Six seniors have been recognized as Torchbearers, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s highest undergraduate honor. Since 1968, the Torchbearer statue—UT’s official symbol—has stood on campus with a plaque stating the Volunteer Creed: “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others,” a physical reminder of the values that are central to UT. Each year, a group of students who have gone above and beyond in demonstrating their commitment to service, outstanding leadership, and academic achievement are named Torchbearers in recognition of their extraordinary accomplishments.
The recipients learned of their selection through a surprise visit by Chancellor Donde Plowman or a member of her cabinet in early March. The surprises took place both in person and virtually, to accommodate students who are not on campus. Virtual visits included family members, friends, and mentors able to tune in to congratulate the recipients.
Meet the 2021 Torchbearers:
Taylor Boyer, of Knoxville, is a 1794 Scholar studying marketing with a collateral in international business. She is the founder and president of Women of Haslam, a student organization focused on bringing together business-minded women from across campus for networking and professional development opportunities. Boyer has served as a Haslam Ambassador, Smith Global Leadership Scholar, president of the South Carrick Residence Hall Council, a member of Student Alumni Associates, and president of the Order of Omega Greek leadership honor society. She has held numerous leadership positions in the Haslam College of Business and across campus, dedicating her time to mentoring others and creating empowering spaces for women. Boyer plans to attend UT’s College of Law in the fall.
“It’s a huge honor to be a winner of the Torchbearer. I think this university is like a big family. We all have that Volunteer spirit and use it to pour into each other,” Boyer said. “UT has really encouraged me to make a difference, be my best self, and to give back—whether it’s in the Knoxville community, on campus, or to those coming after me.”
Natalie Campbell, of Knoxville, is studying special education with a minor in English. She served as a student director for Ignite, an extended orientation program in UT’s Jones Center for Leadership and Service that welcomes first-year students to UT by connecting them to Knoxville and providing community service opportunities. Campbell worked overtime with JCLS staff to reimagine the program after the pandemic threatened to shut down the experience for incoming students. She has also served as a Student Ambassador tour guide, a Leadership Knoxville Scholar, Camp Koinonia counselor, and art director of Students for the Rock, a student-led group that promotes messages of inclusivity and positivity on UT’s iconic Rock. Campbell will go on to pursue her master’s degree in special education at UT this fall and gain her Tennessee teaching license with the hopes of becoming a school administrator.
Campbell is most appreciative of those in her life who have helped her along the way. “I’ve always admired the Torchbearer statue and Volunteer Creed at UT. To think that other people see that in me and my character in congruence with that is so humbling,” she said. “The people I’ve met here taught me that one small act of inclusion or kindness can go a long way. That mindset has influenced me and inspired me to become a better leader.”
Trey Smith, of Jackson, Tennessee, graduated in December with a degree in recreation and sports management. An All-American guard and captain of the Tennessee football team, Smith was an active leader on and off the field, organizing donation drives for nonprofit organizations in Knoxville, volunteering at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, and assisting with a peaceful campus march for racial justice. He served on the SEC Football Leadership Council and was a member of the VOLeaders Academy and a two-time SEC Community Service Team representative. Smith is currently preparing for the 2021 NFL draft and hopes to create a foundation to help communities as well as a scholarship in his late mother’s name should he reach the NFL.
Smith attributes a lot of his success to his mother’s influence and the deep sense of community at UT. “How I behave off the field comes from her [Smith’s mother].” He describes his service and involvement as “a direct result of how I want to impact people at the University of Tennessee and also in the state of Tennessee,” adding, “Whenever I see people in need, whenever I see things that can be fixed or can be better—why not be the one that goes and does it?”
Maria Urias, of Lenoir City, Tennessee, is studying sociology with minors in political science, leadership studies, and social entrepreneurship. She has held multiple leadership positions in the Student Government Association and wrote a referendum to amend UT’s Student Code of Conduct. After years of advocacy work, the student-centered changes to the code passed a UT Board of Trustees vote and will move on to the Tennessee Senate for consideration this summer. Urias has served as a Baker Scholar, student director of the VOLbreaks program, an Ignite team leader, and a member of the Honors Leadership Program and Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity. She plans to begin working toward a master’s degree in community development and action at Vanderbilt University this fall.
“Working against complacency and having the courage to take initiative and to just truly love those around you took me places I didn’t know I could go,” Urias said. “Even in times when I’ve failed, continuing to push forward and knowing the Volunteer family is behind you makes all the difference.”
Madison Woods, of Memphis, is a Chancellor’s Honors Program student majoring in psychology. A first-generation student, Woods found her passion for service and social justice through various programs offered by the Jones Center for Leadership and Service and the Office of Multicultural Student Life. She has served as president of the Multicultural Mentoring Program, an education student director of the VOLbreaks program, an Early Learning Center student teacher, and student representative on the Chancellor’s Commission for Blacks among other leadership roles. Woods will begin her master’s degree in higher education administration and student affairs this fall so she can continue to lift up marginalized students and work on diversity and inclusion initiatives in higher education.
Despite personal hardships, Woods found community and a second home at UT. “My freshman year I went through a heavy loss, and it was hard being away from my mom and my sisters for love and support. To be honest, I was almost close to going home,” she said. “But I ended up going on my first VOLbreak and joining the Multicultural Mentoring Program, which I’ve been in for four years now. Getting involved in those things that I’m passionate about has definitely been a reason why I have been able to find home here and be comfortable.”
Tyler Young, of Knoxville, is studying supply chain management and business analytics. As Lead Ambassador for the Haslam College of Business, Young has dedicated much of his time to supporting students in his program and welcoming prospective Vols to campus. He has served in multiple peer mentor roles within the college, spent a term as vice president of Beta Upsilon Chi fraternity, participated in the Student Alumni Associates, and volunteered at Emmett Elementary School in Bristol, Tennessee, where he taught business principles to fifth graders. After serving as a supply chain intern with Dell Technologies last summer, Young will go on to work with the company as a part of their Supply Chain Development Program based in Austin, Texas, starting in June.
Young is looking forward to being an engaged alumnus after graduation. “You have this immense community with you for four years that’s so impactful on you,” Young said. “Especially having grown up here in Knoxville, to be a recipient of this award is a huge honor and so humbling. This university has given so much to me, so I want to give back and continue to pour into the lives of students that are still here well after I leave.”
The students will receive a medal during the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet on Wednesday, April 7. The banquet is the university’s largest recognition event of the year. Attendance will be limited to ensure social distancing and adherence to current health and safety guidelines. Visit the Chancellor’s Honors website for more information.
Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)