Ten seniors have been recognized as Torchbearers, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s highest undergraduate honor. Each year, a group of students who embody the Volunteer spirit are named Torchbearers in recognition of their commitment to service, outstanding leadership, and academic achievement.
The students learned of their selection through a surprise visit by Chancellor Donde Plowman or a member of her cabinet in late March. The surprises took place on campus among friends, professors, and mentors close to each student.
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.” These students exemplify that creed through their extraordinary accomplishments.
Meet the 2022 Torchbearers
Ashlyn Anderson, of Franklin, Tennessee, is studying food security and public health nutrition through the College Scholars Program. In her first year as a Haslam Scholar, she integrated her passions for nutrition and food systems into her community service activities, teaching Cooking Club and Spanish Club at Pond Gap Elementary School. Working with the HEALTHE lab in the Department of Nutrition, Anderson began investigating food access and food insecurity. That interest developed into her thesis research and sparked efforts for the opening of the Big Orange Pantry, a campus food pantry providing emergency food assistance and other essentials. She served as president of the Student Basic Needs Coalition and has been active in leading various antihunger initiatives at UT, including the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Summit. Anderson’s research and advocacy will continue in her work as a 2022–23 Fulbright Scholar serving as an English teaching assistant.
Taylor Dempsey, of Memphis, Tennessee, is majoring in migration studies with an emphasis in Latin America through the College Scholars Program. They found a passion for migrant studies during a VolBreaks trip to Austin, Texas, in their first year at UT. During the trip, she wrote in a journal, “I love it here. I want to become a lawyer.” She went on to serve as a VolBreaks leader. Dempsey, along with Luis Mata (’20), launched Students for Migrant Justice, an organization that serves as a bridge between the university and Knoxville’s migrant community. She has also been involved with Centro Hispano, teaching English as a second language for four years. Dempsey plans to attend law school at Duke University in the fall.
Claire Donelan, of Fairfield, Connecticut, studies marketing in UT’s Haslam College of Business. She served as 2021–22 president of the Student Government Association, is a Global Leadership Scholar, and conducts campus tours for prospective students as a student ambassador—a role she holds in high regard, as it was on her tour of UT that she first felt at home there. As an out-of-state student, Donelan was motivated in her first year on campus to get involved with Chi Omega sorority and the Student Government Association to meet new people. She stayed involved because of the work of those around her and those who came before. “I am seeing the university change in ways that have been so beneficial,” she explained. Donelan has accepted a position as a sales associate with FritoLay in Atlanta after graduation.
Savannah Hall, of Memphis, Tennessee, graduated in December 2021 as a Baker Scholar with a degree in business administration and was the top graduate in the Haslam College of Business. In her time at UT she co-founded and served as president of the university’s chapter of Leading Women of Tomorrow, a national organization that seeks to encourage young women to pursue public service and leadership. Hall served as Senate chair of the Student Government Association, held an internship on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, and completed a senior thesis exploring reasons young women in the South may choose not to run for political office. Hall currently works as a communications specialist in UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. She plans to attend law school in the fall.
Simon Jolly, of Knoxville, Tennessee, studies sustainability with a minor in economics. Serving as the student body executive treasurer, Jolly has held multiple leadership roles in the Student Government Association. He has participated in environmental research and championed numerous sustainability initiatives including Fossil Free Tennessee, a fossil fuel divestment network that connects and advances campus campaigns throughout the Southeastern Conference. He also worked as a founding member of the Sustainable Energy Working Group, developing plans to expand campus renewable energy. Jolly served fellow Vols as a resident assistant and a VOLbreaks leader, crafting a public policy service–learning trip. He graduates this spring and will go on to work with Esri, a global market leader in GIS software.
Tasimba Jonga, of Brentwood, Tennessee, studies chemical engineering and economics. As an immigrant from southern Africa, Jonga was unfamiliar with UT but had heard how selfless the Volunteer community is. On campus, he became involved with the Tickle College of Engineering’s Office of Engineering Professional Practice while searching for internship and co-op opportunities. He became an ambassador for the office to help ensure that fellow students, particularly minority and underrepresented students of color, are aware of job possibilities in the STEM field. He also became a student leader for the Professional Sales Forum in the Haslam College of Business, helping grow the program to create more opportunities for students interested in sales. Jonga founded VFL Ventures, a student-led venture capital/accelerator that invests in and supports UT entrepreneurs and educates students interested in private equity and venture capital. He will pursue a master’s program in management science and engineering at Stanford University in the fall.
Aruha Khan, of Farragut, Tennessee, is studying biological sciences and finance with a collateral in economics in the Chancellor’s Honors Program. Khan founded Student Advocates for Medicine in Politics, a student organization turned nonprofit that focuses on amplifying and accelerating the goal of worldwide medical equality. She has served as president of the American Medical Student Association, vice president of the Honors Student Advisory Council, secretary of Alpha Epsilon Delta honor society, and a VOLbreak leader. In the community, she serves as supervisor of clinical operations for Shifa Medical Clinic as well as a CORE volunteer in training for Remote Area Medical. Khan is currently working as a clinical assistant for Genesis Neuroscience Clinic to provide comprehensive community care for those with cognitive disorders and neurodegenerative dementias. After graduation, she’ll take over as their lead medical assistant and clinical researcher as she prepares to begin working toward an MD and MBA.
Varun Rangnekar, of Atlanta, Georgia, is a Haslam Scholar and Melton Scholar majoring in business analytics while on a predental track. Rangnekar volunteers with East Knox Free Medical Clinic, where he used his own scholarship dollars to improve processes and patient care. He also serves as editor-in-chief of Pursuit, UT’s undergraduate research journal. As a supplemental instructor and tutor, Rangnekar gives back to his peers and creates unique student experiences like events through TEDxUTK, a conference organization encouraging open discussions and fostering support for local businesses. He will graduate this spring and go on to Columbia Dental School in New York.
Deanna Riley, of Spring Hill, Tennessee, is a Haslam Scholar studying neuroscience with minors in Hispanic studies and philosophy on a pre-medical track. Riley serves as a student alumni associate, resident assistant, and vice chair of the Black Cultural Programming Committee. In addition to her leadership, Riley volunteers at Central High School as a teacher’s aide in a math classroom for students who speak English as a second language. Her academic interests prompted her to support multiple research projects, and she was one of 14 students selected as an undergraduate research assistant in the Institute for Nanobiotechnology at Johns Hopkins University. Riley graduates this spring and aspires to become a pediatrician and clinical researcher.
Catelyn Williams, of Memphis, Tennessee, is studying political science with minors in Africana studies and sociology. Williams serves as president of Minority Enhancement for the University of Tennessee (ME4UT), where she is responsible for planning overnight visits and programs for prospective students. Through ME4UT she is also a student recruiter and promotes recruitment and retention among students from diverse backgrounds at high schools locally and throughout Tennessee. She is vice president of the Multicultural Mentoring Program and has mentored first-year students of color, providing guidance and support to ease their transition into UT. Through the Jones Center for Leadership and Service, Williams has served as an Ignite Serves and Ignite Summit leader, a VOLbreaks leader, and member of the Leadership Knoxville Scholars 2022 cohort. After graduation, she will serve as a congressional intern in Washington, DC, followed by law school in the fall.
The students will each receive a medal during the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet on Tuesday, May 3. The banquet is the university’s largest recognition event of the year.
Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993, email@example.com)