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Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek is meeting with a group led by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington, DC, today to address increasing college access for low-income students. This is the second time this year Cheek has been invited by the White House to discuss this issue.

The event is the White House’s second College Opportunity Day of Action and will build on efforts from the first summit held in January. The president, first lady, Vice President Joe Biden, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, UT President Joe DiPietro, and other higher education leaders are participating in the summit.

The White House asked leaders for new commitments to impact overall college completion, college readiness, and support for enrolling and increasing the number of graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Cheek will share UT’s commitment aimed at increasing STEM graduates by 20 to 25 percent with a primary focus on underrepresented students.

“We are honored to be invited back by the president to continue this important conversation on increasing college access,” said Cheek. “We’ve strengthened our support for low-income students over the past year, and it’s time to take the next big steps to ensure we continue making progress on these goals.”

The chancellor will announce commitments to enhancing two programs that build on UT’s past successes. The programs seek to improve STEM learning and degree completion for students underrepresented in STEM fields—one of the focus areas outlined by the White House:

  • UT will expand its Smart Communities Initiative, currently being piloted in Cleveland, Tennessee. This initiative partners the university and a Tennessee community to address real-world problems. Many of the solutions require STEM-related skills such as public transportation analyses, watershed mapping and cost-benefit analysis of proposed public projects. As many as a thousand students could be involved next year.
  • UT will grow its Math Camp program—continuing it in Knoxville and potentially expanding it to Memphis, depending on funding. A Memphis location would eliminate travel costs for Memphis-area incoming freshmen. Scholarships will be available to Pell-eligible students. As many as a hundred students could be involved.

At the first summit, Cheek announced initiatives to improve access, graduation and retention. All three programs have already yielded successful results:

  • A summer math camp for incoming freshmen with low ACT math scores and an interest in math-intensive majors saw almost 60 percent of its participants place into a higher level of math than their ACT scores indicated they would. Most students were Pell-eligible and received a scholarship for the program.
  • Plans to provide a clear path to graduation for transfer students from community colleges resulted in an eight-semester graduation roadmap, three new transfer advising counselors, and a new transfer admission policy for those with associate degrees.
  • An index to better understand students’ barriers to retention, along with increased mentoring, and coaching opportunities for incoming freshmen has proven effective thus far.

For more information on the College Opportunity Day of Action summit and to watch it live, visit