” she said.

For more information about this class and their charities, visit their class blog.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,