More than 51,000 generous alumni and friends of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, invested in students during the 2020–21 fiscal year, committing more than $202 million and transforming the student experience. The donations resulted in the record-setting awarding of student scholarships, the establishment of a student emergency fund, and the founding of the Big Orange Pantry to alleviate food insecurity.
“The way our alumni and friends have stepped up to support UT students during a difficult year has been nothing short of amazing,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “I continue to be inspired all the time by the selflessness, courage, and leadership that define Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds.”
This record year has enabled another generation of students to gain access to the Volunteer experience. More than 7,400 students were awarded more than 9,500 privately funded scholarships for a disbursed total of over $21 million.
“I am the first person in my entire family to finish high school, let alone a college degree,” said senior Alexis Moreno, a statistics major. “Thanks to the generosity of donors, finances were not one of the obstacles. This is something I will always remember and be grateful for.”
Moreno completed his UT education with support from the Tri-Star Scholarship program, an area that saw significant growth this year. Comprising three scholarships (UT Promise, Tennessee Pledge, and Flagship), the Tri-Star provides pathways for Tennessee residents to receive an affordable UT education.
One of the proudest achievements of the year was the way Volunteers stepped up to establish the university’s Student Emergency Fund. The initial goal of raising $250,000 using VOLstarter, UT’s crowdfunding platform, was quickly exceeded, and funds were distributed to nearly 830 students by May. For Heath Allen, a geography major, the emergency funding helped him find an apartment in Knoxville, giving him reliable internet service and a pathway to complete his semester virtually.
The Big Orange Pantry was established after a study on campus revealed that one in three students identified as food insecure; the isolation and economic upheaval of COVID-19 increased the problem. A collaborative cross-campus effort created and stocked the pantry, where students can receive assistance in a stigma-free environment that is like a shopping experience.
The pantry was made possible by seed funding given by Donnie and Terry Smith (’80), whose philanthropy centers around agriculture and food.
“It’s really hard to ace a math test when you’ve got an empty stomach,” Smith said. “Our hearts are with that kid who needs that bit of extra help to do well in school and not get discouraged. It’s hard to raise your hand and say, ‘I’m hungry.’”
Two transformative moments during the year were a gift from the Haslam family to the Haslam College of Business and the Zeanah family’s gift to create the Zeanah Engineering Complex. Other highlights included the Big Orange Give, the annual day of giving, which raised $2.5 million in just 24 hours for hundreds of areas across campus; significant growth in alumni chapter and council scholarships; and a gift from Randy and Jenny Boyd (both ’79) to secure a historic replacement of the Carousel Theatre, which will be named the Jenny Boyd Carousel Theatre.
UT raises funds through the University of Tennessee Foundation, an independent nonprofit corporation that seeks to enrich the lives of UT students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends through alumni engagement, financial stewardship, and private investments. The foundation is the preferred channel for all private contributions benefiting faculty and students throughout the University of Tennessee System.
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