Skip to main content
Participants of Ignite Knox volunteer to help clean up Zoo Knoxville
Ignite Knox participants rake a Zoo Knoxville greenhouse.

The summer before her first year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Nia Myrthil took part in a four-day Ignite Leadership Summit at a Blue Ridge Mountain resort in North Carolina.

“We did leadership exercises that helped us bond with each other and learn about each other’s differences,” said Myrthil, a senior in journalism and electronic media with a minor in theatre. “I came from Atlanta, so I didn’t know anybody. It was a way for me to make new friends coming into college who I could broaden with and grow with.

“As individuals, it was a way for us to get ready to adapt to college life and to be introduced to the idea of Vols taking care of fellow Vols. You feel that spirit and how close you are with everyone on campus.”

A very Volunteer tradition

Throughout the summer, hundreds of students will start their UT careers with an introduction to the Volunteer spirit of service by taking part in one of the four Ignite programs offered through the university’s Clay and Debbie Jones Center for Leadership and Service and RecSports: Ignite Leadership Summit, Ignite Knox, Ignite Outdoors, and Ignite Serves.

For the 20th year, incoming students will participate in leadership development activities, build friendships, learn about UT traditions, connect with mentors, and engage in service projects around Knoxville.

The summer before her sophomore year, Myrthil served as a team leader for both the Ignite Leadership Summit and Ignite Knox. “I always knew that I wanted to instill that idea of being a friend to someone and to make a difference in the community,” she said.

Her Ignite Knox team volunteered with Keep Knoxville Beautiful, cleaning up the Old City district, picking up trash, and scraping graffiti off walls. “It gives students an appreciation for the city, for what it has to offer,” said Myrthil. “It also gives them a volunteer connection—they have a contact if they want to get involved later on.”

Ignite Knox participants walk to their clean-up assignments at Zoo Knoxville.

Earlier this summer, Ignite Knox hosted two sessions with a total of 113 student participants. Around 30 volunteered at Zoo Knoxville. Another 10 cleaned out the basement, organized closets, and worked with the kids at Hope Central in the Parkridge community. Others assembled furniture at the YWCA Knoxville and packed 400 boxes for the Community Action Committee Mobile Meals and Senior Nutrition Program.

This year, Myrthil is a student director for the Ignite Leadership Summit. “Now it’s my turn to introduce the idea of Vols looking out for Vols,” she said, “and I really want to. My team leader really made a change in me and started my journey. The team leaders were so great, because they wanted to be your friends.”

Ignite Serves and the Knoxville community

Brandon Solsbee, a senior in mechanical engineering from Etowah, Tennessee, took part in Ignite Knox as a new student, volunteering at a community farm. “For me it was an environment where I felt comfortable being myself,” said Solsbee, who was an Ignite Serves student leader for two summers and this summer returns as a co-student director.

Brandon Solsbee (first on the left) with his first-year Ignite Serves group. Rachael White, now also an Ignite Serves co-student director, is third from the right.

Last summer, due to the pandemic, Ignite Serves had a reduced number of 250 participants. This year the numbers are getting close to pre-pandemic levels, with close to 450 students who will volunteer with organizations like Beardsley Farm, the Community Action Committee Office of Aging, Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, the Knoxville Botanical Gardens, and the Knoxville Reanimation Coalition and its work in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

There are currently 120 students registered to participate in Ignite Leadership Summit, which will take place at Carson Springs Conference Center in Newport, Tennessee. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to give incoming students a meaningful volunteer experience and to connect them with service partners in the community,” said Solsbee.

“Both as a participant and as a leader, what stands out to me are the wonderful and interesting people I’ve had the privilege of meeting, both at the university and in the community. The drive and motivation that you see are remarkable.

“The people who run these organizations believe in their causes, and it’s inspiring for me. At Ignite Knox and Ignite Serves, when students are reflecting on their experience they always notice it and they always bring it up. With service at the core of our program, it’s a great entryway for incoming students to really understand what it means to be a Volunteer.”

Students interested in getting involved can visit the Jones Center website to learn more about leadership and service opportunities.


Brooks Clark (865-974-5471,

Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993,