Bradford Reszel and Sara La Haie are graduating this week, but their efforts will help UT freshmen for years to come.
Commencement ceremonies begin at 9:00 a.m. Friday, December 11, in Thompson-Boling Arena. More than 2,300 students will graduate this fall—1,795 undergraduates, 559 graduate students, and seven law students.
La Haie, an animal science major from Nashville, served as the first student director of Ignite, a leadership and service program for first-year students. Reszel, a sociology major from Libertyville, Illinois, founded Spark, a two-day overnight retreat for first-year students interested in getting involved on campus, developing themselves as leaders, and networking with other student leaders.
For La Haie, Ignite was a family affair. Her older brother also had attended Ignite and had served as a team leader.
“It was kind of a given that I would go as a freshman too, but I don’t think I expected to love it so much,” she said.
La Haie recalls how nervous she was as a freshman, coming to a large university from a small all-girls school. She said Ignite team leaders with “contagious school spirit” made her feel at home.
After participating in Ignite her freshman year, La Haie went on to spend two years as an Ignite team leader and then became the organization’s first student director.
“Ignite was an incredible program to be a part of, and continuing my involvement throughout my time here was the best decision I made at UT,” she said. “Ignite transformed me from being shy and insecure into being confident in myself and in my future.”
La Haie will work at a Nashville veterinary clinic during the spring and hopes to begin veterinary medicine studies in the fall.
Reszel said the idea for Spark grew out of the Center for Leadership and Service’s Emerging Leaders class in the fall of 2013. He and several others sophomores in the class—Heath Cox, Joseph Perry, Riley Richardson, and Seth Watkins—had experienced Ignite and wanted to expand the university’s outreach to first-year students.
They proposed a first-year leadership retreat, suggesting the effort would increase retention and aid the university on its Top 25 journey.
“Data says that first-year college students are most likely to decide if they are going to leave their institution by the first six weeks of school. So we knew we had to make Spark happen within those first few weeks,” he said.
The first Spark retreat was held in the fall of 2014 and the second was held this past fall.
“Spark creates lasting relationships between first-year students, has them reflect on their leadership style, and fosters involvement by providing connections with current student leaders throughout the Division of Student Life,” Reszel said.
Reszel will train to be a district manager for the Aldi Corporation after graduation. He will run four to seven stores in the region.
Sally Parish, director of the Center for Leadership and Service, has high praise for La Haie and Reszel.
“Sara has undoubtedly touched many lives at UT, and this campus is truly a better place because of her leadership.
“Her dedication to mentoring and developing the leadership potential of those around her is truly inspiring. Her true calling is simply to help others.”
Parish said Reszel, too, used his time at UT to make the campus and community better.
“He asked the hard questions, and expected the absolute best from himself and those around him,” she said. “He dedicated himself to the chancellor’s Top 25 initiative because he knows that UT has the power to be something incredible.”
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)