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This week, we’re celebrating National Volunteer Week with stories about faculty and staff who give of their time and talents to make a difference in our community.

Erik Simons came to Tennessee less than a year ago to be an international student and scholar coordinator in UT’s Center for International Education, yet he’s already found a way to embrace the Volunteer spirit and make a connection to his new home. He is a tnAchieves mentor, helping six high school students prepare for college in the fall.

Erik Simons
Erik Simons

TnAchieves is an organization devoted to increasing educational opportunities for Tennessee students by providing scholarships and guidance from volunteer mentors. The organization partners with Tennessee Promise, the state’s program that provides Tennessee high school graduates with scholarships to attend community or technical colleges. Mentors help ensure that students successfully make the transition from high school to college and, once in college, they maintain the eligibility requirements of Tennessee Promise.

Simons became a mentor with the tnAchieves program in November 2015 after attending the Volunteer Knoxville Expo.

As a mentor, Simons stays in touch with his six students, reminding them of deadlines, offering encouragement, and answering questions they have about college. Most of his communication with the students takes place electronically, although Simons has met his six students and will meet with them again after they begin college.

All of his mentees are seniors at Bearden High School. Four of his students plan to attend Pellissippi State Community College; the other two plan to attend four-year universities. Simons said their concerns range from being able to manage their time in a college setting to adjusting to living away from their parents.

Simons said he was interested in working with tnAchieves because he thought his background in higher education would allow him to provide great insight and advice to college-bound students.

“The program addresses not only the financial barrier but also the lack of cultural capital and guidance that prevents some students from attending college,” Simons said. “As someone who works in higher education, I am a strong believer in the power of education to improve people’s lives.”

As a CIE international student and scholar coordinator, Simons advising international students on immigration issues. He helps students maintain their legal status in the United States while pursuing their education at UT.