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A milestone year in UT’s history began with the long-awaited—nine years in the making!—opening of the Student Union, and it didn’t slow down a bit from there.

The Torch sculpture inside the new Student Union at the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus on January 09, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges..UT’s largest building project, which opened in January, serves as the community center of campus and was created and designed with students in mind. The 395,088-square-foot building houses offices and services that the campus community needs on a daily basis and welcomes visitors to campus. The community celebrated its opening with a day of special events and the lighting of a torch sculpture made of 319 glass flames handblown by Pretentious Glass Company.

As 2019 closes, the campus continues to celebrate its 225th anniversary into 2020. As part of the commemoration, UT has embarked on a special year of service for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to run through June. Learn more about the university’s history from 1794 onward at

Midway through the year, Donde Plowman joined the university as its ninth chancellor. She began serving in the position July 1, and her investiture took place in November.

“Today we celebrate this university and the great leaders and thinkers who came before us,” she said after the ceremony. “The hard work of everyone on this campus has put us on the path of greatness, and I could not be more excited about the future.”

She lauded the contributions of faculty, staff, and students for the university’s current momentum in graduating more students, conducting more research, connecting more Tennesseans, and garnering more support than ever before.

“We are standing at a pivotal moment of extraordinary opportunity,” she said in her address. “What we do next is up to us.”

Other standout themes from 2019 include:

Another year of breaking records . . . UT set a new high enrollment record with more than 29,000 students in the 2019–20 academic year. More than 6,700 new students enrolled, including freshman, transfer, and Volunteer Bridge students. Enrollment has steadily grown over the past seven years, reflecting UT’s commitment to student success and retention.

In February, UT reported its most impressive research year on record for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, with $260 million in expenditures including projects to advance the development of hypersonic vehicles, further STEM education in East Tennessee, and study of Antarctica as a means of better understanding Mars.

Big Orange Give

In November, Volunteers exceeded the Big Orange Give goal and set a new record, raising $2.55 million in just 24 hours. That amount represents 114 percent of the initial goal of $2.25 million.

. . . and academic excellence: U.S. News and World Report recognized several UT colleges and programs in its 2020 graduate school rankings. Three UT colleges ranked in the top 30 among public institutions: the College of Social Work, the Haslam College of Business, and the College of Law. The Tickle College of Engineering and the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences were ranked in the top 50 among public institutions.

In the 2020 U.S. News and World Report undergraduate rankings, UT was ranked 44th among all public universities and 104th nationally.

The university had another blockbuster year for Fulbright Student awards, with 17 current students and recent graduates offered fellowships and another eight named alternates.

In November, Hera Jay Brown, who graduated from UT in August 2018, was named a 2020 Rhodes Scholar—the ninth current or former UT student to earn this prestigious honor. Natalie Campbell, a senior at UT, who serves as student body president and has earned accolades for her work advocating alongside people with disabilities, was selected for a Mitchell Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate awards in the country.

The Rock is painted with the t-shirt designed by a bullied elementary kid in Florida on September 09, 2019. A Florida student obsessed with the University of Tennessee wanted to represent the Volunteers during his elementary school's "College Colors Day," but didn't own any of their apparel -- so he took the matter into his own hands. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee

The T-shirt heard around the world: The story of a young Vol fan who made his own UT T-shirt was covered by media across the world and launched a flood of support for antibullying education. In recognition of the fourth grader’s Volunteer spirit, the university extended an offer of honorary admission for him to join the class of 2032. In addition, he has been awarded a four-year scholarship covering his tuition and fees beginning fall 2028 if he decides to attend UT and meets admission requirements.

Alumni, fans, and honorary Volunteers purchased more than 112,000 shirts featuring the boy’s design from the VolShop. More than $900,000 from the sales went to the charity STOMP Out Bullying.

