Although students weren’t able to finish their semester on campus due to the coronavirus pandemic, notable alumni and supporters made sure they felt the Volunteer spirit through VFL Class Crash, a series of surprise, online class drop-ins. Legendary quarterback Peyton Manning kicked off the campaign. In addition, faculty and staff made calls to all 29,000 students by the end of the semester to check in on them to see how they were doing. In the early days of COVID-19, a concerted effort was made to gather support for students affected by the crisis through the Student Emergency Fund, which has garnered more than $372,000 for students in need. Last, since in-person spring commencement ceremonies had to be cancelled, UT Knoxville sent a little bit of Rocky Top home to its 4,625 newest graduates—a graduation box filled with a mortarboard, orange and white 2020 tassel, a poster of the university’s seal, a letter from Chancellor Donde Plowman and several alumni gifts.
Faculty, Students, Class Garner Accolades
Several honors rolled in for UT Knoxville this spring and summer. UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing Suresh Babu was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve a six-year term on the National Science Board; UT Knoxville was designated a Bee Campus USA, a national effort among universities to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and provide new and improved habitats for them; five students were named 2020-21 Goldwater Scholars, ranking UT Knoxville first in the country for the prestigious award; and Dolly Parton’s America, a podcast based on a history class called Dolly’s America: From Sevierville to the World, received a Peabody Award. It also was named the top podcast of 2019 by Forbes.
Frank Cuevas, who has been serving as UT Knoxville’s interim vice chancellor for student life since January, took on the role permanently in May. In July, Doug Blaze, dean emeritus for the College of Law, agreed to serve as dean on an interim basis until the position is filled. Deborah Crawford, vice president of research, innovation and economic impact at George Mason University, was named vice chancellor for research and began her tenure in August.