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Beth Gladden
Beth Gladden, UT director of events and protocol, poses inside her storage room in the Communications Building. Photo by Steven Bridges

UT Knoxville employs more than 10,000 people on a campus that serves nearly 30,000 students. This small city is home to a number of rarely seen spaces and interesting people in a wide range of quirky and unique jobs. Volunteers at Work, a Q&A portrait series, seeks to introduce our campus to the people behind the scenes and the interesting spaces where they work.

Beth Gladden, Director of Special Events and University Protocol

Roles and responsibilities: I oversee the planning of events that are hosted by the chancellor or anything that is of great importance to the university, like commencement, a building opening, a groundbreaking, things like that. It can be anything from a 10-person reception to a 5,000-person staff picnic—things that happen annually or just come up as a surprise. I oversee an event staff and we handle, on average, 80 to 100 events a year.

What about “. . . and Protocol?” It references academic ceremonies—graduations, investitures—that have standard practices for seating, where people fall in a processional line, how they are arranged on the stage. It also applies to who speaks first, what is appropriate for people to say, in what order people are introduced. It also applies to dignitary visits, from both within our country and internationally. Are we supposed to give them a gift? How do we behave with them? What is required of us when they visit our campus? Especially for visitors from other countries, we want to ensure that everything is done appropriately.

A good event manager must be . . . organized.

A common misconception about event managers is . . . that we are artistic. You have to be creative in some ways, but I am definitely not artsy or a designer. Successful event management requires much more creative problem solving than creative design.

First rule of event management: Focus on your guests. All of your guests should have a personal experience; even if that is just greeting them at the door or paying attention to them as they check in, make sure they feel welcomed.

Also, don’t panic. Nobody else knows that anything has gone wrong. If something is going badly behind the scenes, the only way anyone will know it is by your face and your actions. If you remain calm, no one will know that anything is happening.

Always keep in your pocket: I have a Leatherman that I carry with me to every event. It has pliers, a screwdriver, a knife, wire cutters, all in one tool. I love it. Zip ties, Sharpies . . . and an essential skill—knowing how to tie a good bow.

“Other duties as assigned”: I once had to put 100 helium balloons in my car. And then there was that time that we had to get more than 4,000 people to the stadium at 5 a.m. to form the world’s largest Power T—with two weeks’ notice. There have been so many times over the past 10 years when I’ve said, “I can’t believe this is my job.”

There are so many great moments I remember from the Dolly Parton visit. The most fun thing ever was her sound check the night before. I was in the arena—there were only about 10 people there—and she was on stage singing “Rocky Top.” Nothing will ever be cooler than that.

I have a photo on my wall in my office of me, [then Vice Chancellor for Communications] Margie Nichols, and Dolly posing together—she has just complimented me on my eyeshadow when the photographer snapped the picture.

The frosting on the Power T cookie: I get to meet a ton of people and do a lot of interesting things. It’s fun being part of things that show the university in a good light. Ninety-nine percent of my job is doing positive things. UT events make people feel good, they make the university look good, and they convey a good message. I love this place and I love being able to contribute to those positive things.

A life in orange: UT has been a part of my life always. My whole family graduated from here, my mom worked here forever, and I love the people here. I love UT and it will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s home.


Karen Dunlap (, 865-974-8674)