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Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor John Zomchick speaks at the
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor John Zomchick speaks at the Academic Honors Banquet in the Student Union Ballroom on April 6, 2021.

Faculty, staff, and students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, were recognized for outstanding achievements during the Academic Honors Banquet and the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet.

Award recipients are typically celebrated during one large ceremony—the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet, hosted each spring to recognize students, faculty, staff, and friends of UT for their extraordinary achievements. The award ceremonies were separated into two nights of events to better allow for social distancing.

Six seniors were recognized for their academic achievement, leadership, and outstanding service with the university’s highest student honor, the Torchbearer award. They are Taylor Boyer, of Knoxville, a 1794 Scholar studying marketing with a collateral in international business; Natalie Campbell, of Knoxville, a senior studying special education with a minor in English; Trey Smith, of Jackson, Tennessee, a December 2020 graduate with a degree in recreation and sport management; Maria Urias, of Lenoir City, Tennessee, a senior studying sociology with minors in political science, leadership studies, and social entrepreneurship; Madison Woods, of Memphis, a Chancellor’s Honors Program student majoring in psychology; and Tyler Young, of Knoxville, a senior studying supply chain management and business analytics.

Read more about all of the students, faculty, and staff who received awards at the Academic Honors Banquet and Chancellor’s Honors Banquet.

The following professors received the banquets’ top faculty awards:

Macebearer: Thura Mack

Thura Mack
Thura Mack

The Macebearer is the highest faculty honor at UT and recognizes a distinguished career and faculty’s commitment of service to students, to scholarship, and to society. Mack, a professor in University Libraries and coordinator of the UT Libraries’ Community Learning Services and Diversity Programs, leads the Libraries’ outreach to schools in Knoxville and the surrounding communities. Mack also chairs the Libraries’ Diversity Committee, which encourages respect and appreciation for individual differences through programs and resources that enhance knowledge and understanding of diversity.

When asked what the award means to her, Mack said, “My service to others is the strength that has propelled me to go beyond what I know to be possible.”

Alexander Prize: Kristina Gordon

Kristina Gordon
Kristina Gordon

Named for former UT president and US Senator Lamar Alexander and his wife, Honey, the Alexander Prize recognizes superior teaching and distinguished scholarship. Gordon, a professor in the Department of Psychology, manages the Gordon Couples Research lab which focuses on the study of romantic relationships, treatment of relationship dysfunction, and promotion of relationship health. She has expanded her work into the Knoxville area through a partnership with the community nonprofit Healthy Connections, a source for relationship advice, tips, and seminars to assist couples in creating more fulfilling and lasting relationships.

“The UT Psychology Department has been enormously supportive of my work since day one,” Gordon said. “They have encouraged me to follow my own unique path, and I think this freedom to take creative risks is responsible for my academic success.”

Jefferson Prize: Jessica Grieser

Jessica Grieser
Jessica Grieser

The Jefferson Prize honors a tenured or tenure-track faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in research and creative activity. Grieser, assistant professor of English linguistics in the Department of English, is a sociolinguist who specializes in discourse analysis, geosemiotics, and sociophonetics. Her work focuses on the use of ethnoracially linked language like African American English in the expression of identities not explicitly racial in nature.

“For me, the Jefferson Prize means that we’re going to be able to build a place where the questions about the various regional Englishes spoken in Knoxville can be explored,” Grieser said. “We can take all these undergraduate majors and give all of them the opportunity to do hands-on research while they are still in their undergraduate years, and it means that we’ll be able to better train graduate students in English, modern foreign languages, and other linguistics-adjacent fields.”

L. R. Hesler Award: David Keffer

David Keffer
David Keffer

Named for a longtime head of the botany department who also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the L. R. Hesler Award recognizes exceptional teaching and service. Keffer, professor and associate department head of materials science and engineering, teaches computational materials science and sustainability. He was awarded a 2010 Fulbright grant to study sustainability at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and actively publishes technical papers on the topic. Keffer takes an active interest in undergraduate retention and student success. He leads the TranSCEnD project, which provides academic, social, and financial support to engineering students at UT who have transferred from Tennessee community colleges.

When asked what the award means to him, Keffer said, “On a daily basis I have the opportunity to observe the excellent caliber of educators at UT so I am humbled to be selected from a faculty containing so many deserving peers. It is an enduring privilege to be able to provide what guidance I can to so many talented young people from Tennessee and beyond, as they develop the skills and resources they will need when they leave UT and head out to make the world a better place.”


Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375,