Kickoff to the Future

Kickoff to the Future

It was an evening of orange at Thompson-Boling Arena, where 850 people from near and far brought enough passion and “Rocky Top” to pack Neyland Stadium on game day. With blinking future pendants circling their necks and colorful streamers and confetti falling at their feet, UT loyalists had no doubt that the university’s billion-dollar capital campaign goal would be reached, if not exceeded.

Well over $700 million already has been raised in the most ambitious campaign effort in the university’s 214-year history. The April 17 kickoff in Knoxville served as a celebratory milestone ushering in the public phase of the Campaign for Tennessee, a 7-year philanthropic journey that began quietly 3 years ago.

An estimated 80 percent of the funds raised thus far is from individuals and families, with 12 percent from corporations, and 8 percent from foundations. The objectives of the campaign as outlined by President John Petersen are to improve student access and success, research, economic development, outreach, and globalization. These goals will be fulfilled with student scholarships, endowed professorships, enrichment programs, and new and improved campus facilities. The campaign benefits all campuses and institutes of the statewide university.

The campaign is about more than just raising money. It’s about “raising programs that affect the faculty, students, and staff in a very profound way,” says Henry Nemcik, vice-president for development and alumni affairs. Nemcik says that while the statewide UT system receives 30 percent of its funding from the state and 18 percent from tuition, “it is private resources that help create a culture of excellence.

“One important aspect of a campaign is to clarify and affirm our mission,” Nemcik continues. “We seek excellence in our academic, research, and public-service efforts.”

The kickoff event celebrated excellence as the chancellors of UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga, UT Martin, the UT Health Science Center, and the vice-president of the UT Institute of Agriculture touted their outstanding programs.

UT Knoxville, the flagship campus of the system, ranks among the top 40 public universities in the nation. Interim Chancellor Jan Simek said the university is garnering distinctions once reserved for the Ivy League. A third of this fall’s freshman class entered with a perfect 4.0 high-school GPA and an ACT average of 26.

The new Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and the Min H. Kao Electrical and Computer Engineering Building now under construction on the Hill illustrate what funds from a capital campaign can do for an educational institution.

Chancellor Roger Brown pointed to the building of the Brenda Lawson Student-Athlete Success Center at UT Chattanooga and the growth of faculty, resources, and national recognition for the SimCenter: National Center for Computational Engineering.

Chancellor Tom Rakes reviewed how scholarship programs at UT Martin continue to make dreams of going to college a reality for first-generation college students.

UT Health Science Center Chancellor Hershel “Pat” Wall proudly spoke of the Memphis research center solely dedicated to cancer research that opened last fall.

Similarly, research and public service lead the way at the UT Institute of Agriculture, where a major expansion of the small-animal hospital was made possible by a generous gift from John and Ann Tickle (both Knoxville ’65) of Bristol, Tennessee. Joseph DiPietro, vice-president of the institute, explained how UT research protects wildlife and conserves natural resources.

Adding to the celebration was a brass quintet from the School of Music at UT Knoxville, a steel drum band from UT Martin, and a selection from the play Guys and Dolls from the UT Knoxville Theatre Department. More than 400 students and faculty spotlighted other programs and organizations.

In reflecting on a great university and its exceptional achievements, alumni, students, friends of the university, and staff members shared in a video presentation about what the university has meant to them. Over and over, the words home, family, and belonging were mentioned. And of course, adding to the UT experience are the memories and excitement of attending UT football and men’s and women’s basketball games.

Caring professors left an impression on Larry Patrick (Knoxville ’73), who along with his wife, Susan, made a $3-million gift to create a fund for excellence in the College of Communication and Information as part of the campaign. The Clarksville, Maryland, couple co-owns both Patrick Communications and Legend Communications, a group of small-market radio stations.

“I’ve decided to give back to the places that made a difference for me,” Patrick said. “Tennessee is number one on that list.”

Tennessee was also number one on Chattanooga lawyer Gerald “Jerry” Summers’s (Knoxville ’66) list when he decided to give a sizeable amount to support the Summers-Wyatt Endowment. The endowment will provide scholarships for students in the advocacy concentration and fund the new Summers-Wyatt Symposia, which will focus on the importance of the right to jury trial and look at civil and criminal court proceedings. His other contributions will benefit UT Chattanooga’s College of Business, the political science and criminal justice departments within the College of Arts and Sciences, and athletics.

“Our experiences help us get to where we are,” Summers said. “We need to evaluate our own success and give something back.”

Giving back to the university has been a lifelong commitment of A. Dean Skadberg (Knoxville ’61), who served as the 2005–06 president of the UT Alumni Association, and Ann Skadberg (Knoxville ’62), daughter of the late Andy Holt, former president of the university and UT legend.

The couple’s generous investment will benefit three programs: the A. Dean and Ann Skadberg Global Initiatives Endowment in the UT Knoxville College of Business Administration; a similarly named endowment in the UT Knoxville College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences; and the A. Dean and Ann Skadberg Fund for Student-Athlete Academic Excellence in the men’s and women’s athletic departments.

“Ann and I look on this as an opportunity to give something back to UT, an institution that has been such a meaningful part of our lives for more than three generations,” Dean Skadberg said.

Jim Haslam (Knoxville ’52), his wife, Natalie (Knoxville ’52), and Brenda Lawson of Chattanooga are co-chairs of the Campaign for Tennessee. “Each day we have been reminded that the University of Tennessee family is a large one that extends all over the world,” Jim Haslam, founder of Pilot Oil Corporation, said.

In addition to the $32.5-million commitment the Haslams made to the university in 2006 and the $5 million they gave in August 2007 to establish scholarships and professorships, they tirelessly encourage others to show their Volunteer spirit by supporting the university.

Lawson’s name graces buildings on both the Knoxville and Chattanooga campuses. As the principal of Brenda Lawson & Associates LLC in Cleveland, Tennessee, she says her passion is about giving back because “UT means so much to the people of this state. I want to do all I can to encourage people who care about the university to get involved and support its programs.”

“Education is a wise investment,” she says. “Education is the most vital thing you can give to anyone. Any time you can help a young person, that is a blessing.”

The Campaign for Tennessee will help the university achieve its strategic objectives, says Petersen. “This campaign combines the spirit of what is special here in Tennessee with the vision of our volunteer leadership into a plan for action.”