The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has committed to amplifying college access and educational opportunities for middle school and high school students through a five-year partnership with the Change Center, an organization working to provide recreation, leadership development, and job opportunities to young adults in Knoxville’s center-city communities.
The new partnership will include regular programming and events led by UT faculty, staff, and students in close partnership with Change Center leadership. Planned programs include back-to-school bashes, tailgates, college nights, and educational awareness and community service projects.
“It is important to me personally, and to our university, that UT is not only a place for people to come, but also a place that serves the people of Tennessee in their own communities,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “This partnership with the Change Center puts UT in the heart of East Knoxville, doing important work that makes access to the kind of life-changing opportunities that higher education affords easier for young people who live within arm’s reach of our campus.”
The Change Center grew out of the City of Knoxville’s Save our Sons initiative, focused on reducing violence-related deaths by increasing opportunities for youth in the city. It has since become a gathering place for recreation and workforce development for youth in East Knoxville neighborhoods. The center employs 25 area high school students with the goal of preparing them for successful college and professional careers.
“It’s one thing to invite folks to UT,” said Matthew Best, executive director of the Change Center. “It’s another for UT to be here, inviting folks into a space they already know and trust.”
Workshops for helping students understand financial aid and scholarship opportunities are already in discussion. Three area high schools—Austin-East, Fulton, and Central—are among 38 schools statewide designated Flagship schools. Admitted students who graduate from any of these schools are awarded a scholarship that covers eight semesters of tuition and fees.
“Getting into college is the first step,” said Best, a Memphis native and 2010 graduate of UT’s journalism and electronic media program. “But will our youth be ready to succeed once they get there? This collaboration is going to help them prepare for what’s next once they arrive on campus and, by extension, help their parents come around them to support their children’s success.”
The Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, a unit within the Division of Diversity and Engagement, will manage the day-to-day work of the partnership. UT is one of only 28 American universities designated as community engaged with very high research activity by the Carnegie Foundation—a distinction that sets it apart for its teaching, scholarship, and public engagement.
“It’s important that we use our experience and expertise to build a mutually beneficial partnership with an organization so vital to our community,” said Tyvi Small, vice chancellor for diversity and engagement. “The center can be a linchpin for helping the university connect with highly talented and motivated high school students and give them opportunities that can change their lives while also providing the university a home off campus to make a deeper impact through engaged scholarship.”
Family Fun Day
On August 6, UT will host a back-to-school event from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Change Center. Free activities will include roller-skating and a bounce house, and local students will receive school supplies.
For more information about the Change Center and its mission, visit the center’s website.