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UT has named a campus hub for educating and engaging students in meaningful leadership and service opportunities in recognition of alumnus Clay Jones and his wife Debbie.

The Jones family made a landmark gift of $5 million to the center to enhance programs and initiatives offered to students.

Today, the UT Board of Trustees voted to name the center the Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service.

“UT is making a strong commitment to expand student leadership education and service opportunities. Debbie and I are thrilled to be able to help support this important work. As it unfolds, I believe this initiative will become an integral part of the Volunteer experience and a real differentiator for the university,” said Jones. “In the future, UT can become a primary source for leadership talent who are educated and prepared to take on some of the world’s toughest challenges. That’s what Volunteers do.”

Jones received his bachelor’s degree with honors in political science in 1971. During his time at UT, he received UT’s highest undergraduate honor by being named a Torchbearer. He is also a past president of UT’s Alumni Board of Directors and a 2014 recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Jones has attributed much of his success to his leadership development at UT, including involvement in Phi Delta Theta, the Student Government Association, and the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

After graduating from UT, Jones served for eight years as a fighter pilot in the US Air Force. He then had a 34-year career with Rockwell International and Rockwell Collins Inc., an aviation electronics and communications equipment company. Jones served in the positions of chairman and CEO of the company for 12 years each.

In 1982, he served a fellowship in the White House Executive Exchange program, where he was assigned to the Environmental Protection Agency.

As active supporters of the Center for Leadership and Service, the Joneses, established the Director of Leadership Programming Endowment in 2009, which is used to expand students’ leadership opportunities across campus through programs such as the Ignite Summit and the Emerging Leaders Program.

The pair also helped establish the Torchbearer 2000 Endowment, which supports students involved in activities and community service at the university.

“Clay and Debbie have always been leaders in supporting the development of our students and giving to the university,” said Interim Chancellor Wayne T. Davis. “Their gift will help give students opportunities to grow in their leadership and service skills and go on to make an impactful difference out in the world as Volunteers.”

A public celebration will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, April 12, at the center located on the first floor of the Student Union, 1502 Cumberland Avenue.

About the Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service

The mission of the Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service is to educate and engage all students to lead and serve the global community.

The center works with community partners to provide weekly and monthly service opportunities. Other involvement opportunities include the VOLbreaks alternative break program, which hit its 25-year milestone in 2018. The program has allowed more than 2,500 students to use their breaks to engage in meaningful community service across the United States. The Ignite program has welcomed thousands of incoming students each summer to jumpstart their leadership and service journey at UT.

The center also provides students with opportunities to grow in their leadership skills through a number of programs including Leadership Knoxville Scholars, Emerging Leaders Course, Leadership and Service Ambassadors, and the Clifton M. Jones Student Leadership Conference.

Last semester, the center hit a monumental milestone. Six years after the center began to track service hours, students passed the 500,000-hour mark. As of February 2019, students have tracked over 685,000 hours of service, which is an estimated impact of $16,923,291 for the communities served.


Katherine Saxon Keith (865-974-8365,