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US Army veteran and incoming sophomore Rachel Danneker decided to become a Volunteer even though she’d never set foot on our campus before.

“My battalion commander, Lt. Col. Stephen Capehart, is an alumnus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and he couldn’t say enough good things about the university,” said Danneker, who recently finished a two-year stint in the military. “He’s absolutely in love with the university, and he said UT has a great ROTC program. The more he talked about UT, the more I wanted to be a part of the Volunteer family.”

Danneker joins a growing population of veterans and active-duty service members who enjoy a range of services and a supportive network that helps them transition to college life.

She said she’s excited about the endless opportunities that UT offers, especially those involving leadership and service.

“I love the Volunteer mission behind UT,” she said, adding that she’s always enjoyed volunteering her time to help others. “I love community outreach type volunteering so I’m excited to see what opportunities UT provides for that.”

Originally from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Danneker, 20, graduated from high school in 2014. She attended college for a year before enlisting in 2015, but she said, “I just didn’t feel like I was doing enough with my life.”

With many veterans in her family, Danneker turned to the US Army and was eventually stationed in Colorado. From January to May, Danneker was deployed to Latvia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

“I’ve always planned on returning to school to get my degree,” said Danneker. “Lt. Col. Capehart was a huge motivational force; he always urged that returning to school was a great career move for me.”

With Capehart’s nomination, Danneker received the 4th Infantry Division Commanding General’s Green to Gold Hip Pocket Scholarship, a two-year scholarship that will help her complete her bachelor’s degree and earn a commission as an Army officer.

After she told Capehart she was interested in coming to UT, he helped her begin the application process and got her on the phone with his friend Lt. Col. Jared Crain, head of UT’s Army ROTC Rocky Top Battalion.

Danneker said being in the military has made her better prepared for life at UT.

“The military has taught me time management and prioritization skills,” she said.

Danneker will be in ROTC and plans to major in business. When she returns to active duty, she hopes to focus on military intelligence.

For now, though, she’ll enjoy her time as a college student.

“There’s a sense of belonging and I haven’t even had a class yet,” she said. “The moment I walked on campus for orientation, I felt welcomed. There were smiling faces and everyone was saying hi. This is the Big Orange family. I am so excited to be a part of it.”