Six outstanding seniors have been recognized for their academic achievement, leadership, and service with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s highest student honor: the Torchbearer award. Torchbearers are seniors who embody the Volunteer spirit while demonstrating academic excellence and a commitment to serving others.
Each student learned of their selection through a surprise visit by the chancellor or a member of her cabinet in early March. The group is typically celebrated during the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet, hosted each spring to recognize students, faculty, staff, and friends of the university for their extraordinary achievements. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the banquet had to be canceled.
To celebrate the students and their accomplishments, each Torchbearer received a video call last week from Chancellor Plowman with her congratulations. Friends and family of the seniors were also invited in on the call.
Torchbearers will receive a medal and framed certificate commemorating their achievements.
The 2020 Torchbearers:
Mustafa Ali-Smith, of Nashville, is a December 2019 graduate of the Haslam College of Business with a major in public administration and a minor in political science. Ali-Smith served in multiple leadership roles with the Jones Center for Leadership and Service and was founder and first president of the Student Political Alliance, a senator in the Student Government Association, a Daily Beacon columnist, a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and president of UT’s NAACP chapter, dedicating his time to uplifting underrepresented students on campus. His life’s mission is to create a more equitable world and disrupt the barriers that hurt marginalized communities. Ali-Smith is currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts with a concentration in law, crime, and race at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The culmination of my undergraduate years has been filled with many great memories and people, but if I were to identify one favorite memory, it would be becoming a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.,” said Ali-Smith. “This lifelong organization taught me values that I will carry with me throughout my life—brotherhood, service, and altruism. I am thankful for all of the brothers within this illustrious organization, especially those that have shaped my experience on Rocky Top.”
John Calvin Bryant, of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, is studying food science with plans to attend medical school and pursue a career in developmental pediatrics. He is actively involved with the UT Ambassadors, Herbert Ambassadors, the Best Buddies program, Leadership Knoxville Scholars, Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, and the Interfraternity Council. Bryant has also served with the FUTURE program as a peer mentor, job coach, and in-class support. In addition to his campus involvement, Bryant volunteers with the Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) helping provide hot meals for homeless individuals in the Knoxville community. He also dedicates his time helping youth with disabilities at Camp Koinonia, where he is a volunteer head counselor.
Bryant’s favorite memory truly shows his love for UT. “My favorite memory on Rocky Top is giving tours of our impressive university. I enjoy spreading my passion and love for the University of Tennessee to prospective students and their families,” Bryant said. “After a tour, hearing prospective students affirm their plans to attend UT is the most rewarding feeling.”
Natalie Campbell, of Knoxville, is a member of the College Scholars program, double majoring in legal and political philosophy and disability studies. She has held numerous roles in UT’s Student Government Association, serving as this past year’s student body president. Campbell advocated for changes to the Tennessee Promise scholarship program to better serve students with intellectual disabilities, established a system for disability advocacy on campus as founder of the organization CARE, and carried out strategic planning and engagement development for the FUTURE program. A Truman Scholarship finalist and UT’s first Mitchell Scholar, Campbell will study inclusion and special educational needs at Queen’s University Belfast after graduation.
“My favorite memory on Rocky Top was the moment I joined my family, closest friends, and campaign members to announce that I had been elected student body president alongside two of my closest friends, Isaac Holt and Emerson Burd,” said Campbell. “That moment began one of the most challenging years yet and definitely one of the most gratifying years yet. Being surrounded by all of the people who believed in me and made it possible was what made that moment so special.”
Emma Heins, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, is a senior studying geology and environmental studies with a concentration in political science and a minor in public health. Heins served as an undergraduate teaching assistant, an academic tutor, a Daily Beacon columnist, director of numerous committees related to environmental issues, and this past year’s president of the Campus Events Board—the largest student programming organization at UT, hosting more than 60 events each year. She was named UT’s first Sustainability Champion in 2018 and received the Environmental Engagement and Leadership Award in 2019. Heins will be completing her master’s in public administration at the University of Wisconsin after graduation and hopes to work in public policy, addressing disparities caused by climate change.
One of her favorite memories happened during her freshman year, solidifying her passion for community at UT. “I watched the [football] game against UGA in the common room of my residence hall, and when Jauan Jennings caught the Hail Mary pass at the end of the game, our whole floor ran up and down the stairs of Morrill Hall yelling because we were so excited,” Heins said. “It was the first time I felt like I was a real Vol as a first-year student!”
Nicholas Ross, of Johnson City, Tennessee, is a Chancellor’s Honors student studying chemical engineering. Ross served as a student coordinator for both the Ignite Program and the VOLbreaks Program with the Jones Center for Leadership and Service. He was also president of Delta Tau Delta, an ambassador for the Tickle College of Engineering in the Office of Engineering Professional Practice, and founder and president of Knoxville Elementary Outreach. A National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholar, Ross has extensive undergraduate research experience, including internships at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the US Senate HELP Committee, and Imara Microfinance in Nakuru, Kenya. He plans on pursuing a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Stanford after graduation.
Ross’s favorite memory reflects his servant leadership. “My favorite memory on Rocky Top happened following my term as president of Delta Tau Delta fraternity,” said Ross. “”The three younger members of the chapter who I had mentored told me how much my example and investment meant to them as they were entering into their own terms as executive members.”
Taylor Washington, of Memphis, is a Haslam Scholar studying political science with a concentration in public administration and Africana studies and a minor in public policy analytics. Washington has held leadership roles with Minority Enhancement for the University of Tennessee (ME4UT), the Office of Diversity and Engagement Student Advisory Board, and the Student Alumni Associates. She is also a dedicated member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, serving a previous term as chapter president. Working with Bridges USA and Preserver Partners, she has developed mentorship programs and community workshops, educating middle and high school students on important topics such as sexual violence and financial literacy. She plans to attend law school at Penn State University in the fall.
Washington values community and friendship. “My favorite memory on Rocky Top has been attending all the football games with my friends and the rest of the Volunteer family that comes to campus,” Washington said. “If I had to name one specific game, it would be the 2016 Florida game, when we had that amazing comeback. There is nothing like being in Neyland with thousands of other people cheering for the Vols.”
Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)
This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary year. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.