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The Smart Communities Initiative is wrapping up its second year, and an upcoming event will showcase some of the work that’s been done for this year’s community partner, the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

The Smart Communities Initiative pairs faculty and students with Tennessee cities, counties, special districts, and other governmental organizations to work on projects to improve the region’s economy, environment and social fabric. SCI is a key component of Experience Learning, the university’s initiative that emphasizes experiential learning through real-world problem solving.

The culmination of the 2015­­–16 SCI program will be celebrated with a showcase from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20, in the West Club of Neyland Stadium. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP online here.

Faculty and students in twenty courses have been working on twenty-two SETDD projects ranging from parks and recreation to policy analysis across the region throughout the 2015–16 school year.

Among the projects:

  • Students in advanced architectural design thematic studio course taught by Associate Professor Tracy Moir-McClean are creating a master site plan for Watt’s Bar Lake to increase public recreational access and convention space in Rhea County. Students are focusing on the positive effect the regional greenway network will have on the economy, social fabric, and health of the area. Students are looking at recreational resources in Rhea and Meigs County including marinas, fishing spots, wildlife habitat, walking and biking trails, kayak blueways, and triathlon courses. Additionally, students are looking at support facilities, marina and overnight camping, and cabins on the resort parcel for public users.
  • Seniors in a civil and environmental engineering course taught by lecturer Jenny Retherford are recommending infrastructure improvements that will turn abandoned railroad tracks into a suitable greenway system. “The McMinn Rails-to-Trails project has provided an opportunity for a diverse team of students to contribute to a very unique project,” Retherford said. “These students are able to demonstrate not only their acquired knowledge from our undergraduate curriculum, but their ability to translate their knowledge to new applications and engineering challenges.”
  • Students in an agricultural economics course taught by Professor William Park and Professor and David Hughes, professor and Greever Chair in Agribusiness Development, are creating a farmer’s market business plan for Pikeville. The plan addressed cultivating a network of local farmers to sell products, marketing, funding, staffing, scheduling, and other considerations to support market success.
  • Students in an educational psychology and counseling course are assessing community health needs in the Sequatchie Valley and implementing projects to address those needs.

Other courses involved with SCI this spring include economics, graphic design, law, history, and geography. The projects developed through SCI are geared toward enhancing the livability and quality of life in the partnering communities.

The Smart Communities Initiative kicked off during the 2014–15 academic year. That year, UT partnered with Cleveland, Tennessee. The partnership with SETDD that began this year will continue in the coming years as the SETDD becomes a sustaining partner of the program. At the same time, UT will continue to engage a new partner community each year, including opportunities for scaled-down partnerships with small and rural communities. Through the 2016-17 academic year, SCI will address five to ten projects for its new partner, Lenoir City.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,