Honoring our supporters: The College of Nursing received the largest gift in its history—$7.5 million—from alumna Sara Croley and her husband, Ross, in October. The purpose of the gift is twofold, with $5.5 million supporting the college’s building renovation and expansion and $2 million establishing the Sara Rosenbalm Croley Endowed Dean’s Chair. Pending approval from the Board of Trustees, the renovated space will be named the Croley Nursing Building. The renovation and expansion will allow the college to significantly increase its enrollment and address the national nursing shortage.

In March, UT 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 family made a landmark gift of $5 million to the Jones Center for Leadership and Service to enhance programs and initiatives offered to students. 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. Jones has attributed much of his success to his leadership development at UT, including involvement in Phi Delta Theta, the Student Government Association, and ROTC. Jones was a featured commencement speaker during the undergraduate ceremony this month.

In October, the Writing Center in UT’s College of Arts and Sciences was dedicated in recognition of Judi Herbert’s long history of support. Herbert and her husband, Jim, set up the Jim and Judi Herbert Excellence in Writing Endowment in 2017 to support undergraduate tutoring, services to upper-division students who are not English majors, and the development of workshops for faculty. The Herberts are longtime supporters; the couple was named Philanthropists of the Year in 2016, and the Herbert College of Agriculture was named in their honor in 2018.

Leadership movement: Three new deans were announced this year: Janis Terpenny, Tickle College of Engineering; Lori Messinger, College of Social Work; and Ellen McIntyre, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Tyvi Small was named vice chancellor for diversity and engagement after serving as interim vice chancellor since December 2018. Amber Williams, assistant vice chancellor for academic services and enrollment management at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, was named UT’s first vice provost for student success and will join the university in January.

Lynne Parker, a professor in the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was named a deputy US chief technology officer within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where she has been serving as assistant director for artificial intelligence since August 2018. Marianne Wanamaker, an associate professor of economics in the Haslam College of Business, was named to the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board co-chaired by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump.

Mayim Bialik, neuroscientist, author, and star of the CBS hit show The Big Bang Theory, spoke to a full house inside the Cox Auditorium during the fifth annual Mossman Distinguished Lecture on March 4, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges
Mayim Bialik, neuroscientist, author, and star of the CBS hit show The Big Bang Theory, spoke to a full house inside the Cox Auditorium during the fifth annual Mossman Distinguished Lecture on March 4, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges

Celebrity scientist: Mayim Bialik, neuroscientist, author, and star of the CBS hit show The Big Bang Theory, spoke to a full house in March at Cox Auditorium during the fifth annual Mossman Distinguished Lecture. During her presentation, Bialik reflected on her life journey, from becoming a child actor to getting a PhD in neuroscience and doing research to later playing a scientist on television.

Expanding access through online programs: In March, a partnership with Noodle Partners to launch 10 online programs over the next three years was announced. The majority of offerings will be at the graduate level. UT’s Haslam College of Business currently works with Noodle Partners on an online master’s degree in supply chain management, which launched this fall.

Smokey statue unveiling on Pedestrian Walkway on April 13, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges
Smokey statue unveiling on Pedestrian Walkway on April 13, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges

Ten good boys: Rocky Top’s favorite hound popped up around campus in April as statues honoring the 10 bluetick coonhounds that have served as the campus’s mascot were unveiled. The statues have become popular stops for visitors touring campus. A list of Smokey statue locations is available on the UT map.

Alcohol sales at campus venues: Alcohol sales at Neyland Stadium began September 7. During the summer, a task force developed policies and infrastructure to support responsible alcohol sales in accordance with applicable laws. Throughout this process, the university placed an emphasis on fan experience, safety, and security.

Magnolia Hall, August 7, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee
Magnolia Hall, August 7, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee

New residence halls: The newest residence halls, Magnolia and Dogwood Halls, opened in time for the start of classes this fall. The new residence halls are the latest phase of the university’s west campus project. Located on Andy Holt Avenue, the two buildings provide about 240,000 square feet of space and together house 872 students in two- and four-person rooms.


Karen Dunlap (865-974-8674,