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Three University of Tennessee, Knoxville, staff members—Ryessia Russell, Natalia Sanders, and Kelley Tafazzoli—were honored in the 2021 Knox News and 40 Under 40 awards for “innovating in their industries, making changes in their communities, and checking off major accomplishments.”

Ryessia Russell

The group is featured in the January issue of magazine and will be honored in an online celebration later this month.

Ryessia Russell is assistant director of Smith Global Leadership Scholars and Honors Student Initiatives in UT’s Haslam College of Business. Her citation reads, “When students are trying to find their path through college, they trust Ryessia Jones Russell to help guide the way. Russell, originally from Kentucky, is a mentor and supervisor to hundreds of students on campus, pushing everyone to be the best version of themselves.

Natalia Sanders

Natalia Sanders, director of development in the Tickle College of Engineering, “has been working to make a tangible, positive impact. As director of development, Sanders has brought in millions in gifts in her five years in her role. Originally from Poland, she became an American citizen in 2018.”

Kelley Tafazzoli

Kelley Tafazzoli, Spirit Program director in Athletics, “has been the University of Tennessee dance coach for the last 15 years, recently promoted to Spirit Program director in charge of cheer, dance and mascot. Under Tafazzoli, the dance team has won seven national titles, making it one of the most decorated dance teams in the nation. In her role she leads 75 student athletes who appear at more than 300 athletic and community events each year.”

Twenty-one UT alumni were also honored in this year’s 40 under 40 class.